Research & Development Test Lab
I am one of the strongest proponents of having a dedicated test lab for research and continuing education that you’ll find. Over the years, I have built out a capable test lab of allowing me to test almost every scenario and technology that I encounter in my career as an enterprise consultant.
You do not need to build out a test lab like this to get started. However, if you are interested, I’m detailing my lab below so that you know how I built it out and use it.
The public cloud has tons of fantastic use cases, and is incredibly flexible. It can also be cost effective for certain testing scenarios. Spin up a few services for an hour or two to tinker with new features, and tear it down as soon as you’re done. I chose to use the Microsoft Azure platform for part of my test lab. I’ve worked extensively on other cloud platforms, and have had the best experience on Azure.
Laptops are your friend for portable power, and can be quite powerful with just a moderate amount of weight.
My primary laptop for use when on-site with customers or demoing tech at events is a Lenovo P1 Gen 2. It is configured with an eight-core Intel Core i9-9880H CPU, 64GB of RAM, and two 2TB NVMe SSDs. It’s insanely powerful and just 3.7 pounds, which really helps when lugging equipment through airports. I have the Hyper-V role enabled on Windows 10 for localized virtualization.
My secondary laptop, pulled out of the mothballs when needed, is an older Lenovo P50. It has a four core mobile Intel Xeon CPU, 64GB of RAM, two 1TB NVMe SSDs, and a 1TB SATA-based SSD. I have the Hyper-V role enabled on Windows 10 for localized virtualization. Not bad for 5.6 pounds! A networking crossover cable with static IP addresses allows me to communicate with the other laptop even if outside networking is not available (or not stable).
I am an equal opportunity descriminator of virtualization technologies. I want experience and exposure to many of the common platforms that are in use in the field, and as such, try to keep my lab as diverse as possible.
HPE DL380 Gen9 2U Rackmount Servers (x2)
- Two Intel Xeon E5-2670 v3 CPUs, each with 12 cores at 2.3GHz
- 384GB RAM
- 2x10GbE Intel NICs
- VMware vSphere 6.7 via 16GB USB thumbdrive installation
- One stays on and one is only powered on as needed
HPE DL580 G6 4U Rackmount Server (x1)
- Four Intel E7-4870 CPUs, each with 10 cores at 2.4GHz
- 512GB RAM
- 2x10GbE Intel NICs
- Microsoft Hyper-V 2019
- Powered on and off as needed, as this server is quite powerful but not kind to the power bill
HPE DL380 G6 2U Rackmount Servers (x2)
- Two Intel Xeon X5550 CPUs, each with four cores at 2.67GHz
- 72GB RAM
- 2x10GbE Intel NICs
- Operating system varies via USB thumbdrive boot
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux
- Microsoft Hyper-V 2016
- Powered on and off as needed
Building a consumer-grade server for virtualization platforms is quite a bit of fun, but these machines are not designed to run on a 24×7 basis. Purchasing refurbished servers from a place like your local refurbisher or Ebay can be quite compelling, as long as you have a location isolated enough to run them without disturbing your family. Reference ESISO as just one reseller that I have favored over the last ten years.
These can be powered on and off as needed to keep the household power bill to a minimum, and you’d be surprised at the power efficiency of some of the more modern equipement.
I also have a StarTech 25U open frame server rack in my utility room to keep everything contained.
The core of the lab is a 24-port Netgear M4300-12×12 10GbE switch. It’s rather unique in that it has twelve SFP+ ports and an additional twelve RJ45 10GbE ports. For some of the equipment that I have or is on loan, SFP+ is the datacenter standard. For more of the consumer-grade side of things, or when trying to keep costs to a minimum, the other twelve ports are able to use traditional CAT-6 cable for other devices.
I also never want to disrupt regular household operations if I’m tinkering in the lab and accidentally break things. I have a Cisco 3750G 48-port 1GbE switch for things like wireless, Internet traffic, printers, and media devices. This switch is never touched, and I won’t interrupt anything for any core device if I alter the 10GbE server network.
I also use Ubiquiti wireless AC access points throughout the house for the most robust and simplistic wireless mesh across our home office.