Remote Device Access in a Crisis: How we built an Android Device Farm

Nimble Thinking in a Crisis

In March 2020, VMware employees, like so many around the world, had to suddenly work from home (WFH) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis made remote work the new normal and with that there was a surge of people who needed to perform remote testing and development activities on Android devices. A team of VMware’s Office of the CTO India colleagues (including myself) had an idea to address this need and proceeded to brainstorm an innovative solution. Some of the questions we were trying to answer were:

 

  • How might we utilize the compute power represented by these dormant Android devices?
  • How might we share devices effectively and minimize the number of devices procured?
  • How might our colleagues remotely access these devices for their routine testing and troubleshooting activities?

The Solution

The team explored solutions for remote device access and decided to use Smartphone Test Farm (STF), an open source solution known for being highly customizable and scalable. We also took advantage of other great STF features including remote device access, easy to use interface, and simple installation of applications. Using STF, we developed a beta version of Android Device Farm that is now being used by our product teams during this WFH period.

Android Device Farm (ADF) is a web application that provides centralized access to multiple Android mobile devices connected over a network. In this solution, a web portal runs on a server (called a master) that is connected to host machines (called providers) via an internal network and the host machines have the physical mobile devices connected. This framework allows multiple host machines to provide or serve devices to the master server, even when those devices are not co-located. The ADF allows engineers to debug and test via a web browser with almost on-demand availability—all while simulating the experience of working on a physical device.

Impact

With sudden shift to WFH due to Covid-19 pandemic, our development team could not plan and carry devices. ADF acted as a reliable business continuity solution, helping employees to remotely access devices and minimize development disruption. Dependency on physical availability of the device was solved with ADF to an extent.

The solution also helped VMware teams share devices globally, thereby significantly reducing device procurement cost and potential e-waste. Here’s some feedback from some of our users about the impact of this project:

“Awesome!! This is the need of the hour. Our Android Web Team is using this for their regression for different OS versions. Thanks, ADF!” – S. Samuel, VMware Sr. Member of Technical Staff

“Thank you ADF! You are a true savior for support people who need to share the devices each other during corona pandemic!” – J. Shin, VMware Sr. Member of Technical Staff

New Features and What’s to Come

The ADF beta version includes the following features:

  • Easy installer for master and provider setup
  • Optimizing ADF for low bandwidth conditions to improve user experience
  • AD integration and role-based access
  • Device reservation based on time slots
  • Reports module to gather device usage statistics
  • Quick Workspace ONE enrollment
  • Customized user interface
  • Single Sign-On with Workspace ONE Access
  • Sharing devices remotely from remote user’s location using VDI

Additional ADF capabilities are being developed in a future release:

  • Pre-installing General Availability version of Workspace ONE apps on ADF devices
  • System health alert to admins
  • Centralized maintenance of providers from admin console

We are currently working on making ADF available to the open source community. If you are interested in learning more about this project, please email me at djoy@vmware.com.


Don JoyDon Joy is a VMware Senior Manager, System Test with VMware End User Computing team, focusing on multiple projects to improve the customer experience of VMware Workspace ONE products. He has 15+ years of experience in enterprise mobility, IoT, virtualization, unified communication, wireless solutions, and various IT infrastructure solutions. He has experience in building solutions and technical marketing.