How to Build a Test Lab
You may be wondering how the Engineers here at Mirazon stay on the bleeding edge of new technologies. With Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2 just around the bend, we need to experience the changes, and yes, foibles of the new products. That’s what Preview releases are all about after all; showing the IT professionals out there what’s coming so we can both be ready and show our customers effective new solutions to their challenges.
So what’s the best way to keep abreast of, in this case, Microsoft products and features? By experiencing them firsthand of course! Now, this is generally neither recommended nor safe for production, although many of our engineers are running 8.1 preview including this one. So how do we test new features without disrupting production environments? By use of a virtual lab!
They Called Me Mad
Mad? Me? A bit perturbed about the world situation, but certainly not mad…sorry, wrong kind of lab there. A virtual lab environment gives you the freedom to try whatever strikes your fancy or training needs at the time without disturbing business functions. Whether you use Hyper-V, VMWare, or Azure, a lab is a mighty tool for testing. What I plan to lay out for you here is a lab using the Hyper-V role to test new products and cover some of the new features unleashed in 8.1 and 2012 R2.
The Brass Tacks
The Hardware needs of your lab will vary greatly on how big of one you wish to build. For smaller environments, you don’t need much. In fact, you can run a 2-3 VM lab on a Surface Pro even, if you’re careful. But for full on testing and training, you’re going to needs some heftiness behind it. I recommend at least 16GB of RAM and at least 500GB of storage. With dynamic memory and VHDs, this can build you a pretty extensive virtual environment. If you want to take it a step further, I recommend the specs listed in Jeff Guillet’s blog found here.
For my lab and my example here, I decided to build off of the Hyper-V role that comes with Windows 8.1 (also available to you in 8). The first order of business, as with any software, is to enable the feature. Simply open your Start Screen and start typing “Turn Windows Features On”:
Once the window comes up, check the box next to Hyper-V and reboot after it installs. Congrats, your machine is now a Hypervisor.
When your PC wakes from its transformation, you’ll find the Hyper-V Manager available. Fire up Hyper-V manager and create some virtual switches. I recommend one for Internet access and a Private network for inter-device networking. With that done, it’s time to create some VMs! Simply select new and get this adventure started.
Now that we’re creating VMs, it is a good time to point out some of the new Hyper-V features found in 8.1 and 2012 R2. After you name your VM and select where it will be stored, you’ll be given a choice regarding what Generation your VM is. Generation is new to the latest version of Hyper-V and allows for many advanced features including PXE boot with any network adapter, SCSI boot, and secure boot. Generation 2 VMs can only be Windows 8 or Server 2012 and up though, and generation cannot be changed once the VM is created.
Choose your generation and move on to memory. As I stated before, and cannot state enough, dynamic memory is where the magic happens. Give it enough startup memory to boot, which will depend on what you intend to run on it, and check dynamic memory. Most general functions won’t run away with your memory, although Exchange can be a little resource hungry. If it’s a concern, you can cap this in your settings later.
Select your network here. I’d leave it to the internet connected network we initially set up earlier for updating purposes at first. Next, specify hard disk size. By default, it will create a dynamically expanding vhdx with a max size of what you set. Once again, the dynamic sizing is great for lab use, especially for small deployments like on a Surface Pro. Now you have your first VM! Repeat as necessary until you have the environment suited to the purposes you’re putting it toward.
Now What Do We Do With It?
How you use your lab is totally dependent on why you need it. Whether you want to test out 8.1 without wiping your PC, and dealing with some of the bugs, or you want to run a functional Enterprise Lync deployment, a virtual lab is a powerful tool. It becomes even more powerful with 8.1 and 2012 R2 VMs. Remember above, when I mentioned the Generation 2 VM? 8.1 and 2012 R2 VMs also get something called an Enhanced Session. It’s an RDP connection across the VM Bus rather than over network, giving you all the fun of RDP without having to have a network connection between the host and VM. This allows for things like copy/paste being more seamless, making working with your lab Virtual Machines that much easier. I encourage you to give the new OS’s a try, and rest easy in the knowledge that your friendly Mirazon engineers are as well. Happy Labbing!