Service virtualization has gotten the short shrift over the course of its lengthy history. Whether you chart its inception in 2002 with the release of Parasoft’s Stub Server, or in 2007 when CA took up the banner and market around the term, the entire concept has yet to even take on the status of buzzword.

That could be a good thing, however, as buzzwords can burn the ears of any manager distributing his or her budget for the year on new tooling for the team. Rather, service virtualization has remained a somewhat unknown but fairly reliable path toward saving developers time and money.

Theresa Lanowitz, founder of research firm Voke, said that service virtualization is proven to bring ROI to development managers. “We know the return on investment is tremendous. It really enhances that collaboration. Everything we’ve been hearing for the last 10 years is about collaboration between QA and development. Service virtualization takes those barriers down and lets the teams be completely aligned,” she said.

But what is service virtualization, exactly? Essentially, it manifests as a server within your test environment that can replicate the streams of information that make up the various services used in applications. In practice, this means simulating third-party services, internally hosted services, and even broken services for the purpose of testing against real-world traffic scenarios.

Why simulate these services? Robert Wagner, product owner for orchestrated service virtualization at Tricentis, said that the average enterprise is filled with services. “You lose a lot of time testing when you have complex business processes. On average, there are about 30 services in bigger companies.”

With at least 30 services to test against, it just makes sense to automate simulating those streams of data rather than trying to maintain separate codebases for testing versions of various services.

That being said, moving to a testing plan that includes service virtualization is not something that can be done over night. There are many ways to get started, but at the end of the day, the real way to succeed with service virtualization is to treat it as another process in your development life cycle.

Wayne Ariola, chief strategy officer for Parasoft, said that traditional IT is “used to adopting tools in an ad hoc manner, but service virtualization requires a process collaboration. It’s not magic: You have to put the time into it to get the value out of it.”