ABN Amro embraces private cloud for testing

US test provider Mobile Labs teams with Dutch bank to improve mobile banking apps with machine. Sander Stevens (pictured) talks to us about some of the advantages that this approach provides.

Mobile Labs, an Atlanta-based mobile app testing provider, has announced a deal with Dutch bank ABN Amro to provide access to deviceConnect, Mobile Labs’ private cloud solution for mobile testing.

The deviceConnect service is run on a machine the size of a photocopier located inside the customer firm and connected to the customer’s private  internal network. The customer can then attach up to 48 mobile devices. Because  the machine sits inside the corporate firewall, it allows testers to remotely test mobile applications on real devices securely.

Mobile Labs has commercial relations with Wells Fargo, Allianz, Commonwealth Bank and other financial firms. According to Paul O’Callaghan, vice president of international sales operations at Mobile Labs, 60% of the company’s client-base is in banking.

Sander Stevens, independent test manager at ABN Amro, was brought in one and a half years ago to help ABN Amro with the development of its private banking app. His first assignment at ABN Amro was to set up a mobile test strategy.

“In terms of tooling and infrastructure we were not well prepared. Some testing was conducted over the public cloud. Our programme was not allowed outside of the ABN Amro network for security reasons and we could not connect to devices on the public cloud to our test environment,” said Stevens.

Previously, ABN Amro had ten separate mobile apps, each one based on a different location, for its private banking markets. The bank decided to merge these separate services onto one mobile platform. This way customers will have the same interface whether they are banking in France or in Germany, but the app will connect with a different back-end database according to the customer’s location.

Stevens said that before the arrival of deviceConnect, mobile testers often relied ad-hoc solutions and whatever mobile devices they could get their hands on for testing.

Stevens had worked with Mobile Labs before, and thought that their solution was well-suited for the bank’s needs. He contacted them in September of last year, and the US firm cooperated for the bank for a proof of concept project. The bank agreed to enter into a commercial relationship with Mobile Labs after the trial period ended.

According to Stevens, private cloud infrastructure provided a number of advantages for testers at ABN Amro. “It was clear that it was a perfect fit for us. The first advantage is obviously security; it’s only possible to access the private cloud from the ABN Amro network, and they can do this remotely provided they are inside the network. This is done on real devices, not virtual ones, which is crucial for an accurate testing experience”

“It helps deal with deals with large numbers of physical devices and different configurations (OS, browser, hardware). The devices all sit in one place and there is no risk of them being misplaced. It also integrates well with continuous integration and delivery practice. With Jenkins [an open source continuous integration tool that helps with code deployment] source code that is written during the day is merged and deployed on real devices that are located inside deviceConnect at night. Automatic tests run after a new version of the app is installed, providing testers with a status report in the morning.”

The final advantage, says Stevens, comes from a feature that Mobile Labs has recently added to deviceConnect, called deviceBridge, which functions as a virtual USB connection.“When a tester finds a bug, it used to be difficult for a developer to reproduce and debug the issue, because they could not use real devices. With deviceBridge developers can connect their laptops remotely to a real device located in deviceConnect and debug using development tools they are used to.”

ABN Amro has expanded its relationship with Mobile Labs to include two deviceConnect boxes, one for its international private banking division, the other for its Dutch division. The deal will be subject to review after a year.

Mobile testing, according to Stevens, still lags a a couple years behind mainstream ‘old-fashioned’ functional web testing. The ABN Amro test manager says that there is a dearth of solutions that makes finding the right tooling strategy difficult. The existing ones each have their own pros and cons. deviceConnect, for example, does not yet support Blackberry or Windows OS.

The solution, he says, is a mix of commercial and open-source tools selected on a case by case basis. “The good part of open source is you can try it out to see if it suits your needs, and if it does not work out then you did not waste any money. In most cases you will have to rely at least partially on commercial technologies. You have to buy or rent the mobile devices and you need infrastructure, but you can combine it with other approaches. But I do think mobile testing is quickly catching up with the rest of the testing world.”

The next challenge, says Stevens, is accelerating the development and test process. “It’s an agile world and we have to go faster and faster. If you have an app, and something is not working, there should be a fix the next day.”

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