With the launch of the new vCloud Suite along with new VMware certification tracks there’s no shortage of technologies to learn so I’ve been building up my home lab in anticipation of some long hours burning the midnight oil. While doing this I’ve been mulling over a simple (I thought) question;
Why buy hardware to build home labs? Can’t we use ‘the cloud’ for our lab requirements?
I spent a while investigating the current marketplace and while some areas are well covered some are just getting started.
As an infrastructure guy I’m interested in the lower half of the IT stack, principally from the hypervisor downwards (I expect that some infrastructure professionals will need to focus on the top part of the stack in the future, but that’s a different post). There are a plenty of cloud services where you can quickly spin up traditional guest OS or application instances (any IaaS/PaaS/SaaS provider, for example Turnkey Linux do some great OSS stuff) but a more limited number that let you provision the lower half of the stack in a virtual lab;
- At the network layer Cisco’s learning labs offer cloud labs tailored to the Cisco exams (primarily CCNA and CCNP) and are sold as bundles of time per certification track. In October last year Juniper launched the Junosphere Labs, an online environment that you can use for testing or training.
- For storage EMC provide labs and this year their internal E-Lab is going virtual and a private cloud is in the works (thanks to vSpecialist Burak Uysal for the info). Scott Drummunds has a great post illustrating what these labs offer – it’s pretty impressive (and includes some VMware functionality). These labs let partners test and learn the EMC product portfolio by setting up ‘virtual’ storage arrays and is something that you’d probably struggle to do in most labs. Other storage vendors such as Netapp offer virtual storage appliances (or simulators) but you’ll need to use a separate IaaS service to run them – there’s no public cloud offering.
- At the hypervisor layer (although more application and guest OS focused) there’s Microsoft’s Technet labs. These have been available for years and for free (are you listening VMware? :-)) and let you play with many of Microsoft’s applications, including Hyper-V, in a live, online lab (Vladan has a good article here, and you can try Windows 2012 labs too). At the latest TechEd2012 conference the labs were made available online for two months afterwards and they were also available at the recent Microsoft Management Summit. As Hyper-V can virtualise itself but can’t run nested VMs the labs are limited to looking at the Hyper-V configuration. I tried these labs and was very impressed – they’re free, easy and quick to use (even if they do require IE).
- According to this post on Linked-In, HP are also looking at the option of publicly available virtual labs although I couldn’t find any information on what they’ll include.
While not strictly cloud labs (depending on your definition of a cloud service) you could rent space and/or infrastructure in someone else’s datacenter – recently I’ve seen companies start to specialize in offering prebuilt ‘lab’ environments which you can rent for training/testing purposes;
- Optism Training offer online labs for various certifications including VCAP, View, SRM, vCloud Director and ThinApp
- YourLabTime offer dedicated VMware lab rentals as well as Cisco labs (contact @YourLabTime with questions)
- If you’re a VMware Authorised training centre you can use companies such as vLab.pro to provide a remote lab facility to your attendees.
- Several bloggers and vExpert’s (Mike Laverick’s MiaaS, Al Renouf and Justin Paul) have offered access over the internet to labs they’ve built either at home or using company facilities. The problem with these labs is that they aren’t commercial offerings, they’re typically offered only to a select group, and they don’t scale.
Many large companies will have their own lab facilities and some global companies might offer them internally via private clouds but until recently there were no public cloud services which let you experiment with the hypervisor layer. The well known blogger David Davis had similar thoughts last year and investigated cloud providers who provide ESXi as a VM and was unable to find any. There’s no technical reason why not – vSphere has been able to virtualise itself and run nested VMs for years and although performance might suffer that’s often a secondary concern for a lab environment. It’s also not officially supported but if it’s for training and test/dev rather than production is that a barrier?