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Testing 1, 2, 3: Tips for the perfect virtualization lab

Virtual labs are an asset to IT pros looking to avoid software-related issues in their production environment. In these tips, we take a closer look at what makes a good lab environment.

When it comes to creating a first line of defense against failure in a data center, a virtualization lab is an...

administrator's best friend. By constructing lab environments that closely mirror their production environments, administrators can safely install and play around with new technologies, ironing out any potential wrinkles well before introducing new software to their organizations' production environments.

From in-house labs to home labs and from top-of-the-line systems to labs built on a budget, there are a number of options for admins to consider when tailoring virtualization lab environments to suit their specific needs. Get started constructing your own virtual test lab by checking out these top five tips.

Setting guidelines for VMs in a lab environment

Although arguments have been made in favor of testing within a production environment, most organizations continue to use lab VMs to try out new service packs and tools. This is well and good, as lab environments are generally safe, sandboxed environments, but placing too much faith in your lab environment can lead to negligence. Too often, administrators fail to establish policies for lab virtual machines (VMs), putting their production environment at risk.

Lab VM policy guidelines are not "one size fits all," because no two organizations use lab VMs in exactly the same way. Policies for creation, configuration and use must be tailored to suit the needs of an individual organization's virtualization infrastructure. There are a number of things to consider when setting policies for lab VMs, from resource consumption to VM sprawl. Ultimately, creating guidelines for your lab environment can save you from making mistakes where it really counts, in your production environment.

Create a home virtualization lab for less

Constructing the perfect home virtualization lab can be a challenge, and, for the uninitiated, an expensive one at that.

Constructing the perfect home virtualization lab can be a challenge, and, for the uninitiated, an expensive one at that. However, with a little guidance and some smart shopping, choosing the right hardware and software doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. According to IT consultant Trevor Pott, if you use inexpensive -- and even free -- components, it's possible to set up an efficient in-home virtualization lab capable of running new technologies from Microsoft, VMware and other organizations for as little as $1,000.

EVALExperience gives home labs an edge

In the high-intensity IT industry, tech professionals often find themselves doing work off the clock in order to keep up with the demands of their jobs while educating themselves about new technologies. The latter is especially significant, as professionals must find ways to bridge the gap between newly acquired knowledge and its application in a virtual infrastructure, which can be difficult to manage from home. Fortunately, home labs make it easier.

Home labs allow administrators to experiment with new software in a secure environment before applying the same technology to a production environment. However, most vendors offer software for home-lab use on a limited trial basis, which makes it difficult to get fully acquainted with new products. VMware responded to this common issue by releasing EVALExperience, a software evaluation program available to VMUG Advantage subscribers. EVALExperience offers access to the latest versions of a number of VMware programs, including Virtual SAN and vCenter Server Standard, allowing admins who work regularly with VMware products to bypass the traditional trial period system and test out new software in a home lab.

Methods for building a vSphere lab environment

Hands-on experience can make or break the career of any IT professional, which makes it crucial to test out new technology as soon as it hits the market. Testing in a home lab is often the first step to a successful software implementation, and there are several things to take into consideration when setting up a home lab.

There are three basic ways to build a vSphere lab -- using retired servers, desktop PCs, or nested virtualization. Each method has its own unique appeal: Retired servers offer access to physical hardware similar to what is used in production; desktop PCs are small, quiet and efficient; nested virtualization is portable. Whether you're setting up a vSphere lab for the home or the office, it's important to keep track of storage performance and RAM, which can limit your testing environment.

Building a vSphere lab with nested virtualization

When it comes to designing a virtual lab, nested virtualization can be a useful and cost-effective tool. With the right specifications, a virtual lab created with nested virtualization can run on relatively inexpensive servers. But setting up any lab environment is never a one-step process, and a vSphere lab is no exception to the rule. There are a number of things administrators must do for a nested vSphere virtual lab to run smoothly and efficiently, from selecting the right hardware to installing a copy of virtual ESXi onto the server.

Next Steps

Add storage to your virtual test lab

Tips for building a VMware home lab

Gain expertise with a Hyper-V home lab

This was last published in February 2016

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