By Carl Olafson
Staff Technical Account Manager
Over the past decade, Information Technology has become increasingly disruptive, requiring additional focus on Enablement. I’ve broken enablement down into three pillars:
Education augmented by Experience and backed by Certification.
This article focuses on the middle pillar “Experience” and how to accomplish it. There is no substitute for “On the Job” Experience, but in many cases, we need to be enabled on an emerging technology for potential career growth or just to remain relevant in the industry. When it comes to VMware technology, experience can also be attained through Hands-on Labs (HOL) or a Home Lab.
If you are a VMUG member (or want to join), there is a great 45-minute recorded session on Home Lab versus Hands-on Lab (http://vshow.on24.com/vshow/VMUG_VUC_2017/registration/13852). Although the VMUG Virtual event was on 06/08/2017, it will remain open until the next event. The above link will take you to the registration page, where you can register or there is a link if you previously registered. You will find the VMware OnDemand session under the VMware Banner in the “Virtual Lobby”. The Home Lab versus Hands-on Labs session was recorded with Matt Mancini (fellow Staff TAM) covering Home Labs and myself covering Hands-on Labs. I was a Hands-on Lab Captain for HOL-SDC-1610/HOL-SDC-1710 and remain passionate about HOL.
The starting point should always be “Have a plan.” Home Lab versus HOL has trade-offs. If your plan is to get experience with building ESXi hosts and installing VMware software, then the best choice is a Home Lab. Consultants generally have home labs because they are building content, which is another good reason. With HOL, I could connect to HOL-SDC-1701 and build dashboards in vRealize Operations. I could even hit the export link and create a zip file on the Lab desktop. But the environment is fenced, so I cannot get content in and out of HOL to use in another environment.
If you go down the path of a Home Lab, the best advice I can give you is to treat it like an IT shop. Design and Document your environment and remember that the hardware will have a supportability lifecycle, so be mindful of cost to support and maintain the Lab. It’s also beneficial to be a VMUG Advantage member or nominated as a vExpert. Both provide a 1 year NFR license key on most VMware Products/Suites. Matt Mancini (aka Mr. Home Lab à As I call him) has a blog site with a dedicated Home Lab section (https://vmexplorer.com/home-lab-current-information/). I also suggest William Lam’s blog site (http://www.virtuallyghetto.com/?s=NUC). With the advent of the Intel NUC, many technologists are leveraging them for Home Labs, and William has some excellent links/articles on the Intel NUC and Nested ESXi hosts. For more information on using Supermicro hosts for Home Labs, check out Tai Ratcliff’s blog site. ( https://lab-rat.com.au/author/tairatcliff/ )
Reviewing these blogs (and there are many more) will give you the knowledge to make an informed decision about a Home Lab.
When Matt and I recorded the Home Lab versus HOL, it was more “tongue and cheek.” It doesn’t need to be one or the other. Home Labs do have a cost associated, and in 2009 I was at a point where my lab was outdated and I needed new hardware. My focus was on “Day 2” operations, so the installation and configuration component was less of a concern. At the time, I wanted to upgrade my 1990 Mustang to 5 lug, four-wheel disc with a posi-traction rear axle. I had a choice of purchasing a new Home Lab or upgrading my Mustang (couldn’t afford both). I chose to upgrade my Mustang!
I started with a plan. My focus was on day two operations, where I just needed to have hands-on experience with the VMware products. Hands-On Labs is excellent for that. There are labs covering everything from EUC to SDDC. I’m a vRealize Operations SME, and much of my experience comes from utilizing the scenario based training within the labs. And these are fully functioning labs, so you can go off-script and perform any function you want. As an example, I started playing with the Virtual Distributed Switch (vDS) in an HOL lab and messed up the uplinks, causing one of my hosts to get disconnected. In a Home Lab, I would have needed to repair the damage. In HOL, I merely exited the lab and then re-enrolled getting a fresh (properly configured) lab. If you have not already used Hands-on Labs and have an interest, go to https://labs.hol.vmware.com. Use the Login/Register link to get started. There is also a link to the Manuals and Communities forum on the main landing page (https://hol.vmware.com).
To summarize, the best starting point is to have a plan and do the necessary research. I recently revised my plan and I am now thinking about the best way to build programming skills. IMHO, there will be a dramatic shift from the concept of a “Single Pane” UI to “All Things Automated,” where the UI only comes into play for edge-cases and then is automated if possible. To that end, I want to have programming skills and a better understanding of working with APIs. I started my IT career as a COBOL/Visual Basic programmer. I am now looking at getting a couple of Raspberry PIs (https://www.raspberrypi.org/). It’s a great way to tinker with Linux and Python. Plus, I hope to draw my 8 and 10-year-old into the experience. I fully expect my plan to evolve into a Home Lab, where I can take what I have learned and automate functions in a full SDDC stack. In the end, my journey will still leverage HOL for Day 2 functions, Raspberry PI for Programming and a Home Lab to bring it all together with SDDC automation. Wherever your journey takes you, have fun and share your experience so others can benefit.
Carl Olafson is a Staff Technical Account Manager for VMware living in Southern California. Carl started with VMware in 2008. He has VCP-DCV, VCP-NV and VCAP-DCV (Design) certifications. Beyond his TAM duties, Carl is on the VMUG Compass Editorial Review Board, a Hands-on Lab Captain (2016/2017), VMworld Speaker, CTO Ambassador, vExpert and a member of TAM Tech Lead – vRealize Operations.