Ed Tech – Using VMware for educational labs

Posted by gminks in work | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I have been getting very geeky about education theory, because that is what I am learning in grad school. But sometimes I look at the posts of some of the other EMC bloggers and I feel a little left out of the techie side of things.

So this post is about how I’m using VMware to develop the lab environments for the courses I’m working on now. That way it’s techie, and edu tech at the same time.

The product for which I’ve been developing training for the past year is VoyenceControl. This product automates the compliance, configuration and change management of network devices. Creating a hands-on learning environment is important for people to practice what the courses teach them.

Instead of purchasing servers and desktops for this lab environment, all of the hosts are housed on a single VMware ESX server. If you didn’t know, VMware virtualizes hosts. So I create 12 Windows desktops that each student uses as a client, and 8 RedHat servers for the students to use as the VoyenceControl Servers, and they all are physically located on one server. The VoyenceControl servers access a physical network of routers and switches that we have set up.

This entire lab lives on one server

VMware is the best thing to use for a software learning lab environment. Since the machines are virtual, you can take “snapshots” of them. A snapshot is a point in time image of what the vm image looked like. Each vm server in my lab has 3 main snapshots:

  1. Snapshot 1: has everything needed to install VoyenceControl, but the software is not installed. This is for the classes where students install and configure the environment.
  2. Snapshot 2: has VoyenceControl installed, but no Networks have been discovered. This is for classes where the students don’t need to install the product, but they need to discovery the network devices
  3. Snapshot 3: has VoyenceControl installed AND discovered. This is for classes that concentrate on compliance and reporting.

These are the main snapshots, but each of the images has several other snapshots. If a patch is released, or if I need to update a license, I don’t have to create a new image. I just make a new snapshot!

Snapshots are amazing during class as well. If you have ever taught technology, you know sometimes there are some very adventurous students who experiment a little too much and wreak havoc on the lab equipment. Hey, its how some people learn right? With snapshots, no matter how much a student messes up a lab machine it doesn’t matter. You just roll back to a snapshot, and the machine is ready for more abuse.

The instructors even thought of other ways to use snapshots. If students are curious about a feature that wasn’t explicitly covered in the class, the instructors just take a snapshot of where the students are during the course, let the students experiment, take a snapshot when they are done experimenting, and then roll back to the first snapshot to carry on with the course.

I know my posts will never be as technical as other EMC bloggers, but then again they can’t geek out on learning theory now can they? 😉

2 Responses to Ed Tech – Using VMware for educational labs

  1. Mark says:

    Hi Gina,

    I loved this post, thanks for sharing how you set your virtual labs up! About ten years back we were doing something similar for Micromuse Engineer certifications. We did not have snapshots so we just had to keep copies of the image somewhere we could retrieve when needed. It would take a day to set everything up in a classroom environment, but it was a lot better than it was before. Today, I think we take advantage of exactly how much work has been done to get the class ready for students! Outside of training, this is also a great tool for developers, QA and just playing around with the software. All of this virtualization is what people were doing on the mainframe twenty years ago with LPARs. Funny how things come full circle!!

    Mark

  2. gminks says:

    Thanks Mark! I am smiling about your mainframe reference, it is funny how things switch back to where they were. 🙂

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