By Greg Greenlee
Ahhh Batman, one of my favorite super heroes of all time. I probably like Batman for the same reasons most people like Batman. He is an ordinary man with no super powers, however, he always manages to defeat his enemy because of his highly trained body and exceptionally trained mind. A few gadgets courtesy of the Wayne Foundation never hurts either.
"Okay Greg, comic book references aside, tell me...how exactly does this relate to technology?"
Well in a couple of ways. For one, Batman has a drive and a dedication that is virtually unmatched. His attention to detail, his passion for what he does, his incredible problem solving and reasoning skills are unlike any others. These intangibles make Batman "The World's Greatest Detective." These are the very same type of intangible skills that an I.T. professional needs in order to be a top tier technician, administrator or engineer. Although money is always a deciding factor in any career that you pick, I always stress that it shouldn't be the only factor. In my over 12 years of experience in the Technology profession, I have found that the people in this industry that have a lot of passion and enjoyment for what they do are usually some of the best at what they do.
"Great point Greg, but you said a couple of ways. What's the other one?"
Ok, I was just getting to that. In my opinion, Batman has one of the coolest labs in the world, The Batcave. The Batcave is critical because Batman is able to experiment, analyze, create, build and destroy anything that he wants at any time that he wants. This allows Batman to have the "heads up" on his adversaries and also his peers. Did you know that Batman has a contingency plan to neutralize any or every member of the Justice League at any time should a need arise to do so? Yes, that means even Supes himself.
Whenever I read a post where someone is stating that they are just starting in I.T. and are wanting pointers for getting their "foot in the door" or how they can gain experience, the first thing I respond with is, "Do you have a home lab? No? Then you should build one." I believe that having a home lab is critical to any I.T. professional's career. The ability to take what you have read in books, online, etc. and apply them in a lab environment, enables you to not only learn in depth about the inner workings of specific technologies, but also learn from any mistakes or errors that you may possibly encounter in the real world. This also allows you to have the "heads up" on your peers.
Building a lab can also be helpful when it comes to interviewing for a job. The sheer mention of a home lab to a potential employer can be critical in evaluating you as a potential employee. Employers like to see passion and dedication to your craft. Informing them that you have a home lab where you practice what you learn in books will show them that you have the qualities of a dedicated I.T. professional.
"Soooo, how do I build a lab?"
The first thing I recommend doing is to conduct some research and get recommendations from people who have already studied what you want to study. For example, if you want to study for a certification such as the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), join a forum, locate online user groups, and find out from people what they recommend for a lab set up. Another good source for lab set ups if you are studying for a certification, is the certification text book. A lot of times the book itself will have diagrams for setting up a lab best suited for studying for the certification.
"Okay, got it, now where do I get the equipment?"
The first place I always look is on Craigslist. I have purchased everything from servers to routers and switches, to monitors and KVM's, to parts and accessories. Craigslist is a great place to get inexpensive equipment. The one recommendation I would make is to always verify that the equipment is working and that the specifications match exactly what's in the Craigslist ad. If you meet up with the seller, don't be afraid to ask him to hookup the equipment to verify its functionality. You definitely wouldn't want to get home to find out that you have just bought a lemon.
eBay is also a good online resource where you can purchase used equipment. As with anything purchased on eBay, make sure the seller is reputable by checking out his rating. When it comes to Cisco switches or routers, sellers will usually post the configuration of the equipment. Make sure that you look over this carefully to guarantee that it contains the functionality that you need to study with.
Using virtualization to build out a virtual infrastructure lab is always a great idea. You can either build a very beefy virtual server host, and by beefy I mean lots of CPU and lots of RAM, or you can purchase a prebuilt computer.
Personally, I took the BYOS (Build Your Own Server) route simply because I like being able to customize every aspect of my server, including how many hard drives I want to put in it, down to the specific network card I want to use. This type of set up enables an I.T. professional to load different operating systems and experiment with different concepts, without worrying about having to totally reinstall an entire system.
Last but not least, you can always look for local deals from businesses that are going out of business, or that are doing hardware refreshes and just need to get rid of their old equipment.
In my opinion, labs are a must have for I.T. professionals that work on the engineering/administration/software development side of the field. It allows professionals to experiment with concepts in a safe environment without posing any risk to any production environments. Having a lab solidifies the information and theory that you read in books and makes it more tangible, giving you a chance to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
That's it for now, until next time. Same Bat time....same Bat channel!!!
Greg Greenlee is the Owner and Founder of the Blacks In Technology community site. Blacks In Technology is a free online social platform focused on creating a community like atmosphere where knowledge, experience, and information can be shared among Blacks in the Technology field. He is also a Systems Engineer for a datacenter company specializing in colocation and managed services in Cincinnati, OH. He has over 12 years of experience in the I.T. field. Learn more at http://www.blacksintechnology.net or on twitter @blkintechnology