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Essential Skills with Virtual Training

Posted 5 November 2014 by Anthony Green

The benefits of using virtualisation technology for a computer systems engineer’s skill training has become a huge part of certification and also the teaching of “real world” scenarios. Ever wondered how those guys with MCSE and CCNA certifications got hands-on experience with the material to begin with?

No matter which hypervisor you choose, the ability to install, configure and manage a variety of operating systems all networked together provides everyone, from beginner to experienced system engineer, the chance to make huge strides in their training.

Virtualisation in a production environment, like that provided by VMware’s ESX Server requires the setting up of networking and storage facilities and then most of a company’s physical servers can be in virtual form on the host machine. This can provide savings in hardware; less cooling needed for all those physical machines and gives a centralised platform for managing the server environment.

In a training environment though we’re less interested in these things – it allows us to setup a large network of different operating systems and to get the hands-on experience we need to become and maintain our systems engineer status.

On my laptop at home, which has a quad-core processor and 8GB of RAM, I’m able to store an entire Windows domain: Controller, Exchange Server, SQL Server, SCCM Server and Windows 7 client all networked and able to run simultaneously. These all have to be installed and configured from scratch which provides excellent training in its own right. Microsoft for example provides free ISO’s of its Server and Client operating systems on 180 day trials so that you can be up and running in no time. Linux operating system ISO’s are also freely available for download.

Being the administrator of all these machines, after all I built them, I’m not limited in any way in the configuration of the domain. This is important, as to fully understand and work with all the intricate bits of the product you need to be a system administrator.

For all of this I use Virtualbox as the hypervisor as it’s free and with the virtual machines built. I now only require a book or video series for the subject I’m trying to learn and the VM’s will provide my hands-on lab experience.

If it’s detailed network devices that you need to learn then GNS3 is an excellent simulator. It stands for Graphical Network Simulator and lets those who would struggle to get experience with physical routers and switches work at the command line to configure and maintain these devices in virtual form. You can even combine Virtualbox and GNS3 for the complete virtual experience in networking design.

Those aiming for the CCNA certification would be well advised to get acquainted with this free software as it allows for the setting up and testing of simple, right through to complex routing environments - similar to those found on the exam simulations.

The ability to hold an entire network on a single device, which can be accessed in minutes has really changed the way in which we train these subjects. At work I use Microsoft Hyper-V, which is a simple and effective hypervisor and I always start my weekly training sessions by asking the students what virtual setups they have at home and if they don’t have one then challenge them to get it up and running by the end of the week. No more complaining about having to learn new things on a live environment.

Whether you are looking for virtual training or classroom-based training, we can help. Contact us for further information.

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