How I’m Building Our Demo Lab Environment

I’ve talked about our lab in the past and I’ve recorded/shown a few demos from it.  It’s one thing to build a demo, but it’s a whole other thing to build a lab environment, where I need to be able to build lots of different demos for W2008 R2 (current support for System Center 2012), Windows Server 8 Hyper-V, OS deployment, and maybe even other things.  Not only do I want to do demos, but I also want to learn for myself, and be able to use it to teach techies from our customer accounts.  So that means I need something that I can wipe and quickly rebuild.

WDS, MDT, or ConfigMgr were one option.  Yes, but this is a lab, and I want as few dependencies as possible.  And I want to isolate the physical lab environment from the demo environment.  Here’s how I’m doing it:


I’ve installed Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Datacenter as the standard OS on the lab hardware.  Why not Windows Server 8 beta?  I want an RTM supported environment as the basis of everything for reliability.  This doesn’t prevent Windows Server 8 Beta from being deployed, as you’ll see soon enough.

Lab-DC1 is a physical machine – it’s actually a HP 8200 Elite Microtower PC with some extra drives.  It is the AD DC (forest called lab.internal) for the lab environment and provides DHCP for the network.  I happen to use a remote control product so I can get to it easily – the ADSL we have in the lab doesn’t allow inbound HTTPS for RDS Gateway Sad smile  This DC role is intended only for the lab environment.  For demos, I’ve enabled Hyper-V on this machine (not supported), and I’ll run a virtual DC for the demos that I build with a forest called demo.internal (nothing to do with lab.internal).

Lab-Storage1 is a HP DL370 G7 with 2 * 300GB drives, 12 * 2TB drives, and 16 GB RAM.  This box serves a few purposes:

  • It hosts the library share with all the ISOs, tools, scripts, and so forth.
  • Hyper-V is enabled and this allows me to run a HP P4000 virtual SAN appliance (VSA) for an iSCSI SAN that I can use for clustering and backup stuff.
  • I have additional capacity to create storage VMs for demos, e.g. a scale out file server for SMB Direct (SMB 2.2) demos

The we get on to Lab-Host1 and Lab-Host2.  As the names suggest, these are intended to be Hyper-V hosts.  I’ve installed Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 on these machines, but it’s not configured with Hyper-V.  It’s literally an OS with network access.  It’s enough for me to copy a VHD from the storage server.  Here’s what I’ve done:

  • There’s a folder called C:VHD on Lab-Host1 and Lab-Host2.
  • I’m enabling boot-from-VHD for the two hosts from C:VHDboot.vhd – pay attention to the bcdedit commands in this post by Hans Vredevoort.
  • I’m using Wim2VHD to create VHD files from the Windows Server ISO files.
  • I can copy any VHD to the C:VHD folder on the two hosts, and rename it to boot.vhd.
  • I can then reboot the physical host to the OS in boot.vhd and configure it as required.  Maybe I create a template from it, generalize it, and store it back on the library.
  • The OS in boot.vhd can be configure as a Hyper-V host, clustered if required, and connected to the VSA iSCSI SAN.

Building a new demo now is a matter of:

  • Replace virtual DC on Lab-DC1 and configure it as required.
  • Provision storage on the iSCSI SAN as required.
  • Deploy any virtual file servers if required, and configure them.
  • Replace the boot.vhd on the 2 hosts with one from the library.  Boot it up and configure as required.

Basically, I get whole new OS’s by just copying VHD files about the network, with hosts and storage primarily using 10 GbE.

If I was working with just a single VHD all of the time, then I’d check out Mark Minasi’s Steadier State.

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