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Using VMware Workstation and the Virtual Appliance Marketplace to learn Oracle, fast

A sys admin's gotta do what a sys admin's gotta do -- and sometimes that means learning applications or software you may have no idea how to use. Learn how one admin got his hands dirty with Oracle and saved money and time in the process by combining VMware Workstation and VMware Virtual Appliances.

Keeping up with dynamic work environments and shifting responsibilities can be tough. If you've been on the receiving end of oversize workloads and wondered how you will learn the skills you need, you know what I mean.

Combining VMware Workstation and VMware Appliances can help you adapt to change quickly and learn new skills on the fly, as it did for me. The cost is low, and you can focus on exactly what you need without getting bogged down in the details. Read how I managed to learn Oracle when my role as senior systems engineer rapidly evolved to include multi-tier applications support when our database/application specialist bowed out of his role.

A brief background
Over the past decade, I have weathered three different "mergers and acquisitions," at the same company, with the possibility of another appearing last week. Lately, some have started (I like to think they do so kindly, and maybe with a little reverence) referring to me as "LMS" -- Last Man Standing. I'm the last original member of the team that built the infrastructure that we currently use.

Change is not easy -- no one ever said it was. It is disruptive, stressful, and can be extraordinarily frustrating at times. Change can overtake us and crush us like an unfortunate bug, or it can propel us forward into new directions and terrain that we would never have experienced otherwise. What is it that makes the difference? I believe it is our attitude. Coincidentally, our attitude itself is in a constant state of flux as well, influenced by myriad factors. Thus, coping with change may seem overwhelming and intimidating one minute, and the very next minute seem as insignificant and normal as what flavor of latte to pick.

Despite the significant organizational changes I have experienced at my place of employment, my general role as senior systems engineer has remained pretty much intact. Sure, operating systems, virtualization and storage technologies change, but that tends to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. That was then, this is now. My rather comfortable role as systems engineer is now being radically altered to enterprise level multi-tier application support.

Four (not so good) options for learning new software
Feeling rather overwhelmed at this latest turn, but determined to press onward, I began considering my options:

  • Spend time and money on training to get up to speed on the latest Oracle release, as well as how to troubleshoot, debug and maintain sophisticated applications.
  • Read a bunch of books and take an incremental approach to learning how everything works prior to actually getting my hands dirty.
  • Work with the current database/application specialist over the next several months and absorb what they have taken years to understand and learn.
  • All of the above.

And then there is what actually happened: The database/application specialist moved on to greener pastures. This allowed me approximately one week to absorb as much as I possibly could, while not impacting the other projects I am currently working on. Time for some creative thinking!

The first time I learned about virtualization it was difficult to wrap my mind around the concept. Virtualization was such a revolutionary, disruptive and uncomfortable idea. Now it has become a fundamental, well-understood platform that I could use to expand my learning. What I really needed was a way to quickly get up to speed and push the limits of these applications: Test, break, rebuild quickly. Repeat.

Enter VMware virtual appliances
VMware virtual appliances seemed like a good avenue to get me there.

A quick search turned up Bert Scalzo's Oracle on VMware appliance.

Here's what I did to build my quick learning environment: After downloading the 800 MB file, I was able to extract it into the four files that make up the VM Appliance using 7-Zip File Manager. I then opened up VMware Workstation, browsed to the VMware virtual machine configuration (.vmx) file, clicked Open, and viewed the Default Configuration. Everything appeared in order, so I powered-on the the VM. In less time than it took to refresh my cup of tea, a Red Hat Linux server with Oracle 10g installed was presented to me. The log-in credentials were supplied with the download, making authentication easy.

Using VMware Workstation in this situation proved to offer several benefits. First, since I did not have to bother with installation details such as making sure the operating system was compatible with the application or playing around with driver issues, I was able to dive right in to using the application, which allowed me to focus on exactly what I needed – Oracle 10g – instead of getting distracted in trying to set up a new system that worked.

Second, the total time to download, extract, configure and run the appliance took about an hour. Having spent more time than I care to remember installing various Linux distributions, especially video driver configurations, the simplicity of using this appliance seemed mind-blowingly easy. Third, there was no need for me to spend money on production-quality hardware just so I could experiment with different application features. I was able to run the appliance directly on my laptop -- and it worked great.

Mak King has been in the IT industry for 14 years, progressing from his blissfully green days of DOS and sneakernet to VMware and storage area networks. He has certifications from Netware (CNE), Microsoft (MCP), CompTIA (iNet) and VMware (VCP Virtual Infrastructure 3). He is the virtualization and directory services subject matter expert for NYCE Payments Network, LLC (a Metavante company), where he has been employed for over 10 years.

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