The Mobile Lab

, 2019-05-11

My son came home from college the other day to hang out with the family for a few hours. It's always nice to see him and find out what interesting things are happening in his life. This time he talked a bit about his job. He is employed by one of the computer lab, where he's been learning about PXE booting, PowerShell, and more. One of the projects the lab has this summer is upgrading some of the PCs as they move the to outfit a new aerospace engineering lab up in Boulder.

This week he's been setting up new NUC computers, both i7-based systems with 16GB of RAM and i5-based systems with 8GB. We chatted a bit about these as I've never used one, but I've considered one for a mobile lab. With some of the airport security rules in the EU, however, I decided not to get one. He's excited, as these are small devices, he gets to spend time building them up with RAM and M.2 SATA drives, and then ensure their Windows image works correctly. He built his own system with some help from Glenn Berry years ago, and he's a bit of a geek for hardware.

That got me thinking. I've had the same laptop for almost three years, which is a long time for a machine. It works OK, but I suspect I'll replace it in the next year with something. This week I saw a couple of reviews that caught my eye. One for the update to my HP Spectre, though a 15" x360, and the other for a new Lenovo x395, that looks really nice. I don't know that I want anything larger than a 13", as I like the portability of those machines. the idea of moving to 6 cores is interesting, especially as I still end up demoing a fair amount of things locally.

Building a lab for technology work is an interesting task. It's something that most of us likely should do, since it forces us to think about how systems are put together. A question from a few years ago asked how for advice, and I roughly agree with Grant's answer that the cloud can be a better way to go. The hard part in the cloud is there is an ongoing cost, and if any of you are like me, you end up getting busy with your lab for a few months, then you get busy in life and the lab shuts down. Even if you shut down the VMs, paying for storage might not be something you want in a home lab. I don't know where the break even is, but having VMs on storage at home still feels cheaper than the cloud. Perhaps it's a known v unknown cost? What do you think?

I really have two labs right now. I've got some things setup on my laptop, with Hyper-V and containers that let me test a few newer technology items. I then have a desktop with VMWare and a 4 VM domain that lets me test some larger scale items. If I need to do clustering/AGs, I've found it easier to build-up/teardown this in Azure, where if I make a mistake or finish, I haven't disrupted other work in progress. Plus, I get to play in Azure with a few free credits from my MVP award.

For those of you that are trying to improve your skills, study for a test, experiment, or even build something for yourselves, what is your lab setup? Do you still make do with local hardware? Hyper-V/Virtual Box/VMWare/something else? Lots of older machines? I'm curious what things help you build a lab. I'm likely to stick with VMWare and my desktop for now, though I am eyeing a different laptop later this year. Anyone thrilled with their machine? No Surface Books, please. I keep seeing too many people with issues and I prefer stability over most other features.

 

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