People often try to explain to me that they don’t have the ability to learn about something because they don’t have the proper hardware. I felt so strongly that this was a lame excuse that I used to use a sub-$500 plastic HP laptop that I walked into Best Buy and bought as my work laptop just so I could point at it and dismiss those claims. Since then I’ve got something sexier, but it’s still far from an high-performance machine that’s outside of the range for any professional.
This excuse comes up a lot when talking about some of the Enterprise SQL Server features. Transparent Data Encryption, Compression, Partitioning, SQL Server Audit, ColumnStore indexing, and especially functionality like AlwaysOn Failover Cluster Instances (FCI) and AlwaysOn Availability Groups that need a particular hardware configuration to make them work.
I was just starting to put together the presentation I’m going to do for our local SQL Server user’s group that will be an interactive walk through setting up AlwaysOn Availability Groups. My intention was to do this entirely in Azure, and I may still do that, but I found something that’s a bit more foolproof to set up.
SQL Server Virtual Labs allow someone with at least Windows Vista and .NET 3.5 installed to quickly interact with Azure-hosted VMs pre-configured to show a particular feature. There is a lab on AlwaysOn Availability Groups that, in about two minutes, sets up 4 virtual machines (1 domain controller and 3 other servers that have SQL Server install media available and are ready to be clustered) that are yours to use for the next 2 hours 30 minutes to work through the published lab or, if you like, experiment on your own.
There isn’t a demo for AlwaysOn FCI listed on that page, but as long as it is supported to store shared files on a UNC share, I think you could use this same environment to setup that AlwaysOn configuration for your testing and experiments.
Virtual Labs FTW!
Follow-up note: We used this as part of a lab session at a MADPASS meeting. While it worked, it maxed out at about 6 sessions per lab. This was sort of surprising, as you’d think that these TechNet labs would have a lot more horsepower behind them. That being said, before we use this again in a users group meeting I will probably see if that limit can be increased somehow for a short period of time.