Tag Archives: training

Visio diagram of an Autolab environment

A few months ago I found myself wanting to use my home lab, but the whole environment had become very out of date. Rather than build everything from scratch and by hand it was the perfect excuse to try Autolab, a project which I was aware of (I’ve met the creator Alastair Cook a couple of times at VMworld) but had never found the time to deploy. For those not familiar with Autolab it aims to automate the build-out of a portable lab environment consisting of virtual networking,  storage, and compute using vSphere, and includes vCloud Director, View, and Veeam.

My first thought was ‘Does Autolab do what I need?’ and while the documentation was pretty good the overall environment (in particular the networking) which Autolab created wasn’t immediately clear to me. In the end I did use Autolab and while it did some of what I needed I wanted to see if I could integrate or improve the build using my existing setup (I have shared storage and multiple VLANs in my lab already). While sketching out my options I decided to create a proper Visio diagram of a completed http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/antabuse/ Autolab build for future reference and thought it might be useful to others too. I’ve sent it on to Alastair so it may turn up in the next release (assuming there is one).

You can download it in Visio or .JPG format.

UPDATE 4th Jan: Autolab 2.0 has now been released but is largely unchanged. The DC and vCenter servers now support W2k12 and the storage VLANs (16 & 17 in the diagram) are no longer used – their subnets remain the same however.

Autolab v1.5

What Autolab is trying to achieve (freely distributable lab build automation) is highly commendable but given the ease of use and free availability of VMware’s Hands On Labs combined that with the rapid pace of development for many VMware products (vCD isn’t even available anymore unless you’re a service provider) and I wonder if Autolab in it’s current form is sustainable. To encapsulate and therefore make portable an entire working dev/test environment, the aim of the Autolab networking, is a perfect use case for NSX although if you want that for free you’ll have to look to open-source equivalents (OpenFlow et al). Time will tell!

Further Reading

http://www.labguides.com/autolab/

Pluralsight training – is it any good?

online-trainingSummary: Pluralsight are an online training provider who offer a comprehensive and cost effective selection of training courses for a monthly fee, with no lengthy commitments. Having used the service for the last few months I’d recommend it.

PluralSight offer online-only training for technology professionals. They recently hit my radar for two reasons – they acquired the well known training provider TrainSignal, and they offered a years free subscription to vExpert’s. Prior to the TrainSignal acquisition their audience was mainly developers but they now have a good (and growing) series of infrastructure content too. Being a vExpert, this has been an unexpected perk and eventually prompted this blogpost.

The course catalogue is available online so if you’re in the market for training check it out. On the cloud computing front there’s quite a bit of good content (search the catalogue for cloud to see a full list);

  • vendor neutral courses covering topics such as cloud basics, REST, patterns of cloud integration, CompTIA cloud
  • some good AWS content including a great introduction to building distributed systems (covering many AWS components such as EC2, EBS, S3, VPS, CloudWatch etc) by Richard Serroter
  • quite a bit of (TrainSignal acquired) VMware content, including three vCloud Director courses (v1.5, v5.1, and one about organisations in particular). Nothing about vCHS yet! Authors include Jake Robinson, Chris Wahl, and David Davis
  • There’s also plenty of MS focused content including Hyper-V, using System Centre 2012 for private clouds, plus Azure fundamentals. Authors include Elias Khnaser & David Chappell
  • Google Cloud also gets some coverage from Lynn Langit

Not all categories get such good coverage though. For instance there’s only one Oracle course (which is actually about optimising SQL queries in databases, so not Oracle focused) whereas MS SQL Server gets 49 courses (and incredibly MS Sharepoint gets over 80)! Inevitably some courses are pretty out of date (XenDesktop 4, vSphere 4 etc) because someone, somewhere, might still need it and once the content exists why remove it? The quality of the courses does vary but most of the ones I’ve seen are pretty good.

Being online only they need to offer choices for user access, and they do. I’ve used Android (phone and tablet) and web access both Mac and PC) plus there’s also an iPad app and even a Windows mobile client (only some devices supported I gather). Your viewing history is retained centrally meaning you can switch devices seamlessly – start watching a course on your tablet on the train then switch to your desktop and continue where you left off when you reach the office. There’s also a variable speed option which is great for courses where you need a refresher or where your brain works faster (or slower!) than the speaker’s usual pace. Offline viewing is available but only on the higher priced subscriptions but if you spend significant periods of time  ‘off the grid’ (which is getting harder with Wifi on some flights) then it might be worth the additional cost. I found downloading courses a bit variable – downloads has a tendency http://imagineear.com/pharmacy/ freeze but clicking Pause/Resume always kicked it back into life – just remember to check it’s fully downloaded before you lose internet access (yep, lesson learned).
NOTE: I’ve found that the offline courses don’t seem to update progress centrally even once you reconnect to the internet. This can be frustrating as I watch a course on my tablet and when I go online to finish it off I have to remember where I was. A minor niggle, not a showstopper. I also couldn’t get the offline courses to work on my Samsung S3 when I used full phone encryption but besides reinstalling the Pluralsight app I didn’t troubleshoot further so it’s not a definitive diagnosis.

NOTE: Another frustration – the mobile apps don’t seem to respect your screen lock options – the Pluralsight app rotates regardless. I wanted to watch courses while running and found this very annoying. Respect your user’s choices!

This kind of online, on-demand training is perfect for contractors who Continue reading Pluralsight training – is it any good?

Cloud spells the end for Microsoft Technet software subscriptions

——- UPDATE July 3rd 2012 —— If you don’t want to see MS Technet discontinued considering signing up to this petition. It’s going to need much more than the 750 signatures (as of this morning) to effect change however!

Yesterday Microsoft announced that it is retiring the popular Technet Subscription service which IT Pros have been using to access software for well over a decade. On Twitter the reaction seemed to be one of surprise and general disapproval and I feel much the same – I’ve had a subscription for the last eight years although I’ve used it less and less over the last few years as my focus has moved through VMware and storage to more general architecture. Microsoft summed up the rationale for the move quite succintly;

In recent years, we have seen a usage shift from paid to free evaluation experiences and resources.  As a result, Microsoft has decided to retire the TechNet Subscriptions service and will discontinue sales on August 31, 2013.

Microsoft will focus on growing and improving our free offerings for IT professionals, including evaluation resources through the TechNet Evaluation Center, expert-led learning through the Microsoft Virtual Academy, and community-moderated technical support through the TechNet Forums.

All these are free internet services but this isn’t surprising – over the last ten years Technet has gone from shipping on floppy disks through to packs of CD/DVD through to online downloads and now online labs exclusively. Companies like Google and mobile phone app stores have popularised the freemium model to the point where it’s the defacto expectation.

Interestingly this seems to be the same approach that VMware are taking. In 2007 they disontinued a a software subscription service (the VMTN subscriptions) although in recent years as their portfolio has diversified there has been a groundswell of support for its return. Despite http://premier-pharmacy.com/product-category/alcoholism/ this and some talk from people within VMware, nothing has surfaced over the last eighteen months but they are currently pushing a beta of their online labs (much like Microsoft’s Virtual Academy). I posted about the rise of ‘cloud labs’ last year and this seems to confirm the trend. As I pointed out in that article the online labs don’t cater to all use cases – installations are often missing from the online labs for example. There will also be issues with integration testing. If I just want to test a Microsoft product then the Virtual Academy is fine, but what if I want to test a multi-tier application which runs on Windows? For the foreseeable future there are going to be times when you need to build your own evaluation labs whether that’s inhouse or in clouds like vCloud or AWS.

I’d still like to see VMware provide better alternatives for testing/evaluating software and Microsoft will still offer the MSDN Subscription service for those who need more than the online labs can provide.

There’s something satisfying about ‘owning’ software which isn’t the same when it’s presented online – I suspect the buzz of getting the latest copy of some product and installing it on your own kit has brought many a techie into our industry but the truth is ‘the business’ don’t care about that – they just want the end result, a running application delivering value. Surely this is the evolution that we as IT pros are evangelising – ‘the cloud’ can and is disrupting the status quo in many areas, including our own. To abuse a popular saying, the cloud giveth, and the cloud taketh away!

What do you think? Is the demise of Technet a sign of the times, or is Microsoft out of tune with its customers?

Here’s what you missed in 2012 (LonVMUG)

It’s that time of year when I book the next London VMUG session into my calendar and rather than my usual ‘here’s the agenda, you should go‘ blogpost I thought I’d recap what the last year has delivered. If this doesn’t convince you that there’s value in attending a free event where you could have learnt all the topics listed below as well as networking with your peers then nothing will. 🙂

If there’s a topic you’d like covered or if you’d like to present something yourself get in touch with the organising commmittee. I’m planning to present at one of next year’s VMUG sessions (it’s about time!) because it’s a user group and real world experience can be gold dust for others to learn from. I’m told we’re a friendly audience!

Before you continue, register for the next session on 24th Jan 2013!

Cartoon showing Dilbert

I’ve grouped them according to some industry trends so your own ‘pointy haired boss’ will also see the value;

I could mention the giveaways (iPad, Fusion-IO card, t-shirts, AppleTV etc) and the free beers afterwards, the fact we had at least five VCDX’s presenting and the live labs from EMC, VMTurbo, and Embotics etc but you’re already sold right?

Register for the next session on 24th Jan 2013 (did I mention it’s free?)

Online virtualisation labs come of age

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.

A typical IT ‘stack’

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;

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?

Continue reading Online virtualisation labs come of age