Home > Blogs > VMware Hands-On Lab (HOL) Blog


Hands-on Labs – End of Year 2014

It has been a long time since my last post. Lest you all think we’re just sitting back and waiting for VMworld 2015, I wanted to give an update on what we have going on in the Hands-on Labs and some of the exciting work we are doing to prepare for 2015.

  1. Updated Labs: new builds, wallpaper
  2. Enhanced LabStartup
  3. FAQ
  4. Maintenance

Updated Labs

Following VMworld Europe and the vForums in the APAC region, our teams have been hard at work updating quite a few of our labs with new bits. We often need to use pre-release code in our labs to be ready in time for VMworld. US, which often coincides with our major releases. So, after the big events, our teams frequently need to go back and refresh their lab pods with the GA versions so that we can keep the labs available for you in our online portal. This refresh process can be a little faster than initial development, but does take time, especially since prerelease versions generally do not “upgrade” to GA.

In other news, we released an entirely new version of our HOL-SDC-1401 lab in early December to support our latest management software release: vRealize Operations 6. If you want to learn more about this product, please check it out!

In addition to the rebuilds with new code, we have some new labs being developed for debut at VMware Partner Exchange 2015. If you are attending, be sure to stop by and see what’s new. Some of those labs may make it to the public portal while others may remain partner-only.

Updated Wallpaper

Many of you are aware that we had two new wallpapers created for our labs and had you, the community, vote on which one you’d like to see us use for 2015 (see the poll results here).  It is no secret that I preferred the more Spartan Cool Steel option, but the majority has spoken and Galactica will be used in the new and revised labs.

“Galactica” < WINNER! “Cool Steel”
Galactica-Final Cool-Steel

Something as mundane as replacing the wallpaper on all 50 or so of our vPods across all of the hosting clouds requires significant effort: deploying, updating, capturing, and replicating every one of the templates. Typically, we like to get a little more “bang for our buck” when we have to make changes to all of our vPods, so we have been preparing to test something else that I find particularly exciting: a new and improved LabStartup script.

Enhanced LabStartup

LabStartup is a Powershell script that we have been developing to handle startup automation and reporting of service readiness within our vPods. Each of our vPods has a ControlCenter machine that runs this script and updates a portion of the desktop that you see when logged in to one of our labs with the current runtime readiness of your mini datacenter.

We were using an early version of this script in the 2014 labs with great success and have added many new features for the 2015 season. The plan is to test this updated script in some of the pods at Partner Exchange and fully integrate it for VMworld 2015 and beyond. This script is nothing secret, and you will be able to look at the code for yourself when you launch one of the refreshed pods.

In this script, we provide functions for the following:

  • Check vCenter and ESXi host response (wait until we login to vCenter)
  • Check for URL response and parse for pattern (e.g. is the Web Client responding?)
  • Check for response on TCP port (has service X started listening yet?)
  • Query and Start/Restart services on Windows or Linux machines
  • Start VMs and vApps (in a specific order…)
  • Verify and wait for datastore availability (when you’re running nested storage, things can take longer to “settle”)
  • Report periodic status via DesktopInfo and support failing a pod if it does not initialize within a predefined amount of time (helps detect deployment or password expiry issues)
  • Support for performance testing via “autolab” orchestration — not to be confused with Alastair Cooke’s most excellent AutoLab for your own labs — this is how we test our infrastructure with actual labs running on the clouds and thin clients we have deployed at a large event.

We are still working out some of the details, but we are getting there and hope to have something pretty slick by the time VMworld 2015 rolls around.

FAQ

We have a lot of people taking labs. Believe it or not, a large number of you take the time to fill out our post-lab surveys to let us know how things worked for you during your online lab session. Others use our forum on the VMware Communities to pose interesting questions, make suggestions, and report issues. When we notice a pattern or receive a particularly interesting question, we add that to our FAQ. Two of the more common questions recently bear repeating here as an example of what we have in there:

  • Can I download the lab manuals as a PDF?

This is probably the #1 question we receive. We make all of our manuals available in PDF and HTML on the HOL Docs Site: http://docs.hol.vmware.com/catalog

  • Why is the Screen Resolution of the lab desktop so small? It looks like a postage stamp on my giant monitor!

Our labs are used by people around the world and not everyone has a massive amount of bandwidth to our US-based datacenters hosting most of the public Hands-on Labs content. The bottom line is that larger screen resolutions generally consume more bandwidth because there are simply more bits to track and update.

The good news is that you can change the resolution on the ControlCenter desktop and the lab console window will grow to accommodate the selected resolution. Just right-click on the desktop, select Screen Resolution and change it like you would on any other Windows machine. You should be able to experiment a little and find a balance between performance and screen real estate based on your current bandwidth and hardware configuration.

For quick reference, here is how you can get to all of the resources I mentioned from the main VMware Hands-on Labs site

VMware_Hands-On_Labs-Nav

Maintenance

Those of you who work in an operations role know about this: the endless hamster wheel of datacenter maintenance. We have an interesting environment: roughly 50 miniature datacenters that started out as clones from a master but have experienced varying levels of configuration drift as each team molded the template into their own.

Each year, we incorporate lessons learned from previous years into our base templates, but one of the items that bites us all the time, and may hit you in your own home labs as well, is password expiration. There are the obvious accounts to check — administrator, root, any service accounts you create — and the password policies that apply to them. However, when you are constructing miniature datacenters, which may consist of several interlocking solution components and authentication mechanisms, things can fall through the cracks. Sometimes, you just forget, and other times you learn something entirely new about how a solution is put together.

When the seemingly inevitable happens, we enter the 6 phases of fixing the busted things:

  1. Aww, man! Really?!? (Denial / Disbelief)
  2. Okay, what’s causing the problem? (Acceptance / Triage)
  3. Whew, we figured it out! (Understanding)
  4. Great, now how do we correct it? (Repair)
  5. Can we keep it from happening again? (Prevention)
  6. Make it so: replicate to all the clouds (Implementation)

We have a great team of people, and some of the maintenance we had to perform over the holiday would not have been possible without the excellent collaboration we have among our community, core team, lab staff volunteers, and internal engineering teams. Thank you to everyone for investing the time.

And to you, our community, thank you for your support of VMware Hands-on Labs. Take a lab and tell your friends about it. We appreciate all of you who take the time to send us feedback so that we can grow and make our solution better. We like to hear both the good and the bad and someone (often several someones) reads each lab completion survey that we receive.

This entry was posted in VMware Hands-on Labs and tagged , , , on by .

About Doug Baer

Doug Baer is a Staff Technical Marketing Architect on the Hands-on Labs team at VMware. He is VCDX #19 and a vExpert since 2012. His primary focus area is the Hands-on Labs, but there is some storage and data replication that he just can't let go.