Allonby IT Limited
Solving real problems with creative technology

Lab Setup

Setting up a Lab…

 

Anatomy of my Lab…

You need a lab, repeat after me ‘I really need a lab, my own lab’, repeat till you have totally overcome any hesitation or doubts, you really do need a lab and this section will tell you how I built mine and spent some of the best money of my career.

Why you need a Lab

  • Confidence. There is no substitute for having actually done something a few times to give you confidence in what you are doing.

  • Credibility. Credibility is a precious commodity that is quick to loose and slow to gain. Suggesting a solution and backing it up with screen shots gives it credibility where as trying it on a customer’s dev environment and failing miserably is a tough place to come back from.

  • Creativity. ‘The only way to be sure to do no wrong is to do now’t at all’. If we don’t experiment, we won’t discover, if we don’t discover we stay static and inert. Given the whole world is moving, if we stay static we actually are getting flushed away down the sewers of progress. Don’t be that man, don’t be Bob, grasp your talents and create…

  • Enjoyment. I hope you are reading this because you love working in IT, I hope you are living the dream, however if your current position is not one that lets you experiment and enjoy then your lab will become a haven for the artist embedded in your soul…

  • It also is good to keep your caravan or motorhome warm in winter… (that’s RV for our American friends)

    What I think makes a good lab

  • It needs to be affordable. We need to strike a balance here between power and price in order to produce value for money. it has to be powerful enough to do what you want it to do at a price that makes the whole thing a viable proposition.

  • It needs to be as flexible as a yogi in a hut tub. It really needs to be hypervisor based so either the free version of ESXi or an internal use rights version of Windows Server.

  • It needs to be accessible. The ability to be able to to get a terminal session of your Lab from a customer site can be really useful so find a solution that works for you and keep your jump server tidy and professional.

  • It needs to be relevant. You need to have the ability to work with whatever versions your client is on. This sounds expensive but Microsoft has a fabulous solution which I can’t recommend highly enough. If you only remember one thing from this whole site it should be to become a Microsoft partner on the action pack subscription. it is the best money you will ever spend. Seriously for the price of half a mobile phone you get all the latest software for internal use and access to MSDN as well as a free monthly allowance on azure and office 365. It is a total no brainer, it is the mother of all great deals, it is the panacea of professional progression and performance promotion. Click here to open Mr Gates’s goody chest…

  • It need to be compact. If you share your home with other people, and would prefer to keep it that way, consider what impact your lab will have so perhaps one powerful server rather than a multitude of mismatching desktops may preserve the average domestic bliss quotient…

 
 
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Tin

The HPe DL580 g7 series offers a great power to weight ratio. They have plenty of CPU, 32 cores in mine, loads of space for RAM, 128 GB minimum for me, and can take those cheaper Samsung 1TB SSDs (at £109 each its hard to argue for spinning platters any more). I find having the iLO connected is a must so I can shut the thing down and bring it back up remotely. Stick your disks into a big old RAID 5 and flop a hypervisor on it.

As I remember I paid £650 for a server with 32 cores and 128GB RAM and 2 x 140GB SAS Drives. I slapped 5TB of SSDs in it had change from £1200 in total.

I list HPe as that is where my history is, from Digital to Compaq and then HP. I’m sure there are comparable 4 socket 4 U beasts from other manufacturers and if they float your boat more than the DL580 then go where your heart leads you, it’s your lab…

You might want to keep another smaller server as an infra server with your AD DCs, jump server, and anything you want to keep safe as a separate box so the lab is free to be completely trashed at will…


Hypervisor

I have used ESXi simply because it is what I know, however VMWare is less tractable to automation in the non VSphere controlled format. If anyone from VMWare is reading this , please can we have a free version of VSphere for labs so we can automate lab operations with powershell. Be sure to get the right ISO to install ESXi on your Tin and beware of issues with drivers and Purple screens of death on DL580G7s.

In an ideal world you will want to automate deployment of lab machines so it makes sense to mirror your production hypervisor solution in the lab if at all possible.

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Software Repo

With easy access to free, trial, developer and internal access software there is no excuse nor any need to break anyone’s copy-write and steal software. Stay professional, stay legal. If a vendor won’t provide developer or test or eval software, select a different vendor.

Can I suggest you download and maintain a software repo for both internal use and Developer edition software on your infra file server. Use Winscp to upload the Developer editions to the ESXi file system and be sure to keep your keys handy but safe (and never use them in a customers production environment, naturally).


Infrastructure

To start with lets put the bones of a viable infrastructure in place.
Permanent Infra

  • 2 AD Domain Controllers with DHCP and DNS, suggest using Core edition to save disk. Checkout Corefig V2 for a sweet gui to set up your DCs in core mode or grasp the bull by the horns and jump in with powershell.

  • 1 File server Core Ed

  • 1 Jump Server Full Gui with RDP

  • 1 Bean to cup Coffee machine with dual hoppers so you can switch to decaff mid afternoon…

Lab infra

  • separate subnets if required with a windows core server as a router.

  • Lab AD DCs in separate forest trusting the permy infra.