Setting Up a Home Learning Lab
Thanks to virtualization and cheap, powerful hardware, there are a lot of cost effective options available today for setting up a learning environment on your own. Early in my career, these options didn't exist. In fact, back then you were lucky if your employer had test hardware available for you to "play" with. All too often, many of us learned in production. If you're an IT Pro, this is an important investment in your career. In this blog post I will make suggestions on how you can cheaply build yourself an IT Playground. I'll also talk about some mistakes I made along the way to hopefully save you from a few strands of grey hair. 1. You need some hardware Depending on your current rig, you can often build a small virtual lab on it or buy some dedicated hardware. My job requires a lot of travel and learning, so I have upgraded my laptop to better accommodate Virtualization as well as purchased a dedicated full sized desktop for learning/lab work. Especially if using your current day to day laptop, I recommend adding at least a 256 GB+ SSD. Prices are dropping on the 500ish GB SSD so they are worth a look. Also ensure that you have at least 8 GB of RAM, though 16 GB would be better. The amount of disk space and RAM you have is going to dictate how many virtual machines you can run simultaneously. It's very rare that I run out of processing power with an i5 processor, but I do run out of RAM, and my desktop (which has a conventional Sata drive) is definitely IO bound. If you spend a little time planning and researching, you can build a great learning environment without a large investment. Using your regular laptop has advantages:
- It's cheap to upgrade.
- If you upgrade it, your regular work rig is nicer to use for day to day tasks because it's faster!
- It's highly portable (assuming you have a laptop) - you can easily take your lab on the road with you.
- You may find yourself always running out of disk space.
- If you run enough VMs, using it for anything else (at the same time) can get annoying.
- Your employer may not allow you to upgrade their laptop.
- Your daily rig isn't affected.
- Though the performance gap between desktops and laptops has been rapidly closing, powerful desktop hardware is still cheaper and faster than most laptops.
- Depending on what you buy, desktops are often louder than laptops.
- Unless you set up a VPN, you will lose access to your lab if you go on a 2 week business trip.
- More hardware = more management.
- I'ts more expensive than upgrading your laptop.
- It's free and I'm
- It allows you to tune the size of your VMs (Ram, Network cards, Processors, etc.).
- It's cross platform, it works on Windows, Macs, Linux, etc., and I love playing with operating systems