Hardware and Software Tricks to Save Money on IT Labs
The subject of technology labs can trigger spirited discussions among IT professionals as there are a multitude of opinions about the most efficient setups. With a seemingly endless amount of options and purposes for labs, it is no wonder many industry professionals have different approaches to their preferred solutions. An important distinguishing factor among configuration advice for labs is the purpose of the lab. Whether you are trying to build a home lab for personal use, a study lab for a certification, testing software, or a proof of concept lab for your company, many variables are defined by your particular purpose.
The purpose of a lab often determines whether it will fulfill a quick need and if it is under a substantially limited budget. If you are simply wanting to get hands on experience at home, or if your lab is generally under a very tight budget, you may want to consider starting with a laptop or desktop system. Running Windows 8.1 or 10, will allow you to virtualize right from your personal computing system with the included Hyper-V. Hyper-V allows more than one 32-bit or 64-bit x86 operating system to run on a single PC via a virtual machine.
The purpose of a lab frequently also determines the type of software you need to run and therein what kind of hardware is necessary. Some software may require the use of server-grade hardware. The most important thing to keep in mind if you do require server-grade hardware is that you often do not need the “latest and greatest” models to fulfill your lab’s purpose. For example, if you are building a study lab to obtain a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) or VMware Certified Professional (VCP) certification you could benefit from using refurbished, or reconditioned, IT equipment. The savings from utilizing refurbished is substantial. You could purchase a single server from a new generation, or you could purchase three refurbished servers for roughly the same amount. A cluster of servers would also be beneficial in that you could explore some of the more advanced features that are tested in certification programs.
On the other hand, if you are building a proof of concept lab with the intention of having a new setup signed off on, you may be looking at the latest hardware available as some programs will only run at desired speeds when matched with the newer technology. In these cases, you may be looking at $50K in potential lab hardware expenses, which can be difficult to receive approval on without having the hardware to prove your point. Leasing or renting hardware equipment can come in handy in these situations, allowing you to prove the hardware is needed without having to pay the full cost upfront.
When it comes to software, if a particular system is not being tested in your lab environment, there are a number of ways you can save money and still fulfill your needs. Again, the purpose of the lab will in many cases determines the software in use. But before you spend thousands of dollars on licensing for a lab that may only be in use for a short period of time, consider taking advantage of free, trial, or open source software. In addition to having Hyper-V included in recent Microsoft OS software, you can also test virtualization for free from platforms such as Oracle Virtualbox, RedHat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV), and the free version of VMware’s ESXi. Running virtual machines will also allow you to explore advanced features on fewer physical servers. Other software tricks to consider are running Windows 7 and taking advantage of the free upgrade to Windows 10, or utilizing the 180-day evaluation version of Server 2012 R2 that can be changed into a licensed version if you decide to bring it to your production environment.
A final option for consideration for more advanced IT professionals is to utilize hosted, private virtual servers. At Aventis Systems, we offer virtual private server (VPS) plans which are available on month-to-month, 1-year, or 2-year contracts.
To listen to a lively discussion between Aventis Systems’ technical experts, "watch our recorded webinar. You can also browse the webinar slides below.
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