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Home LAB Setup guide – 07 Make your lab available over the internet

In the first part of this LAB setup guide, I described the hardware selection process.
In the second part, I described the hypervisor selection and installation.
In the third part, I described VM guest considerations and preparations.
In the fourth part, I described Configuring Server 2012 VM as DC with DNS and DHCP using PowerShell
In the fifth part, I described easily creating (many) proper AD users with PowerShell
In the sixth part, I described creating a local PowerShell v3 Help Repository with PowerShell

In this post I will describe how you can make your lab available over the internet.

When you’ve created your home LAB, you want to be able to use it anywhere. Depending on your situation, one of these options probably best meets your needs.

Examples include the use of:

  1. Remote desktop connection to your server
    + Easy to configure (enable on server and configure NAT forwarding if appropriate)
    – On many enterprise or public networks TCP3389 is blocked by the firewall.
    – Connects only to specific server. Even though you access the rest of the network from there.
  2. VPN connection to your network
    • Using your hardware router
      + Connection to network, not just a server.
      – No dependency on Windows Server
    • Using Windows Server 2008 / 2012
      + SSTP VPN (TCP443), is generally not blocked on enterprise/public networks.
      + Connection to network, not just a server.
      – Dependency on Windows server.
      – Requires more configuration.
      – The root CA certificate for the certification authority (CA) that issued the server authentication certificate needs to be into the store Local Computer\Trusted Root Certification Authorities. For a self-signed certificate, this means that you need to have local admin permissions to add it.Note: DirectAccess is a great feature, but it requires the client to be a member of the domain. And in my case this would limit where I can connect from, therefore I don’t plan to use it. For other situations it might be a better solution though.
  3. Using 3rd party tools like logmein, teamviewer or VNC
    + Connects only to specific computer.

Since I want to be able to connect from within enterprise environments as well, I chose to use SSTP VPN in Windows Server 2012. The basic steps you have to perform, include:

  1. On the server, you have to install and configure the VPN service.
  2. On the server or your own PKI, you would want create and install a machine certificate. You can create a Certificate Signing Request and request a 3rd party public certificate. Alternatively you can create a certificate using your own Certificate Authority, or you could create a self-signed certificate, For creating the self-signed certificate you can use the great PluralSight SelCert tool.
  3. On the client, you have to make sure the created certificate will be trusted. This means you have to add the certificate to local system\trusted root certificate authority if you’re using a self-signed certificate, which requires local administrator permissions on the client.
  4. On the client, you have to set-up the VPN connection to the server. Preferably you want to connect by DNS name. For your home lab you can also utilize dynamic DNS services like by example no-ip.com or alternative solutions.

For some more information, you can also take a look at this:

 

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Home LAB Setup guide – 04 Configuring Server 2012 VM as DC with DNS and DHCP using PowerShell

In the first part of this LAB setup guide, I described the hardware selection process.
In the second part, I described the hypervisor selection and installation.
In the third part, I described VM guest considerations and preparations.

In this post I cover quickly configuring a Server 2012 VM as DC with DNS and DHCP by using PowerShell.

The steps I do take less than 10 minutes in my test lab now. Here’s a short description:

  1. Create a VM that uses your previously made parent disk.
  2. Configure the server name and IP addressing and reboot the computer.
  3. Install AD DS (domain controller) including DNS forward lookup zone and reboot the computer.
  4. Configure AD and DNS : Enable AD Recycle Bin, Add DNS forwarder, add DNS reverse lookup zone, create DNS PTR record for DC.
  5. Install + configure DHCP : Install DHCP, Add scope, configure scope, authorize DHCP server in AD.

The scripts I’ve created for steps 2 to 5 can be found here and are based on the great work Stefan Stranger already did in his blog post Installing a new OpsMgr 2012 (SP1) environment the fast way. I added some stuff of my own so it would meet my needs and I tried to keep it as generic as possible so other people can re-use my code as well.

PS: In step 2, IP addressing is not in place yet. To get scripts tot the system, consider:

  • Putting the scripts in an ISO file that you can mount.
  • Opening Hyper-V Virtual Machine Connection to VM and using “Clipboard”, “Type Clipboard Text”.
 

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Home LAB Setup guide – 03 VM guest considerations and preparations

In the first part of this LAB setup guide, I described the hardware selection process.
In the second part I described the hypervisor selection and installation.

In this post I will describe the VM guest considerations and preparations.

VM guest considerations

Considerations for your VM guests:

  • Use legacy network adapter ? Could be necessary for by example PXE boot.
    • In most cases the regular network adapters will be the best choice.
  • How much memory to assign ? Should I use dynamic memory in Hyper-V  ? Should I overcommit using VMware ?
    • In most cases for your home lab it is probably best to use dynamic memory / overcommit. Some applications however might not work correctly, or you might not have the desired outcome.
  • How many virtual CPUs should I assign ?
  • Should I store my VMs on a single physical disk or on multiple physical disks ?
  • Should I use virtual disks or pass-through disks ?
    • For VMs that I use for testing, I use virtual disks because they provide more flexibility.
    • For my file server I choose to use pass-through disks so I can simply remove the disk from my server and place them in another system. I’m also afraid that should you encounter an issue when using a virtual disk, that the chance is greater that you lose everything because the virtual disk will break.
  • When I use virtual disks, should I use thin provisioned disks or thick provisioned disks ?
    • Thick provisioned disks are supposed to deliver better performance, but at the cost of more disk space. Also for a home LAB I doubt the performance loss is minimal and acceptable, so I would go with thin provisioned disks. Also when using SSD disks, space is costly and limited. Be sure to monitor disk space usage though.
  • Should I use differencing disks in Hyper-V / linked clones in VMWare ?
    • When you plan to use multiple VMs running the same operating system, you can save space by using differencing disks / linked clones. This also impacts the disk I/O however, so monitor it to see if it fits your needs. Since I use SSD disks and run multiple VMs with the same OS, I use differencing disks.

VM guest preparations

An home LAB is not complete without VM guests ofcourse. The basic methods for provisioning are:

  1. Using pre-prepped VMs that are provided by third parties like by example Microsoft and VMWare. For VMWare there is even a virtual appliance Marketplace.
  2. Installing VMs manually every time.
  3. Using 3rd party deployment tools to provision operating systems to VMs. By example System Center Configuration Manager.
  4. Deploying VMs from templates you create manually.

Often you’ll use a combination of the methods. In my case I’ll deploy many instances of the same guest OS versions for my test lab. I’ll often deploy various versions of Windows multiple times. Therefore I create my own templates for my test lab.

Basic actions for template creation are:

  1. Installation of the operating system
  2. Installing the Hyper-V Integration Component (or VMWare tools).
  3. Adding roles and features I expect to be using in (the majority of) my VMs.
  4. Downloading and installing the latest updates.
  5. Performing sysprep to generalize the installation and choosing to turn off the system afterwards.
    DO NOT TURN ON THE SYSTEM, otherwise you need to run sysprep again.
  6. Saving the virtual disk files for future use.
  7. If you’re going to be using differencing disks, you will use this disk as the parent disk. Make sure you set it to read-only.

Using this approach I’ve created my own templates consuming 180GB and covering most of the operating systems I (can) encounter and want to test with:

Windows2003-Enterprise-R2-SP2-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2003-Enterprise-R2-SP2-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2008-SP2-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx.vhdx
Windows2008-SP2-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx.vhdx
Windows2008R2-SP1-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2012-Datacenter-Core-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows2012-Datacenter-GUI-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows7-Enterprise-SP1-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows7-Enterprise-SP1-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows8-Enterprise-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
Windows8-Enterprise-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsVista-Enterprise-SP2-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsVista-Enterprise-SP2-x86-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsXP-Pro-SP3-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx
WindowsXP-Pro-x64-ParentDisk-Readonly.vhdx

Storing backups and ISO files

When you have files that have lots of similar data, they are very suitable for deduplication. Also read this great blog post if you want to know how it works.. With for example ISO files and powered-off VMs you can save a lot of space. You should however not configure this for files that change on a regular basis like by example actively running VMs. With Server 2012, you can easily enable deduplication for volumes. Also keep in mind that these files do not require high IOPS, so you can store them on slower disks.

If you want to check how much space you can save without installing Server 2012 and its deduplication feature, you can also run the deduplication evalutation tool (ddpeval.exe) on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012. You can even “hack” Windows 8 Pro to allow deduplication.

I was able to reduce the used disk space with 75% from 215 GB to 50 GB. This was with ISO files and the backups of the parent disks I created earlier (not the ones in use).

 

In the next post I will describe configuring Server 2012 VM as DC with DNS and DHCP using PowerShell.

 

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Home LAB Setup guide – 02 Hypervisor selection and installation

In the first part of this LAB setup guide, I described the hardware selection process. In this second part I will be describing the hypervisor selection and installation.

Hypervisor selection

First of all, you have to decide on which bare metal hypervisor(s) you wish to use. Personally I prefer Microsoft Hyper-V and VMWare ESXi. Alternatives include but are not limited to Citrix XenServer, Xen, KVM, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. I don’t have much experience with these hypervisors though.

Characteristics that could influence your choice of hypervisor:

  • Supported hardware.
  • Performance of the hypervisor.
  • Features of the hypervisor. By example when using Transparent Memory Page Sharing, it requires less memory when you run many highly identical systems on a host.
  • Footprint / attack surface.
  • Supported methods for running the OS. By example run from USB stick.
  • Price (many hypervisors have free versions available, compare features).
  • Support (for a home lab probably not that important).
  • Available documentation / study resources.
  • How active the community behind it is.
  • Supported VM / guest operating systems.
  • Ease-of-use.
  • Availabilty of downloadable virtual appliances (VMWare) or pre-prepped environments (Microsoft) without having to (try and) convert them.

Everyone needs to determine which hypervisor best meets their needs. Personally I mainly work with Microsoft software and decided to use Hyper-V 3.0 in Windows Server 2012. It’s convenient for me to be able to easily load pre-prepped environments that are provided by Microsoft (in Hyper-V format). I also run Client Hyper-V on my Windows 8 laptop, which makes it easier for me to take my VM’s with me. I do plan to keep up with VMWare developments as well though, so I will create a bootable USB flash drive to boot in VMWare from time to time.

Hypervisor installation

  • Before installing the hypervisor, make sure that virtualization related settings are enabled. The names of these settings may differ. Examples are Intel VT (Virtualization Technology), AMD-V and Hardware DEP (Data Execution Prevention), EM64T, Execute Disable Bit. During installation you will get prompted normally though if you have forgotten to enable these.
  • There are often many options with regards to the installation. By example do a GUI install or a scripted/CLI install. Or install/run from normal harddisk or flash drive. With Server 2012 Hyper-V you can choose to run it in Windows Server 2012 core or in the GUI version. I chose to use the Server 2012 GUI Hyper-V installation because I’m not sure if my raid management software will work from within the core version.
  • Installation of the hypervisor is normally pretty straight forward. But before you install, read the documentation.
  • After you’re done installing, you still need to configure the settings to meet your requirements. Preferrably you’ve already created and documented your own design.
  • Don’t forget to configure hardware monitoring if possible. In my case I’ve configured my raid controller management software to send e-mails when storage related issues are detected.
  • Think about and implement a strategy for backing up and recovering your hypervisor. There are numerous programs for backing up and most are free for personal use. I have no personal experience with specific products, but VeeAm has a good reputation and I’ll be trying if for my lab. Also if you’re a Microsoft Certified Professional, you can get a free NFR license for Veeam Backup & Replication v6.5 for Hyper-V. The same is true if you’re a VMWare Certified Professional (VCP).

In the next post I will describe the VM guest preparations, installations and storage strategy.

 

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Home LAB Setup guide – 01 Hardware selection

As you will probably know by now, I’m really into ICT. I mainly focus on virtualization and Microsoft technoIogies. As such, I try to:

  • Keep up with new ICT developments
  • Improve my knowledge and skills for both old and new ICT technologies
  • Get certified in many different areas of ICT.

A proper lab environment is a prerequisite to do so. Because of virtualization however, this has become so much easier (and cheaper) than before.

In the next couple of blog posts I will try to document the steps I’m taking to build my lab. Today I’m staring the series with the hardware selection. The important part of the hardware I use for my environment is as follows:

  • Mainboard: Gigabyte GA-H77M-D3H
  • CPU: Intel Core i5 3570 quadcore
  • Memory: 32GB
  • SATA controller : IBM M1015 (flashed to LSI9211-8i)
  • VM storage: 2 * 512GB SSD Samsung 830 series
  • Non VM storage: 2 * 2TB SATA

To me it was important that my machine would be able to run both Microsoft Hyper-V 3.0 as well as VMware ESXi 5.1 properly. Both have hardware requirements, but VMware ESXi 5.1 is generally more restrictive with regards to supported hardware. Very simply put, it means that the mainboard, CPU, network and storage controller need to be compatible with the features you require.

Normally you would check supported hardware on the official hardware compatibility list (HCL) of the vendor, but these are generally aimed at real server hardware and do not support/contain consumer hardware. So before buying hardware, check on forums to see what combinations of hardware are working for other people and choose the one that matches your desires best. You can also google for ESXi whitebox.

Furthermore, I plan to run many systems at the same time, hence the 32GB of memory and the 2 fast 512GB SSD disks. Besides the fast, but small SSD you generally also need more storage to store other files like by example operating system images and tools.

The next post is about the Hypervisor selection and installation.

 

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