Why do I need a home lab?

Unless your employer provides you with a lab and the time to use it during working hours, a home lab is great way to learn new technologies and sharpen your skills. If you’re looking to learn a new skill, gain deeper knowledge in a certain skill, or to obtain skills for a new position you will really want to have a lab.

Well, I don’t really have the time for a lab or learning outside of work…

Everyone can think of an excuse for why they can’t do something, I know as it’s something I’ve struggled with myself. Learning is just like working out. You have to put in work to get results. Without training and structure, you quit out of frustration from the lack of progress. You end up in the same place you were before, even more frustrated and wishing you you could wake up tomorrow morning to someone offering you your dream job. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are slim to none.

I can’t afford a lab!

There’s many ways you can build your lab, either physical hardware, using cloud services or a mix of both. It doesn’t have to be a full rack of brand new servers or 100’s of VMs in Azure and AWS costing thousands of dollars. If you’re serious about advacning your career – making the investment in your lab will pay off big time.


I currently do not have an extensive physical home lab since I live in an apartment that can’t handle powering multiple servers and network equipment. The route I’ve chosen to go down at the time of this post is utilizing cloud services for my lab. Eventually I would like to have a mix of both on-premises and cloud-based infrastructure.


Digital Ocean


Digital Ocean is a fantastic service for Linux VMs. They have a great UI, fairly priced straight-forward hourly and monthly pricing, and all of their VMs run on SSDs.


They provide you with five Linux distributions (Ubuntu, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, and CoreOS plus FreeBSD) and pre-installed application stacks for quick provisioning of resources.one click

They also have multiple data centers across the globe with their HQ located in New York.

Data Centers

Luna Node


Luna Node is another cloud-based infrastructure based around Linux. The downside of Digital Ocean is you cannot upload your own templates, although you can create them with Digital Ocean, Luna Node allows you to upload ISOs or QCOW2 images.

You also have a bit more flexibility with configuration and pricing.(https://lunanode.com/pricing) All of Luna Node’s VMs run on either RAID10 local storage or on their CephRADOS cluster.

Azure(via IT Pro Cloud Essentials)


I was able to sign-up for this on day one. Microsoft provides multiple benefits for signing up for this service (for free!) such as:

  • Free Azure credits to try cloud scenarios like backup, disaster recovery, security & dev/test.
  • Free Pluralsight subscription for on-line training.
  • Free Priority support in the TechNet forums.
  • A free phone support incident for Azure or on-premises products.
  • A free certification exam voucher. (which is think they are out of at this time)
  • Extended trials of Enterprise Mobility Suite and Office 365.

The main reason I signed up was for the $100/month Azure credit for 3 months. This is a huge resource as I work with both Windows and Linux.



Azure also has a wide array of pre-installed applications to deploy on both Windows and Linux.

The downside with Azure is the pricing, it’s pretty expensive if you wanted to run your entire lab in Azure.


Learning Resources

Luckily in this day and age the Internet is full of information on virtually anything you would ever dream of wanting to learn. I have a few resources I use for learning.

Linux Academy


Linux Academy is one of my favorite resources. For $29/month you get access to all of their videos and labs. They have a very active and friendly community and their instructors are very active in the forums as well.


They have a few different paths, notably AWS, DevOps and OpenStack. The video and audio quality for the videos are great and their labs are well written with tons of detail. If you’re new to Linux I recommend starting with Linux Academy.

Plural Sight


Plural Sight’s library is one of the more extensive that I’ve seen. Although heavier on the developer side of the house it does have a lot of videos on everything from IT Infrastructure, Business, Architecture and more.


For $29/month (if billed monthly) you get access to all of their courses.


Safari Books


Safari Books has been around since 2001. They provide a subscription-based digital library with content from O’Reilly Media, Microsoft Press, Cisco Press, Manning Publications, Packt,and others. Aside from books they also have Tutorials, videos, short form content and evolving manuscripts.  I use Safari Books as a way to dive deeper into certain subjects or for reference on a project I’m working on. Safari Books Online is $39/month or $399/month for individuals. They also have Teams and Enterprise subscriptions available: https://www.safaribooksonline.com/pricing/

Cloud Academy


Cloud Academy offers training on Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. The pricing is reasonable at $25/month for the videos courses, quizzes, AWS certification prep and learning paths. For $59/month you can also get hands-on labs. They do have a 7 day free trial to get started. I have not had a chance to try out Cloud Academy personally however it looks like they produce quality content. I would love to know your experiences with Cloud Academy if you use them.



Having a cloud-based lab plus utilizing monthly fee-based training can add up quickly. I’ve found a few free resources that are also a great source of information.

Microsoft Virtual Academy & TechNet Labs


These are great Microsoft based learning resources. MVA has tons of content on everything from Microsoft IPv6 to Azure to Storage Spaces, etc.



TechNet labs lets you get hands on with all of the enterprise Microsoft products such as Microsoft SQL, Intune, Office 365, System Center and more.



Introduction to Linux on edX.org


This has been a popular course through edx.org to get started with learning Linux. The course is 8 weeks long and will provide you with a great primer for Linux administration.


Amazon Web Services


Amazon offers some self-paced labs as well to get hands-on with their AWS platform via qwikLABS. https://qwiklabs.com/


There are other resources both paid and free as well such as Udacity.com, Udemy.com, KhanAcademy.com, ITPro.tv and many more. I’d really like to hear what you’re home labs is like, whether in the cloud or on-premises and what your favorite learning resources are.