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Why you need a home lab to keep your job

Your boss won't pay for training, so your partner has to put up with servers at home

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IT professionals can't assume their employers want, or can afford to, train them in the latest technologies and should hone and acquire new skills at home in a self-built test lab.

That's the opinion of Mike Laverick, VMware's senior cloud infrastructure evangelist.

Laverick has operated a lab for over a decade, starting with a single PC and scaling to a 42U rig that lives in a co-location facility and includes kit donated by vendors. Over the lab's life he has also paid for storage arrays, gigabit switches, servers galore and inadvertently found they provide interesting ways to heat his home.

Laverick's presentation about the lab, which The Reg witnessed at VMware user groups in Sydney and Melbourne, also measures the “Girlfriend impact” of the lab. That metric waxed as it grew, waned a little once it was sent to the colo, then waxed again once the colo bills hit £350 a month. Today, the lab costs £870 a month thanks to the presence of a pair of Dell EqualLogic arrays.

Laverick's vocation for much of the time he built the lab was freelance technology training and writing, so that monthly bill was a necessary expense. He joined VMware in late 2012 but still feels IT pros need to consider their own rigs for reasons of “career preservation”.

“The days of being sent on training courses is gone,” he told the user groups. “The burden is now on you to get the skills and knowledge you need. It is assumed you will learn as you go.”

“I drove my career development by not waiting for my employer to say this is an interesting technology. I told my employer I have used this in my home lab and this is what it can do.”

That attitude, Laverick said, is important given skills operating major enterprise IT products have become commonplace. As certain skills become readily available, Laverick believes IT pros should “make sure your skills don't get depreciated.”

Intriguingly, Laverick's call for a show of hands to discern if any attendees operate home labs saw several arms thrust skyward.

David Brooks, information programs coordinator in the information and communications technology group at Melbourne's Box Hill Institute, hasn't yet built a lab on that scale, relying on a single Core i7 computer with 16 gigabytes of RAM and a sprinkling of solid state disks to get it to a point at which it can run a decent slab of the VMware stack. Brooks uses his lab for the sake of convenience: the Institute operates VMware kit at scale to help students learning about those technologies. But accessing that infrastructure from home is not easy.

Like Laverick, Brooks is an educator. His lab is therefore not a career-saver, but a nice-to-have tool that means he can always access the tools of his trade. ®

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