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ATM Fault Testing: Leveraging Virtualization Reduces Risk

Steve Gilde June 19, 2018
ATM technology

Henry Ford is reputed to have said “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Having been around the payments business for many years now, I am now much closer to 80 than 20, but there are still opportunities to learn new things every day.

Last week, I was in an ad hoc training session on ATM fault processing. I already knew that virtualizing your ATMs can really help in this specific area of ATM testing, but I did not fully realize just how valuable this “Virtual Fault Testing” capability can be. What I learned was that there are many moving pieces that need to be tested to ensure that various error conditions are handled correctly.

One key issue is that some of these "pieces" are quite delicate and attempting to simulate an error condition with a real ATM in the test lab can be a risky and potentially costly proposition. Another important consideration is how all the various components of the entire ATM ecosystem need to work together to deal with any fault condition.

Take Cash Dispenser and Cash Acceptor faults, for instance. Since the main purpose for most ATMs is to dispense cash, it is important to understand what happens if something fails here. Unfortunately, any of the “Jam” faults associated with cash dispensers or acceptors are difficult and potentially very expensive to create with a physical ATM.

I have heard some interesting stories about ATM testers who tried to create dispenser faults with mechanical pencils, screwdrivers, or letter openers, and none of them have pretty endings. Part of the reason to even test faults like this is to ensure that the entire system responds correctly to a device failure. The ATM software, the ATM host and external monitoring/ticketing systems all have a role in processing the fault appropriately, even to the point of dispatching a service tech to visit the machine.

Virtual Environments Enhance Testing Strategy

In a virtualized environment, it is easy to create and recreate these faults in a controlled and predictable manner, with no risk of physical harm to an actual ATM. Repeatability and predictability are also key in testing that the rest of the system components behave the way that they should. You might get lucky once trying to cause a “Jam When Retract” on a test lab ATM, but it is a risky strategy when you think about testing all the different combinations of ATM hardware, software, and processing scenarios that exist within your fleet. If you do decide to go this route, I suggest that you keep your resume up to date.

Another area where lab techs tend to get overly creative is with Card Reader faults. Sticking business cards, paper clips or other foreign objects into an ATM card reader is likely to cause not only a jam, but significant heartache. To add insult to injury, these old school methods can never test some of the fault conditions that exist today for dealing with EMV card handling and processing. Again, a virtualized ATM environment will allow you to test all these various card reader conditions in a safe, repeatable, and predicable manner.

Even common fault scenarios that are “easy” to test with a physical ATM, like Receipt Printer failures, get even easier and more manageable when using a virtualized ATM. And all these virtualized tests can be scripted and automated to run with any devices, with any cards, in any combination and at any time.

Test Your Faults With VirtualATM

The Paragon VirtualATM® solution includes a fault testing subsystem that contains dozens of built-in fault conditions with more being added on a regular basis. Using a tool like VirtualATM has the potential to save you a significant amount of time and effort, especially as you start detailing your plan for the Windows 10 migration project.

When developing a comprehensive test strategy, it is natural to test for expected results. However, it is just as important to make sure that your system performs correctly when things do not happen as planned. Even if most of your customers never experience a failed transaction, it is important to know how your ATM system will handle failures when they occur – and they do occur. ATM virtualization will make it easier, faster, and less risky to test all these fault conditions to ensure that you provide the best customer experience possible.

It seems appropriate to close this post with another quote from Henry Ford: “Quality means doing it right even when no one is looking.


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