VMworld 2010 Labs Preview

VMware VMworld Hands On LabsI was fortunate enough to be offered a sneak peak at the VMworld 2010 Hands-on Labs setup this morning, and let me tell you – I am impressed.  A lot of hard work has gone into planning, architecting and deploying the Labs environment, promising to make it the most user-friendly VMworld Labs setup yet.  Here is what you need to know:

Location: The Labs will be held at Moscone West, on the corner of 5th & Howard St. This is a change from last year.

Format: There will be two types of hands-on labs – instructor led (they’re calling these Advanced Lab Tutorials) and self-paced.

  • The instructor labs are more of a tutorial for those who want to be walked through the lab manual by a subject matter expert in an open discussion format.  The Advanced Lab Tutorial sessions support 250 seats.  The Advanced Lab Tutorials will be useful for preparing for the associated self-paced labs.  Take the Advanced Lab Tutorial first, then head downstairs to the Self-Paced lab.
  • The self paced labs are designed with a ton of flexibility, allowing you to choose what and when you work through the material.  For an overview of the Lab topics, check out the VMworld 2010 Program Guide.
  • When you arrive at the Self-Paced Labs area, you will register for the lab you want and head to a nice waiting area if no seats are available.  When your number is called, you will be lead to your seat and will fire up your lab.  You’ll have an hour to work through the lab.  If you need more time, ask.

Technical Specs: The VMware Core Team has obviously put an enormous amount of thought and time into improving the lab experience.  For those who attended VMworld 2009, the lab experience folks a bit disappointed due to some technical glitches and scheduling issues.  This year’s Labs are built with a ton of redundancy and allow for a much smoother, user-directed schedule.  The scale and scope of the labs is astonishing to say the least.  Here are some stats I gleaned on the lab setup:

  • There are 30 self-paced lab topics, each demanding their own unique environment.
  • There are 480 seats available for the self-paced labs, in a stadium seating configuration.  This allows a huge number of people to flow through the lab environment efficiently, with minimal wait time.  The lab schedule has some 40 hours of time for you to get in and work over the next several days.  This equates to more than 20,000 lab-seat hours (up from about 5000 hours last year).
  • The labs run from one of three data centers: Miami, FL (Terremark); Ashburn, VA (Verizon); and locally in the Moscone Center.  This provides a great deal of redundancy and positions the labs as a cloud offering to fit the theme of this year’s VMworld.  The Miami and Ashburn sites have been running for a while, and will be reused for VMworld Europe next month.  This is a change from last year where the gear was fork-lifted in for the show (remember all the racks at the bottom of the escalators?).  This has given the team more time to work on the setup and iron out any problems.
  • The self-paced labs are based on VMware’s Cloud Lab infrastructure, purpose built for VMworld Labs.  Cloud Lab provides a slick interface for provisioning labs to participants while doing some really smart things in the background to enhance performance and flexibility.
  • It is estimated that more than 100,000 VM’s will be provisioned in Labs this week – more than 5000 VM’s built and destroyed per lab hour! <- Read that again. Astonishing, no?
  • The gear driving the labs is provided by HP, Dell, EMC, NetApp, Cisco, and Xsigo.  Xangati is used for monitoring performance of PCoIP to the Wyse thin clients at each seat.
  • There are 4 racks of compute power and 2 racks of storage per datacenter.
  • The storage environment is mostly 10GbE.  EMC FastCache and NetApp Dedupe are both in use.  Storage is mostly NFS-based.
  • The memory footprint required to run the labs is some 36TB.
  • Labs are running a few levels deep – ESX nested inside of ESX with VM’s running inside.
  • Host Profiles are heavily leveraged to ensure a consistent environment.
  • Twin DS3’s provide Internet connectivity for the Labs.
  • In true cloud fashion, the Lab Cloud product dynamically pre-populates lab environments based on demand.  As some labs rise in popularity, the Lab Cloud will stage up environments based on that demand.  This will reduce wait time for the lab environment to be readied.  In years past, students would wait 5-7 minutes for their custom lab environments to be readied (building, deploying and booting a unique Active Directory, vCenter, ESXi, nested VM’s and associated products takes some time).  No guarantees that there won’t be some wait time, but this is a huge step in the right direction.
  • There will be some 150 moderators ready to help with Self-Paced labs.  Moderators are subject matter experts.  If you request help through the Lab Cloud interface, a moderator who is a SME in your topic will be dispatched to help you.

A few more things to note:

  • There will be prize drawings for those who do the most labs, as well as those who complete the labs the fastest.  Prizes will include a full pass to VMworld 2011 in Las Vegas.
  • Lab manuals will be made available after the show.
  • Some of the labs look really cool. You can find a list in the VMworld 2010 Program Guide.  I am excited to see the VMware vSphere Sandbox lab – an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink setup of as many products as they could cram in.  This provides a playground for you to see all of the VMware products working together, where you can create, destroy and otherwise play as you wish.
  • I would love to see this environment be made available for other uses after VMworld.  I think VMUG’s could really benefit, as could VMware’s partner community.

Special thanks to Adam Zipman who leads the team putting this together, Dan Anderson (Dan is the lead architect behind this massive operation) and Curtis Pope who led development of the Cloud Lab interface.  Also, thanks to John Troyer for setting up this morning’s breifing.  I appreciate your time today, guys.

I hope you all are as excited about the labs this year as I am.  I am planning to spend a good chunk of time working through the lab environments.


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