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VMware's Hands-on Labs put numerous products at your fingertips

VMware's free Hands-on Labs portal gives administrators a way to try new configurations, study for a certification track or expand their knowledge with the company's product line.

Attendees at VMworld have long benefited from the VMware Hands-on Labs, which are held at both the U.S. and Europe...

shows. What you might not know is these same labs are available directly from the cloud.  For a couple of years, the Hands-on Labs online portal has been available to anyone who signs up for an account at no cost.

If you haven't already, take a few moments to go and check out what the HOL Online has to offer. There you will find more than 40 labs that cover all the different VMware products that revolve around storage, networking,vSphere, hybrid cloud and end-user computing. Need help learning how to use vCenter Orchestrator? Looking to expand your knowledge with vSphere performance troubleshooting? How about a better understanding of the vCloud Networking and Security? There's a lab to cover all those topics.

What is a Hands-on Lab?

What you can expect from a lab is consistent across all that are available. You will receive a chunk of infrastructure -- usually a few hosts and a handful of VMs, including vCenter and all other related applications relative to the lab you are taking -- and a PDF or lab manual. The manuals will take you through a number of steps and allow you to complete various scenarios related to that product. 

For example, vSphere Performance and Optimization is one of the more popular labs. In this lab, the user handles scenarios dealing with troubleshooting CPU, memory and storage performance, but the lab also explains newer vSphere features, such as vSphere Flash Read Cache, latency sensitivity and even how to benchmark the performance of  your environment. 

Each lab comes with a time limit. However, they are broken down into smaller, shorter modules to make them easier and more customizable to fit the time you have available.  Also, you are able to pause, resume and extend your time.

Why use the VMware Hands-on Labs?

The first reason to use VMware HOL would be tolearn more about the various products that VMware offers.  Not all of us have the time or money to set up a home lab to explore things like vRealize Automaton (formerly vCloud Automation Center), vCloud Director, vCenter or even ESXi. 

Using the guided labs to expand your vSphere knowledge is a great reason to start. Another perk of the labs is you skip most of the setup and monotonous tasks that come with  creating the environment yourself. You can explore features and products you might not otherwise be able to access.  For example, new products such as NSX or vCloud Automation Center -- soon to be vRealize Automation -- have labs available.

A helpful way to gain expertise for certification

 Just thinking about all of the information included on the VMware Certified Advanced Professional – Data Center Administrator (VCAP-DCA) certification, or even the VMware Certified Professional  (VCP) series of exam blueprints, can be mind-boggling. The VMware HOL is a great resource to help you study for these certifications. 

You can walk through the set-up, configuration and troubleshooting of various features not only in the core vSphere or vCloud Suite, but also VMware's end user computing applications, as well.  Having that experience with the applications is definitely a necessity to pass the VCAP exams.

How about simply validating a configuration

If there is something you would like to simply try and you don't want to do it on your home lab or in the production environment, go ahead and try it on the HOL. Following those lab manuals is certainly recommended, but so long as you can finish what you need to do within the four-hour timeframe, you can essentially do whatever you want.  And if you break it, no big deal: you can end your lab and re-enroll as many times as you like with a fresh set of infrastructure provisioned every time.

The VMware Hands-on Labs are handy

Having more than 40 pre-built labs dealing with some of the newest VMware technology all at your fingertips -- and from the comfort of wherever you may be -- for free is a great deal. 

If you are interested, go ahead and check out the HOL Portal to sign up, as well as the VMTN community associated with it. If you are already a HOL user and have any other unique use cases, please let us know in the comments below.

This was last published in October 2014

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Which Hands-on Lab have you tried?
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In case anyone is interested in how the Hands-on Labs are put together we have a nice PDF / webinar recording on our blog...
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