By Adam Eckerle
I’ve been traveling the Midwest lately speaking at VMUGs, USERCons, and vForum events. It’s been a whirlwind few months talking to many people and answering questions on various topics, such as, “What’s new with VMware vSphere 6?” “What are some new possibilities with technologies like VMware NSX and VMware vRealize Automation?” And—most of all—trying to answer the question, “How does a person keep up with all this new technology?” It certainly isn’t easy, but there are tools available that can help. One such tool I’ve been amazingly lucky to be a part of has been VMware Hands-On Labs (HOLs). In my travels I’ve been completely amazed at how many people are not yet aware of this really awesome tool.
So what are HOLs? Think of an HOL as a large cloud environment where hundreds, or even thousands, of lab environments are spun up, used and torn down simultaneously. A lab environment could consist of a few virtual machines or complex environments with virtual ESX hosts, VMware vCenter, NSX, vRealize Automation, etc. Some of the largest labs have upwards of 25 virtual machines and half a terabyte of storage. A user can login, browse the catalog of available labs—which, by the way, includes nearly 60 pre-built, fully functional lab environments already available—and deploy any lab of their choosing. Once deployed the user has full access to that environment for up to four hours. There are no guardrails or training wheels. If you want to go in and shut down your ESXi hosts – you can do that. But your lab will be very short!
The best part about all of this is that it is completely FREE and available 24x7x365 across the world. You are guided through each lab environment by the accompanying lab manual, which guides you from setting up the lab through some learning exercises. However, if you are brave, you can ignore the lab manual and just dig right in on your own. No guardrails, remember? Some primary reasons people love the HOLs is that they can try out VMware products—as well as partner products—and have a guided learning experience. You can take a look at something like vRealize Automation without spending hours downloading the software and then installing and configuring it. There are also partner labs where you can see integrations into VMware software. For example, HOL-PRT-1468 is an InfoBlox lab that shows the IPAM (IP Address Management) integration into vRealize Automation and VMware vCenter Orchestrator. So it’s not just about VMware! HOLs are a really great resource if you ask me – but then again I may be a bit biased.
Can you guess what can make Hands-On Labs even better? If you guessed, “Combine a Hands-On Lab with your VMware Technical Account Manager,” then you are right! As a Technical Account Manager (TAM) customer, you have a really unique opportunity. Something I’ve found to be very successful, and even fun, has been sitting down with my customers and going through some HOLs together. This facilitates a great learning experience, but it is also enhanced by the questions and discussions that result from participating in an HOL as a group. TAM customers should absolutely ask their TAMs to go through HOLs with them; I know your TAM will be happy to do so.
Something else that is interesting about HOLs is that they aren’t built by a group of people who are hidden away and inaccessible. All of the HOLs are built by volunteers – Sales Engineers, Technical Marketing Engineers, and even TAMs. So if you’re going through a lab and have questions, we can put you in contact with the small teams who actually built and produced the lab. Sometimes this even leads to improvements in the labs and occasional corrections in the lab manuals. I mentioned we’re all volunteers, right?
Finally, I think it is important to point out that we do have a lab development cycle. The cycle begins every year in March by assembling the teams of volunteers for each HOL. There is a 2–3 month development cycle to prepare the labs for VMworld U.S., which typically runs in August. Once VMworld U.S. is done, there is a small window for changes to the labs leading up to VMworld EU. There may be some exceptions, such as if new products—or major version releases of existing products—get launched, and a HOL may get released outside of VMworld as a result of this; but in general all the new labs that we’re currently developing will be released in August at VMworld U.S.
In summary, the VMware Hands-On Labs are an amazing learning and product evaluation tool that’s completely free and accessible from anywhere (with an Internet connection) and from any device. I’ve personally used the HOL instead of spending thousands of dollars on a home lab, but there are so many other reasons to leverage this resource. All that’s needed to sign up is an email address. Take a look at http://labs.hol.vmware.com – there are even some introductory videos to help get you started. I encourage you to speak with your TAM about the labs you’re interested in, or, if you’ve already taken HOLs, to provide feedback. We want to make sure this resource brings the most possible value to you and your organization so ANY feedback is always welcome! Thanks for reading and have fun in the labs!
Adam is currently a TAM for VMware who works with a small number of large Enterprise & Government customers as a consultant within the VMware Professional Services Organization (PSO). Adam provides technical guidance and advocacy to his customers and provides customers access to exclusive content, access to road maps & product managers, as well as being the single point of contact for everything VMware-related. He currently holds VCAP-DCA, VCAP-DCD, VCAP-DTD, EMCISA, and several Cisco Data Center Specialist certifications. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn.