March 5, 2012
Since I am not a full time sysadmin any more (or really even a part time sysadmin...can you be a "hobbyist" sysadmin?), I've lost one of my most valuable resources for learning new things...a decent lab.
I guess I never really understood how important it was to have a pile of legacy kit sitting around waiting on me to hook it together (or, more likely, tell my junior admin to hook it together for when I had time to play). When I missed my whiteboard, I went to Home Depot and got a bunch of dry erase panel and covered the garage in it. My wife thought that was weird, but she basically understood. I'm not sure she'd be so tolerant if I asked for a rack and some servers to fill it.
For this reason, I've been investigating what my options are. There are some easy ones, of course. I've got a newish unibody MacBook Pro, so VirtualBox runs great on it, especially with 8 GB of RAM. You can technically upgrade it to 16GB, but that's really expensive, so I'm not going to do that just yet. Besides, at this point, my laptop is very I/O bound.
Incidentally, you CAN run ESXi(vSphere) under VirtualBox, but it's pretty much a "cause I want to practice with the interface"-only kind of thing. You can run VMs, but it's not really pretty.
So although I can do some simple prototyping in VirtualBox, in order to do some heavier lifting, I've got to figure something else out. I actually have two pieces of physical server hardware that I picked up from a friend. One is an old Dell machine that is technically 64 bit, but was made before the VT-x extensions. The other is a 32bit HP Proliant ML570 7u beast. It's got some possibilities in terms of disk space, since there are two 6-disk arrays in it, but it's huge and loud and expensive in terms of electricity usage. (By the way, if you're interested in either of these, just say the word and name your price).
Honestly, I've been thinking about picking up a couple of these PowerEdge 1950s. They're decently upgradable, they're 64 bit with VT-x, they're on the ESXi HCL, and two of them are still less than half of the space taken up by the HP in my garage.
I'm looking into the cheapest way to get some kind of shared storage solution, which will probably end up being one of the BSD appliances that run ZFS on a bunch of hard disks (something like NexentaStore, maybe). The real question is what I'm going to put the hard disks in. The ML570 is just a bit long in the tooth for this kind of thing, and as I said, really inefficient. Something like this might be nice and unobtrusive.
One of the things I've been doing in the past week or so is to start investigating Amazon's pay-to-play Amazon Web Services. It took a while to set up the environment on my laptop that I use to administer the machines remotely, and it took a little longer to really kind of figure out the Amazon mindset, but I think I'm actually starting to get the hang of it, and I haven't even cost myself more than $5 yet.
The thing about Amazon that is kind of scary is that you really are charged per hour. What this means is that I don't run my Amazon lab for long periods of time. In fact, I'm kind of paranoid about it, so every once in a while, I'll run ec2-describe-instances just to make sure I'm not accumulating machine charges. I've made my instances all of the micro variety, since that's only $0.03 / hour that the instance exists (note: it's not enough to shut down the machine; that doesn't kill the instance. You need to terminate the instance, which also erases the ephemeral storage.
I would be shirking my responsibility if I didn't also mention that in the spirit of drug dealers everywhere, Amazon is offering a "first one's free" policy, which gives you a 7500 hours worth of free micro instances. So check that out.
If you have any interest in a "dipping your toes in the AWS water" type post, comment below and let me know. I'm starting to dig the AWS thing.
I haven't investigated the Rackspace cloud much. The prices seem alright (actually, the tiniest servers on Rackspace are only $0.015 / hour. I'm not sure how much you can do with 256MB of RAM for an hour, but it's great for testing implementations, which is really all I'm doing.
I'll probably start playing with the Rackspace stuff eventually, too. There just aren't a ton of options in this arena to play with. Oracle has a cloud offering, but it all seems to be Oracle as a Service (or OaaS, something I've said phonetically for YEARS when talking about Oracle). If someone from HP wanted to invite me into their cloud beta offering, I wouldn't complain, either.
[EDIT] As it turns out, I got into the HP cloud beta. Sweetness! Thanks HP! I wrote a walkthrough on setting up an HP cloud instance and getting IPv6 up.
Anyway, that's where I stand. I'm itching to get a more permanent lab environment running here, but in the meantime, I'm relying on the cloud providers to get my technology fix. Anyone have any suggestions or want to talk about the cool stuff they're doing with their lab so I can be jealous?