Hands on Labs: If you built it, they will come

Today was the premier of my home grown “Hands on Labs” at a Lunch and Learn in Kansas City sponsored by DP Sciences, EMC, Cisco, and VMware. We discussed what went on at VMworld including product announcements, licensing changes, and other highlights from the show. After lunch however we did things a little differently than your typical lunch and learn. Instead of more slide and someone talking we offered attendees the change to get up close and personal with some real world products.


Most vendors have lab environments, and if pushed they might even give you access. So you may be wondering why I built all this? My answer has three parts:

  1. I’m a big geek
  2. Because I was asked to
  3. (and most important) Because it’s vendor neutral

Obviously lab environments owned by a vendor are going to promote that vendors products, and rightfully so, but what if you want a third party view on things? Or what if you want to see a couple of the competing solutions before making a choice? Or what if you want to try out several products and see how they work together? That is where these labs will come in, they will give you the IT guy the opportunity to see a product in action in a consequence free environment so that you can make a more informed purchase decision.

The Labs

At this event I was offering two labs, the first covered the new VMware vSphere 5.1 Web Interface (Which will sooner or later…. completely replace the current windows based client); the second lab covered how you can use Veeam to backup and replication a virtual machine. Most people started off with Lab 1 and some even made it through to Lab 2. And out of the 40 or so people who came to the lunch and learn, over half stayed for the labs. Remember the labs were AFTER lunch, lol…

The Experience

If you want to get more information on what the attendees had to pick from check out the new Hands on Labs section on my site. It’s up at the top in the green bar. Inside you will find descriptions of the two labs that are currently available as well as information about upcoming labs that I am either working on, or plan to work on.

Overall I think that those who took the labs enjoyed them, and if all went as planned they also learned something that will help them day to day. I was very impressed too, because being the first time that I’ve done this…. my instructions and initial guidance could have been better… but after getting everyone logged in to the View Desktops things started to run much smoother…. well for a while….

What I learned

I have done lunch and learns before… never with anything hands on like this though…. and normally they were half the size as this event. So when planning I planned for about 10-15 groups to do the labs… when 20+ groups stayed I was nervous because of the hardware running the lab.

Everything for today’s event ran on two physical servers. Some long time friends who run a hosting company were nice enough to lend me a couple of servers at their Dallas datacenter to run everything. When I spoke with Mike (my friend) he offered me two boxes with 2-Intel 5650 xeons, 98GB of ram, and 2TB of RAID 10 storage each. I was blown away … that was much more than I expected to need, however when you have 20+ groups doing labs it just not enough 🙂 Personally I think that is awesome! (at one point when I checked the stats on the server doing just the labs (not the view desktops) it was using 94GB of ram, and over 20Ghz of CPU power!!!)

Lab 1 consists of 3 virtual machines, a Linux vCenter server, a Windows XP management machine, and an ESXi host. Lab 2 consists of two ESXi hosts, and a windows server running Veeam. On average each lab deployed will consume about 8GB of ram… as you can imagine after people started to put a load on those VM’s the physical RAM usage on the host servers went to 100% and stayed there for the remainder of the time.

So what I learned is…. if you build them (and they’re cool) people will come!

What’s Next

My goal is to built out the infrastructure running these labs, as well as get a few more people together to help develop content. Another goal is to work on the scripting and orchestration so that it is not a manual process to provision vCloud and View information. Once that piece is in place it will be much easier to offer the labs online instead of just coming to a lunch and learn… although I think that lunch and learns as well as VMUG meetings will be the primary focus so that myself or others who develop and work on the labs can be there for support reasons.


In closing I want to say thank you to Joshua Andrews, Roger Lund, Joe Adams, as well as the other vExperts that helped me beta test the labs. There is always room for improvement, but without these guys helping me over the last week it would not have been as good of an experience.

I also want to thank Mike at UbiquityServers.com for lending me some hardware! Without them this absolutely would not have happened. So if you are in need of some colo space, a dedicated server, managed website hosting, or just a Teamspeak server, check them out!

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6 Responses to "Hands on Labs: If you built it, they will come"

  1. Congrats man! You did a great job of putting this all together. This sort of set up is exactly what other folks should be doing at ALL of the preso’s. Us geeky folks want to dig deep in to the tech and not so much into the sales-y stuff. Getting our hands dirty is what we do for a living, and being able to touch the technology that we might not be able to do in a production environment ROCKS!

  2. Autolab uses vsphere or workstation directly and is for vmware only products. These labs are on top of vcloud director and feature 3rd party products.

    I spoke with alastair at VMworld about what i was doing and it sounded like it wouldnt line up.

  3. Ahh what a pity, could you use it as a base maybe for the other apps you are running? Something could be better than nothing in this case…:)

  4. Maybe, but the main point of the hands on labs is that everything is already built and partly configured. the person doing the lab has to either finish the config, or just use the product that is already configured

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