IT testlabs for everybody!

Not too long ago I was in a SANS course, about the Critical Security Controls. More than once our teacher Russell nudged us, suggesting that “you could be applying these to your home network as well!” which brought us to the subject of testlabs. “What would make a good testlab for us?” was something asked along the way.

To sum things up: it really doesn't have to be glamorous! As long as your lab helps you experiment and learn, it's a good lab for your! So here's a few quick reminders for IT folks who would like to get their feet wet in setting up their own labs.

Many homelabs have humble beginnings: if you have some spare room on your PC or laptop, you're good to go! If you throw the free and open source VirtualBox software on there, you can get started running a small number of VMs right away. Want something more polished? Take a look at VMWare's or Parallel's offerings! Both offer prosumer solutions for the private environment, that allow you to run a few VMs without incurring too much costs. And if you're already running Linux, there's always the fan-favorites KVM and Qemu.

So what do you put into that shiny, new lab of yours? Well, whatever you like of course!

If there's a course or exam you're studying for, run the relevant software in your lab. Tinker with it. Mess with it. Break it and fix it. Then do some unexpected funny business with it. Enjoy yourself!

Need to learn new software for work? Want to try a new programming language? Feeling nostalgic and want to run those old games from yesteryear? Throw it into your lab!

Then after a few years, you may start feeling cramped. There's only so many VMs you can run in the spare space of your day-to-day computer. What to do? What to do?! You can't exactly go out and buy some expensive, enterprise-grade hardware, can you? ... Or, could you? ;)

This is when you turn to resources like OpenHomeLab and /r/homelab. There are many ways of getting performant virtualization platforms for relatively little money. For example, if you feel spendy you could put together your own server hardware from a source like SuperMicro, or buy a new Intel NUC. The latter are tiny powerhouses that can be easily tucked away and which don't make a lot of noise (spouse-friendly!).

Want to be more frugal? Turn to one of the many hardware refurbishing companies in your area. Their whole purpose is to buy older enterprise equipment, clean it up and resell it to second-hand buyers. Do your research and you'll find some really great stuff out there.

With your newfound enterprise hardware it's also time to move to enterprise-level virtualization! Huzzah! New things to learn! And there are so many great choices! Windows Server comes with Hyper-V. Linux comes with KVM and Qemu. And there's always the tried-and-true (and FREE!) VMWare ESXi. Or if you're feeling daring, take a look at the awesome ProxMox.

To illustrate the aforementioned, here's my own story:

  • My original lab consisted of Parallels Desktop running on my day-to-day Macbook.
  • Once I moved my daily ops to a Macbook Air, the old Macbook switched to CentOS Linux running KVM (as part of my RHCSA and RHCE studies).
  • After finishing those studies, I continued with VMWare Fusion on the Macbook Air (because it had a better CPU and more RAM than the aging Macbook).
  • Running two Windows Servers and three Linux boxen aside the usual MacOS on the Air worked fine, but I needed more room to grow!
  • I bought a refurbished Dell R410. Sure, it's already nine years old and yes it makes a lot of noise, but it's a great server to run a homelab on. Between the 8 CPU cores (with hyperthreading!) and 32GB of RAM I now run thirteen VMs and the system's only half full. Ample room for growth.
  • The image at the top of this article show my current setup, which includes network segmentation, firewalls, a Microsoft Active Directory infra, a PKI and a wad of Linuxen.

To sum things up: just get stuck in! Start small and keep learning!

 

Source: Blog Tess Sluijter