“There is not enough time provided to complete all of the steps in the manual!”
This is perhaps the most common bit of feedback we receive about the VMware Hands-on Labs. For the past few years, we have been working on ways to optimize resource utilization. One of these optimizations has been consolidation and sharing of lab environments.
What does that mean? Let’s look at our wildly popular NSX labs for an example. Rather than having 13 individual “labs” that showcase our NSX product, we have two lab environments available. We pair each environment with a manual containing multiple modules. This provides a consolidation of sorts: lab modules are written to use the same underlying lab environment.
In the case of NSX, we have split the modules into two groups: Introduction and Advanced. It makes sense to leave certain aspects of the lab environment unconfigured for the Introduction because a big part of learning is performing the configuration. In the Advanced environment, we assume that the student already knows how to perform basic configuration and those tasks have already been performed.
The set of basic modules became the Introduction to NSX lab (HOL-SDC-1603), while the Advanced content became the NSX Advanced lab (HOL-SDC-1625). There are other labs that contain NSX-related content, but you get the idea.
By design, each lab module is independent, and should require between 15 and 90 minutes to complete. If you like, you can think of each module as a “lab” that shares a “lab environment” with related labs. The net result for us is that we save on resources. From your side, you don’t need to wait for a new environment to deploy in order to move on to the next lab. Rather, you deploy once and have a set of labs to choose from. Only switching environments or rolling back the current one requires a redeployment.
You can jump to any module in the manual and start from there — WITHOUT going back to perform tasks in previous modules.
Use this information to plan your lab experiences: each time you complete a module, think of it as reaching a checkpoint, restore or respawn point in a video game. The same idea applies: you do not need to repeat that effort unless you want to do so. These are also good places to remember to get up and stretch your legs or grab a cup of coffee.
We list each module with its estimated completion time in the Table of Contents. We try our best to make the estimates reasonable, but each person learns at a different pace. Hitting those times is neither a goal nor an assessment of your proficiency, simply a number to help you plan your session time. This is not a test. Feel free to take the labs as many times as you like!
The new VMware NSX Advanced lab (HOL-SDC-1625) manual contains 7 modules with a total estimated 3.5 hours of content. We usually provide 90-minute sessions at our events (VMworld, vForum, VMUG) and 3-4 hours via the public portal.
Eating the Elephant
If I were to take this lab, I would make it a goal to complete module 1, and maybe module 2 in my first sitting. That is about 90 minutes of content, and more than enough for me to try and consume during my first foray into Advanced NSX.
If I get to Module 3, great. If not, though, I can simply jump straight to that module the next time I get into the lab. Sure, if I log in later today or tomorrow, or next week, it will not be the exact same instance of the lab environment I was working in, but it will be a fresh copy from the same template and the exercises in Module 3 will not require that I complete Modules 1-2 before beginning work.
Our intent is not for you to work through every module in a lab manual in one sitting.
In fact, we have found that users are generally able to spend about an hour at a time in a lab — even when they are taking labs at large events like VMworld. Phone calls, meetings, and life in general tend to get in the way of marathon lab sessions. Besides, the ergonomics people say that you should get up and take a break once in a while — at least 5 minutes each hour.
So, next time you open one of our labs and see that there are 90 minutes on the clock and 598 pages (!!!) in the manual, don’t worry. This isn’t a test. It simply means that you have a LOT of choices related to the topic that you chose. Open the Table of Contents and see what interests you… and feel free to skip anything that you don’t care about, too!
I hope that helps you all understand our thinking and how we have chosen to structure our content.
Enjoy your labs.