Updated: v1.1 – Fixed bug in step 8.2 added final step for consultants
Whether it’s for your full-time job, a customer reflection platform as a consultant, or a certification study environment, if you work in IT today, you have to make or buy a lab in order to keep up. It’s no longer a luxury, it’s a must-have. But, while many resources exist for making a lab at home, or in the cloud, most are fairly clean and “textbook” configurations. The real world is nasty, ugly and smells pretty bad. If off-the-shelf lab tools and hydration kits were a dog, they’d be neatly-trimmed and bathed poodles, while the real world lab would be a dumpster filled with dead fish, baking in the Texas sun for weeks on end. This is one of the trade secrets seasoned IT professionals keep close to their chest.
Well, fear not. I have compiled and prepared a simple how-to outline for building your own lab, to reflect that beast we call the ‘real world’. Let’s get started.
- First off, start with 5-8 year old hardware. Make sure it doesn’t support anything really new, like TPM. If it still has DB25 and PS/2 ports, that’s a winner.
- Beef it up to no more than 8 GB of DDR2 memory
- Stuff a hefty 250 GB 7200 RPM Hard Disk in it, and add a few others at either 5400 or 7200 RPM rates. Find the nearest vacuum cleaner, and empty the dust bag into the vents on the server case. The more dust, the better. Kind of like a seasoned cast-iron skillet.
- Load it up with Windows 2000 Server
- Install VMware Workstation 9
- DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT, install ANY hotfixes or updates on it.
- Power it on and wait for it to get to the login prompt. It should take around 15 to 20 minutes or so. If it gets there sooner, remove some memory and reboot again.
- Configure an Active Directory forest and domain.
- Create 100 random OU’s
- Create 400 random GPO’s and link them to as many OU’s as possible.
- For added realism, randomly select a dozen GPO’s and apply inheritance blocking.
- Modify the Default Domain Policy to contain at least 75 settings. It doesn’t matter what they are, random selections work best.
- Do not document any GPO settings whatsoever.
- Create 500 computer accounts with random names. Create 500 user accounts with random names. These will reflect a typical company environment which has 25 real computers and 35 real users.
- Turn off all firewalls, and install any antivirus that comes up in the sidebar ads while searching Bing for “ultimate antivirus”, but avoid any products with recognizable names.
- Add “Domain Users” and “Users” to the local “Administrators” group on every machine in your lab.
- Copy random files to every machine until the C: drive is around 96% full.
Now, you are ready to play the game of “ask management for an upgrade budget”
- If you’re married, put some clothes on and carefully knock on the bedroom door. It works best if your wife/husband is watching his/her favorite show on his/her tablet or phone, that way your intrusion puts him/her in an authentic mood, to match that of a real MBA type, who’s busy updating Facebook and LinkedIn when you knock on their office door.
- If you’re not married, substitute your most-recent girlfriend/boyfriend. Otherwise, use a random neighbor, stranger or off-duty bus driver. Do not use anyone under 21 years of age who didn’t drop out of school, because they’ll be too smart for this. Remember, the key here is to be authentic.
- Make your best pitch for a budget to replace all of that hardware and software with modern stuff. If you want really real realism, ask for a budget to migrate everything to AWS or Azure. Always double your asking price, so they’ll cut that in half, and approve 40% of the remainder.
- Ask for additional IT staff, but be sure to double that number as well, so when they reject the entire request, it will at least look like you tried.
Now comes the real work.
- Turn off the server and go mow the lawn, wash the car, do some dishes, walk your dog or cat around the block a few times. This will simulate dealing with support request tickets and attending useless status meetings.
- If you get back to the server in less than 5 hours, you rushed it. Go back and do it again until you use at least 5 or 6 hours.
- When you get back to the server, turn it on and then go take a shower. This will simulate you trying to get caught up on email, Slack, Teams, SharePoint, Hangouts, and writing all the reports you were asked to do during all those daily meetings.
- When you get back to the server, it should be around 8 PM (assuming you started around 7:30 AM), so this is about perfect for a typical time to get started on actual technical work.
- After one hour, stop and ask your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/neighbor/bus driver if they need anything from the nearby fast food place. When you get back it should be around 11 PM or midnight, so it’s time to make coffee and get that last OU populated.
- If you’re doing this right, you should fall asleep at your desk around 1:30 AM at the earliest.
- Don’t forget tomorrow is that 6:30 AM all-hands meeting, that the CIO requested.
- And don’t forget that at 8:00 AM you’re supposed to demo how you’re planning to migrate all of your infrastructure to Azure using Hyper-V, PowerShell and Office 365, in front of all the executives who need to approve your request. If you don’t have it ready yet, forget the sleep stuff tonight.
That should just about do it. But there’s more. For added realism, you can include the following:
- Cut your sleep down to 2:30 AM to 6:00 AM, or 3:00 AM to 5:00 AM for optimal effect.
- Start massive consumption of coffee, Red Bull or Monster. In fact, never leave your desk without one of these in one of your hands
- Always carry a mess of papers in one hand and coffee cup in the other, and your smartphone in the other. Yes, that’s three hands, figure it out. Always look stressed and anxious, and out of breathe. This is commonly referred to as “office camouflage”
- Stop eating healthy. It’s bad for you. Doughnuts are the most efficient food source. Pure calories for pure energy.
- Time yourself in the desk chair. If you’re getting out of your chair more than every 3 or 4 hours, that’s too much.
- Wherever you sleep, if you do, make sure to keep your cell phone next to you, with the ringer volume at the max. You’ll need this for on-call rotation practice. Set the alarm to go off every 55 minutes for randomized effect. If you have a friend that barely speaks your native language, ask them to have a friend of theirs call you at random times between midnight and 5 AM and scream about something crashing or being on fire.
- Ask for a raise. This is best practiced on someone who doesn’t understand your native language at all. Not even one word. Go ahead, make your best case.
- Take up smoking. Not for your health, but as a proven excuse to out outside to call recruiters, searching for another job. If smoking isn’t feasible, walking is an okay substitute, just not as good for your health.
- Hire consultants
Within a few weeks, you’ll be out of the hospital and back to work, just a real IT professional.