The Importance of a Home Lab Environment for IT Professionals

I love working in my lab.  It’s a place where I can experiment with complete freedom.  In this weeks post I present the case for IT Professionals to set up and use a home lab environment.

In November of last year, I set up a lab environment in my home office.  I used a dedicated computer with a dual core cpu and 16gb of ram.  I’m running CentOS 7.  On top of that I have VMware Workstation 11 installed.  I wanted a dedicated computer for the lab so I could have the freedom to rebuild it with out impacting my primary workstation.  I also didn’t want to worry about sharing resources on my primary workstation.  I use a DisplayPort KVM switch which allows me to share the same Keyboard, Montior, and Mouse between both computers.

My original intent was to use the lab to study for some certification tests.  Although I did use it to study, I found that it has many more uses.

Having a lab gives you a chance to do things that you never get to do at work

I often hear from IT Professionals who say that they never get to work on the cool stuff that they really want to work on.  They get stuck doing support work while someone else gets to deploy a new Domain Controller.  Well, your lab is the perfect place to make up the difference.  If you want to deploy a new Domain Controller, go ahead and deploy one in your lab.  Install the features that interest you.  If you’re not satisfied with it you can improve upon it or blow it away and start over.  When did you have the freedom to do that at work?

There are no deadlines in your home lab environment

You can spend an entire day in your lab working on something.  Then you may take some time off and come back to it a week later.  Your work will still be there.  There’s no one hounding you to get something done and move on to the next project.  In the corporate world there are always deadlines.  In your lab you are free to work at your own pace.

Your lab is the perfect place to test out the latest versions of software before you ever get to use them at work

I have a Red Hat Developer Subscription which allows me to download and run licensed versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  I’ve been running RHEL 7 for several months in my lab.  Most corporate production environments are still on RHEL 6.  When my clients start deploying RHEL 7 I’ll be ahead of the game because I’ve already been working with it for a while.

Your lab is a great place to solve problems that you don’t have time to work on at work

The idea for my blog post on Mapping disks between VMware and Red Hat came from a question that someone asked me on a Friday at work.  I told the person that I’d work on it in my lab over the weekend and get back to them next week.  I spend the entire Saturday in my lab working on the solution and writing it up into a blog post.  On Monday I shared the results.  I had a lot of fun working on it and my clients were impressed.

If you enjoy the technical aspects of working in IT then I think that you owe it to yourself to set up your own lab environment at home. It will be a great learning experience and you will have a lot of fun.

I enjoyed experimenting with technology long before I ever made any money in IT.  When I’m working in my lab I feel like I did when I was a teenager installing Linux for the first time.  Everything is new and exciting.

Bret Miller – Owner and Principal Consultant, LMR Computer Services Inc

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