A good lab is very important to the learning process. I've had a home lab for many years and I've learned a lot
from the process. Having development and testing environments at work
are important, but a lab is a whole different thing altogether. A lab
is a place you have full control to make mistakes and learn how to fix
them. The more you install, configure, break, and fix, the more you're
ready when things go down at work and you're put on the spot to fix
them. I can't even count how many times I knew how to fix an issue at
work because I've previously had to do something similar in my
experience with the lab. That's a great feeling when you're standing
knee deep in a real world issue with a boss looking at you for a quick
Depending on your profession, the lab can mean several things.
As a DBA, you can really get away with having a simple SQL server
installation on a laptop, but how much can you really learn from that? A
real environment has a lot more involved and so many bigger learning
experiences. Besides, what good is a SQL server if you have no
databases with real application data to test with?
Here's what I recommend for DBAs looking to start a lab at home:
- Setup an active directory domain. After all, this will help
when you want to setup Windows authentication. The install here is
pretty straight forward, although, for starters, setting up the rest of
your network (DNS, clients, etc) can be a bit more complicated. This
could be a blog post of its own (and I'm sure better people than me have
- Setup a SQL server. Don't be afraid to play around with this.
Make sure you follow all the best practices and good habits. Don't
just use sa for all of your work.
- Setup your own DBA monitoring database complete with SQL jobs.
- Install WSUS (Windows Server Update Services – or centrally
controlled Windows Updates). This is a really simple install and can be
configured with a SQL database back end. You now have your first
application database and, bonus, you have a way of keeping your lab
computers up to date.
- Add any other applications you may find useful.
With just these, you've probably run into some fun and not so fun learning experiences.
Several years ago, I found myself in a job where I had to do work
that I wasn't familiar with and I was given the keys to production.
While this wasn't a DBA position, the same problem exists for many DBAs.
That's what got me started with the home lab and I can honestly say
I'm a lot better off for it. Don't be afraid to experiment with the lab. That's what it's there for!