In case you haven't heard, we're hard at work on the next release of Windows
As an IT Pro, you have to continually learn new things. A challenge many of us in IT face when a product is released/updated is "how to learn the new product." Additionally, in our day-to-day operations, we need a sandbox-type arena to test planned changes to production, validate our new scripts and win or lose our intra-team bets on the "this should work" ideas. No one tests changes in production, do they?
Some lucky folks work for employers who fund wonderful lab environments full of automation, WAN simulators and other enterprise-class equipment. Most make due with less.
Some lucky folks work for employers who fund wonderful training so their IT talent is retained and up to scratch on current technology. Most make due with less.
Many folks are at least somewhat on their own to manage and grow their knowledge. It's up to the individual to scramble for some lab equipment where she can try things out and learn. For many of us, we do this in some form of a lab in our own homes, often affectionately referred to as a 'basement lab.'
With the leaps and bounds in virtualization technology and hardware advancements, this is greatly improved. One is now able to deploy an entire simulated "global infrastructure" in one's basement lab, with a minimum of hardware - one or maybe two physical machines.
In this post, I'll offer a few bits and bytes I've come up with for running basement labs of one sort or another.
Once you get some capable hardware, I urge you to pause and create some structure for your lab design. Many of us preach process and standards in our day jobs only to come home to our own basement labs and just start spinning up VMs. Let us "do what we say" and plan this out a bit. This helps us stay sharp from a "process" standpoint and on-going, will make the lab much more useful. This alone can be an eye-opening experience and is part of 'staying current' in technology.
In our labs, we often create AD environments without planning beyond the Wizard interface questions. We install OSes on VMs and don't follow any standards on naming them within the virtualization console or for the hostname itself. We create users, OUs, etc without really any thought beyond 'what do I need right now?' We ping until we get a free IP address, and then we set it and forget it.
Then, a few weeks/months pass where we have been away from our basement lab and when we fire up the VMs, we don't recall how we left things. What were the server names? What did I call the AD domain? What in the world was the password I used? At that point, we often rebuild the lab and this process repeats itself. Let's implement some controls in our 'global IT infrastructure' and practice what we preach.
Some closing thoughts...
Team, the Summer of 2012 is upon us – how far will you go between now and the end of the summer? Set aside time on the schedule and do some of the things discussed here. Soon, you will have learned a great deal (and might be ready for another certification test?).
Have fun in your lab and expand your skills!