I have received a lot of comments, private messages, and emails from the community asking me what I suggest for them to do in order to learn System Administrator topics in order to help them in job interviews or to help them in their current job if they are already working in the field.
Introduction: Ultimate VBox Setup
One answer always comes to mind with these types of questions; Virtualization. Setup a virtual test lab by configuring a virtual server (virtual pc), download the trial versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, install them and practice practice practice. Setup a domain controller or two. Take one offline and practice bringing another one online to simulate a down domain controller, Setup SQL server, WSUS, and so on.
This article is part 1 of 6 in the series:
- Part 1: Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – Intro
- Part 2: Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – Configure Vbox
- Part 3: Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – Install pfSense
- Part 4: Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – Install Windows 2012 Base
- Part 5: Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – Prep for .vdi Compacting
- Part 6: Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – Linked Clones
- Bonus: Building the Ultimate VirtualBox Lab – RDP to Virtual Machines
In the past, I have setup many different virtual lab environments including:
For this article, I chose to go with Oracle VirtualBox. If money wasn’t an issue, I would probably choose VMWare Workstation. Actually, if money really wasn’t an issue, I would buy a nice server with a SAN and setup VMWare ESXi. Ok, enough dreaming.
One of the issues I faced was having enough resources on the host’s computer where I can run 3 or 4 servers along with a couple of client computers at the same time while not worrying about CPU, RAM, and hard drive space.
Since I recently built a new computer as my main box to handle video editing (and anything else I want to throw at it), I finally decided to search out the best methods for hosting all of my virtual machines on this box. These days, I use my laptop about 95% of the time and only touch my big desktop for video editing. Why not put this computer’s horsepower to use since I’m hardly using it as is.
The specs of this machine are as follows:
- Case: Cooler Master HAF 922
- Motherboard: Gigabyte Z77-D3H
- CPU: Intel i7-3770S
- RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB
- Hard Drive 1: SSD – Kingston HyperX 120GB
- Hard Drive 2: SSD – Kingston HyperX 240GB
- Hard Drive 3: HDD – 80GB
- Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT
- Operating System: Windows 8 Enterprise Evaluation
At this point what I want to do is give you a visual of what I have in mind. I am not an artist by any means so hopefully you can understand what I’m illustrating here. This is just a basic idea of the SSD/HDD configuration:
To help better explain the drawing, here is what is going on. We are going to be using Linked Clones to setup many virtual machines. The main reason I am using Linked Clones is to save on hard drive space.
A brief description of Linked Clones: Setup a “base” virtual machine, install all patches/updates, sysprep and shutdown the machine (You will not turn this machine back on). This will be the base image that all future machines (same OS) will use when setting them up. Any changes made to the Linked Clones will be saved in their own .vdi in their own folder.
This is a HUGE plus for me since my SSDs are not very large. Also, using SSDs for this task is a huge advantage. Since I will be having multiple virtual machines running at the same time, they will all be using the base image so having the fast read/write speed will help with performance. I have not tried it using non SSDs but am curious how well it works.
As a side note: You can still have a standard HDD for things like SQL Databases, WSUS updates storage, network share storage, and more where speed is not as crucial.
Download the software and ISO images to prepare for the setup:
- Windows Server 2012 (eval)
- Windows Server 2008 R2 (eval)
- Windows 8 (eval)
- pfSense (Find the .iso that fits your needs. I used the an i386 version which the link has since been broken)
pfSense is going to act as our environment’s firewall/router to simulate a real life business
This article was only the beginning, introducing you to building the ultimate VirtualBox test lab.
In the next article (coming soon), we will be setting up the environment. I will walk you step-by-step in the entire process and by the end of the series, you should have a well-rounded and stable virtual test lab. From there on, you can go wild with setting up different servers, clients, testing group policies, pushing out software, breaking servers and learning how to handle disaster recovery and so on.
Happy self-education guys and girls! Please post your comments/questions down below and I will try to answer them as quickly as possible.