Tag Archives: labs

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A few months ago I found myself wanting to use my home lab, but the whole environment had become very out of date.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 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


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 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?

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

NexentaStor CE – an introduction

I spent some time at Christmas upgrading my home lab in preparation for the new VCAP exams which are due out in the first quarter of 2012. In particular I needed to improve my shared storage and hoped that I could reuse old h/w instead of buying something new. I’ve been using an Iomega IX2-200 for the last year but it’s performance is pretty pitiful so I usually reverted to local storage which rather defeated the purpose.

I started off having a quick look around at my storage options for home labs;

Why pick Nexenta?

I’d used OpenFiler and FreeNAS before (both are very capable) but with so much choice I didn’t have time to evaluate all the other options (Greg Porter has a few comments comparing OpenFiler vs Nexenta). Datacore and Starwind’s solutions rely on Windows rather than being bare metal (which was my preference) and I’ve been hearing positive news about Nexenta more and more recently.

On the technical front the SSD caching and VAAI support make Nexenta stand out from the crowd.

Continue reading NexentaStor CE – an introduction

VMworld Copenhagen – Day one summary

Today was officially the start of VMworld Copenhagen even though many people were here yesterday for partner day. The hands on labs are always popular at VMworld shows, and for all the reasons previously covered by others. I’ve done two labs so far (HOL01, Creating the Hybrid Cloud and HOL27, Netapp and VMware) which were both useful in different ways. There’s a good atmosphere and the technology behind the labs continues to evolve – this year vCenter Operations (and I think Netapp Insight Balance) are on display showing how the lab infrastructure is performing. There are more seats and the labs are open longer than last year (32 hours) which is good to see.

I spent fair bit of time in the bloggers lounge, a small dedicated area with power, a separate wifi connection, and facilities for VMworld TV to broadcast live from. This is where you can often find John Troyer, the godfather of VMware’s social media scene along with many of the twittter names you’ve seen but never met in person. VMworld is a vertitable ‘who’s who’ of the virtualisation world – I found myself sitting next to Scott Lowe for ten minutes before realising who he was and saying hi! Many of the people hanging around the bloggers lounds have been at VMworld many times so it’s a good place to get a feel for what’s hot and what’s not at this year’s conference. I got my first taste of VMworld TV via an invite to vSoupTV. Quite a few people mentioned that it felt quieter this year but as the attendance has been confirmed at over 7,000 it must be because there’s more space rather than less people.

The centre of the complex is used as a relaxation zone complete with plenty of seating, food, recliners (for those quick power naps), table tennis, table ice hockey, chess sets etc. It’s a good place to meet people as you pass through on your way from a general session to the labs. Free wifi is available throughout the Bella Centre but unfortunately it’s pretty temperamental – somewhat expected for a large conference with over 7000 people. That wouldn’t be so bad but the VMworld iPhone app relies on internet access so when that’s not working you can’t reference your schedule or register for sessions. When it does work the VMworld iPhone app is pretty good – you can check for upcoming sessions, get a filtered twitter stream for a given session, and even check site maps. Continue reading VMworld Copenhagen – Day one summary