One of the most challenging areas most people within the IT profession and working in particular with cloud-based technology will find is keeping up to date with the skills needed to build their knowledge, staying abreast of the constant and evolving changes, and the ability to effectively ‘play’ with the technology in a safe isolated environment to their heart’s content.
My own experience with this type of professional development has been using a mix of old hardware and software-based hypervisors to build a lab that worked ok in small numbers, but when trying to scale up I always found I was hitting roadblocks with CPU, memory, and disk contention. As technology has improved the only benefit I found was downsizing the physical kit that was needed to run a lab and using hardware such as Intel NUCs or similar mini PCs to save on desk estate.
After joining risual as a Technical consultant, I knew I had to up my game. My learning style has always been hands-on over reading material online or watching training videos. Whilst I have a subscription to Pluralsight which has been great to help deep dive into some topics and using Microsoft Learn to further supplement that knowledge I knew I needed to work harder to aid my professional development. I knew I needed to apply some of that learning in an environment somewhere somehow.
So this will be my first post of two where here I will provide some information around my findings and choices you can consider in creating your own lab and in a second post I’ll provide the detail on how I went about setting my lab in Microsoft Azure and using Hyper-V in Windows 10 which I found to be a neat and tidy and well thought out option.
Some Options to Consider
Doing a search for ‘IT Labs’ on your favourite search engine will return many options and discussions around this subject.
From my own research, I found home labs are still predominately used by many professionals and enthusiasts as it helps to better manage costs once you make the initial investment in the underlying hardware.
For me personally the downside I found with sticking to this approach is limitations on upgrades on hardware, desk space, and the general water and feeding costs to keep it running as sometimes we forget about the additional costs of running hours on end hardware in the home.
I found a virtual IT lab was certainly more appealing for my circumstances. One of the benefits we have as consultants at risual is the ability to leverage an MSDN subscription to use for test/dev purposes with the added bonus of $150 monthly credit to use as we please to learn, explore and try Azure services.
As I started to research how best I could make use of this subscription I quickly found that Microsoft offer a number of different ways to help us all quickly learn about Microsoft products without the concerns and time required of standing up the underlying infrastructure needed when building a lab environment.
There are a number of offerings available directly through Microsoft sources, all with evaluation licenses which typically last around 90 days. The lab kits offered are:
Microsoft Endpoint Manager Evaluation Lab Kit – Provides scenarios and step by step guidance on areas which require consideration as end user devices are managed in the cloud.
Windows and Office Deployment Lab Kit – To help you plan, test, and validate modern desktops running Windows 10 Enterprise and Microsoft 365 Enterprise apps, managed by Enterprise Mobility + Security.
Both lab kits provide an automatically provisioned virtual lab environment, including a domain controller, Internet gateway, desktop clients, and a fully configured ConfigMgr instance, both labs are designed to integrate with Microsoft/Office 365 E5 and Enterprise Mobility & Security, all which are available through trials subscriptions if required. The lab environment files are also free to download.
The great bit in all of this is its ability to spin up the environment at the click of a button to import the environment into Hyper-V, once the role is installed, I have found it to be a painless experience if following the steps in the included guide.
Microsoft Endpoint Manager Lab kit –https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/evaluate-mem-evaluation-lab-kit
Windows and Office Deployment Lab Kit – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/evaluate-lab-kit
Microsoft 365 for enterprise Test Lab Guides – https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/enterprise/m365-enterprise-test-lab-guides?view=o365-worldwide
Stay tuned for my second post which will go into some detail around getting started with your lab once you have downloaded the files. I will be showing examples with an Azure virtual machine.