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Home lab for MCSE self-study - what do I need?

Discussion in 'General Microsoft Certifications' started by imhotep, Dec 27, 2007.

  1. imhotep

    imhotep Bit Poster

    Towards the end of February I will begin the self-study process for MCSE. The IT Director where I work has been very helpful and encouraging. He suggested that I build several virtual machines into a single box using VMware and use this as my home workstation for all of my MCSE preperations. This sounds good in theory, but I have a few questions for the community:

    1. What is the most number of virtual machines that I will ever need to run simultaneously at any point in my MSCE excercieses? To be specific, I'm talking about the entire stretch of seven tests. My director suggested that four virtualizations might be sufficient. Is this enough?

    2. Assuming four virtual machines is enough, what are some recommended hardware requirements? Am I crazy to think that this would be enough:
    - Quad-core proc
    - 4GB of RAM (aka 1GB per virtualization
    - Four NICs

    3. How much power do I need to make this baby run stable?

    Thanks for your input and advice.

    Certifications: A+ Network+
  2. Theprof

    Theprof Petabyte Poster Premium Member

    I my self am studying for the MCSA within the next year. Currently I am preparing to take the 290 exam and this is what I have setup as my virtual lab.

    1 X AD/DC/DNS/DHCP server
    1 X WSUS server
    1 X Terminal Server
    2 X Windows XP professional Client
    1 X Windows vista ultimate
    1 X Ubuntu

    This is kind of an overkill for the 290 exam however it's not for the 291 or any other exams towards MCSE so that's why I currently have this setup.

    I think that as long as you have 1 or 2 client pc's with the necessary servers such as AD, WSUS, RIS, DHCP, DNS will pretty much be enough for the MCSA and I also think it might be enough for MCSE although I am not sure.

    for the computer specs well what you have there is pretty sufficient I find, considering I am running all the above vm's on a AMD x64 3800+, 2gb of ram, windows XP MCE for the OS and only 1 NIC.

    Keep in mind that It is kind of slow when I run AD, WSUS and 2 client computers but it doesn't really bug me because I manage to get my work done.

    Hope this helps.
    Certifications: A+ | CCA | CCAA | Network+ | MCDST | MCSA | MCP (270, 271, 272, 290, 291) | MCTS (70-662, 70-663) | MCITP:EMA | VCA-DCV/Cloud/WM | VTSP | VCP5-DT | VCP5-DCV
  3. zimbo
    Honorary Member

    zimbo Petabyte Poster

    Im not VMWare expert but im learning as much as i can. I used it for my MCSA and to be honest i think those requirements are way too much! My PC ran 1GB RAM and 3,6ghz processor and then i had 2 80gb HDD for my machines. Basically all i did was allocate 120mb to my xp clients and only 3gb of space (bare min - we only in a testing enviroment!) and my servers 180-200mb and 5gb and sometimes more partitions!

    In truth i never had more than 3 VM running at once BUT this depends on which exams you will study for. Oh and 4 NICs? you only need one (that is connecting the host to the Internet or maybe two if you want to network the host!) In your virtual machine you can have as many NICs as you want - you dont need to have the same number in the host as in the virtual machine. I think the only limitation to that is two processors - if you want to choose the option of two procssors in your VM you need to have two on your host.

    Hope this helps!
    Certifications: B.Sc, MCDST & MCSA
    WIP: M.Sc - Computer Forensics
  4. tripwire45
    Honorary Member

    tripwire45 Zettabyte Poster

    Greetings, Curt.

    Actually, regarding the questions in your second question, you should be able to answer most or all of that yourself based on the tools you select to use for study.

    Before that though, while it's admirable to think of doing the groundwork to prepare for all seven tests, you might want to save yourself a headache and prepare one lab environment for one exam at a time. The lab scenarios will be developed somewhat differently depending on the exam, so you don't have to have the same virtual resources on tap for all seven.

    As far as lab scenarios, those should be determined by the study materials you use. For example, let's say you decide to use all Microsoft Press resources. Those books will contain a series of lab examples that will specify the setup including (hopefully) CPUs, RAM, NICs, network configuration and so on. Before setting up your virtual lab, you'll want to go over those scenarios and make notes regarding the requirements involved.

    As far as running a series of virtual machines in VMware, you first want to find out what VMware itself requires and whether you want to use the workstation or server version. Here are some links:

    VMware site: http://www.vmware.com/

    VMware server download site: http://www.vmware.com/download/server/

    VMware workstation download site: http://www.vmware.com/download/ws/

    Server is free but workstation isn't. Workstation however, has a number of features absent in the server version, you do your homework before making any hard and fast decision.

    Since each virtual machine will be running in VMware on a single host machine, each virtual machine will be sharing the hosts resources. A VM can't have a resource that doesn't exist on the host so keep that in mind. Resources can't come out of thin air. If your host has a maximum of 2 GB of RAM and you run 4 VMs on the host, it doesn't necessarily mean that each VM can run 512 MB of RAM. While it might seem to make sense, the host has to have RAM to run as well so you'll have to plan your virtual machine deployment so that the needs of all the VMs you plan to run simultaneously and the needs of the host are met.

    As far as the operating systems you plan to run in VMware...VMware doesn't simulate them...you have to own the actual license OS software from Microsoft. If you plan to run two Windows Server 2003 VMs and two Windows XP Pro VMs, you'll need to purchase those licenses. You can get free evaluation copies of Windows Server but you are out of luck as far as XP goes and will need to purchase the operating system products.

    I don't know if you've gone all through this with your IT Director but if not, you might ask if he'd sit down with you and help go over some of the rough edges, just to make sure you understand the plan and how best to set it up.

    Hope some of this has been helpful. Welcome to CertForums. :)

    Certifications: A+ and Network+
  5. zimbo
    Honorary Member

    zimbo Petabyte Poster

    Yeah i agree this is overkill! :biggrin The thing you guys need to remember is you guys are studying using these machines and they dont need to last. When you doing DNS zones in 291 you will have your AD server with primary DNS, then a member server running 2nd DNS.. then maybe a child domain server with its stub on the primary server. Point im trying to make you wont be running all your VMs at once. What i used to is install my VM then save the folder containing the VM to DVD or another HDD. Do what you need to do and then if you need to you can just copy your backup over and you end up with a clean slate.
    Certifications: B.Sc, MCDST & MCSA
    WIP: M.Sc - Computer Forensics
  6. Theprof

    Theprof Petabyte Poster Premium Member


    I figured that I'll add vista and Linux to the lab cause I wanted to see how things will play out, how vista reacts to the environment and vise versa. At work we are testing vista and trying to see what it has to offer at the moment so I figured my as well do it in my lab. As for Ubuntu, since I never really use it I am still interested in learning Linux so I added it to the lab environment. As for everything else, I needed that setup because there a few things that I want to learn.
    Certifications: A+ | CCA | CCAA | Network+ | MCDST | MCSA | MCP (270, 271, 272, 290, 291) | MCTS (70-662, 70-663) | MCITP:EMA | VCA-DCV/Cloud/WM | VTSP | VCP5-DT | VCP5-DCV
  7. Phoenix
    Honorary Member

    Phoenix 53656e696f7220 4d6f64

    Can't really fault the setup
    you dont need 4 nics though, one will be fine for as many machines as you want
    get some fast disks, 10k raptors or some raid0 7200 array, workstation virtualisation is generally disk i/o and memory bound, but with 4 or 8 gigs of memory you wont be hitting that bottleneck unless your silly with your allocation
    Certifications: MCSE, MCITP, VCP
    WIP: > 0
  8. imhotep

    imhotep Bit Poster

    Thanks to all for your replies. My current understanding of VMware is very limited and this thread alone has already taught me a few things. Overall I'm now wondering if I even need to build a dedicated lab machine. A fresh HD would certainly be in order. My home PC is as follows:

    Athlon XP 3000+
    RAM - 2GB DDR400
    HD(s) - 2 x WD 80GB


    A few more of mine:

    TheProf - Thanks for the detailed breakdown of your lab, it is very helpful. Perhaps I should start with MCSA and then move on to MCSE afterwards. Do you know how many of the tests for MCSA can also overlap and count towards MCSE?

    Zimbo - I guess VMware is even more powerful than I previously understood. My mistaken notion was that the VM's cohabitate on the same HD and share RAM, but that seperate CPU cores and NICs were necessary. A little embarrassing :oops: This is probably due to me misunderstanding what my director actually said. Perhaps he was just saying that having those additional pieces of hardware assigned to each individual VM would improve the performance of each one. Would it work that way or no?

    tripwire45 - Thanks for the links, and also for the practical advice. I'm admittedly getting the cart before the horse a little bit. I'll check the system requirements for the labs before specing out the parts list as you suggest.
    Certifications: A+ Network+
  9. Theprof

    Theprof Petabyte Poster Premium Member

    Well in regards to what tests count towards MCSE are pretty much all of the MCSA test that you will do such as 270,290,291, etc. If you are inquiring about your VM lab also being sufficient towards MCSE then that depends on how you have things setup. I think that in worst case scenario you will have to add and extra vm or two to do certain things for the MCSE exams.

    If I am missing something please let me know.

    Edit: Oh and the specs you mentioned above for your lab should be just fine as you and I have pretty much the same hardware components and I can run my VM's just fine.
    Certifications: A+ | CCA | CCAA | Network+ | MCDST | MCSA | MCP (270, 271, 272, 290, 291) | MCTS (70-662, 70-663) | MCITP:EMA | VCA-DCV/Cloud/WM | VTSP | VCP5-DT | VCP5-DCV
  10. GW

    GW Byte Poster

    The most VM's I have run at the same time is 4. My system has 2Gigs of RAM on it with a P4 3.0GHz processor. What I typically do is max out the RAM on the VM when I'm installing software or doing major configurations so it runs faster but if I'm just having a server running in the background, for instance a DNS or AD server I typically have it running with 128MB's of RAM.

    It doesn't run the fastest but all it is doing is handling a small number of requests from a maximum of 2 other VM's so it runs fine on 128MB's of RAM. I wouldn't worry about getting fast hard drives or anything like that, yes VM's can be I/O intensive but this is a training lab, so you waste time sometimes because it is a bit slow but you can save the money you would otherwise use on hardware for things like books and exams and pizza and such.

    Certifications: MCP x4, CompTia x3
    WIP: Cisco CCNA
  11. Sparky
    Highly Decorated Member Award

    Sparky Zettabyte Poster Moderator

    For the 70-294 you will need a few domain controllers so you can set up trusts and also child domains. I had 3 DCs when I studied for that exam, they were physical servers though! :biggrin
    Certifications: MSc MCSE MCSA:M MCSA:S MCITP:EA MCTS(x5) Security+ Network+ A+
    WIP: Office 365, Server 2016, CEH
  12. TheJ0ker

    TheJ0ker New Member


    I too have embarked on the MCSE course and my home lab actually consists of 4 low-profile Compaq PCs sitting on top of each other with a Belkin KVM box on top to flick between them. It just happens there is a spare room in the house to have this kind of setup so I never bothered with VMWare. However, now that the nippers have arrived that might change so VMWare will be up for consideration I should imagine! All of the home lab PCs were from work so they are not super-powerful but then they do not need to be.

    Just out of curiosity, are you using any practice test provider at all? I'm considering Boson and SelfTestSoftware.

    Anyway, good luck on your studies and I'll be interested to hear how you get on with VMWare.

    Certifications: MCSE (NT), CNE (6.0)
    WIP: MCSE 2003
  13. supag33k

    supag33k Kilobyte Poster

    Firstly welcome and good luck with the studies.


    This is also how I do most of my studies at home in my home lab, I rotate out or upgrade every year or so at least one pc.

    I use VM at work in the study lab because the work machines are much more powerful.

    I tend to run separate standalone pc's for linux also at either work or home.

    Either SelftestSoftware [and Transcender] and Boson are great products! - the best way to purchase is to get a bundle if you can...
    Certifications: MCSE (NT4/2000/2003/Messaging), MCDBA
    WIP: CCNA, MCTS SQL, Exchange & Security stuff
  14. Firemouse

    Firemouse Bit Poster

    You have way more then enough. also you will only need one nic for your virtualization~ virtualizaion really doesnt take that much, the bottle neck will be having only one spindle
    Certifications: CCNA, MCP
  15. The_Geek

    The_Geek Megabyte Poster

    One other thing to remember is your home lab will only simulate an extremely small network, while the M$ tests simulate a titanic size network, say, 1000's of users. Keep that in the back of your head at all times.
    Certifications: CompTIA and Micro$oft
    WIP: PDI+

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