Do You Even Homelab?
My homelab is one of the most important tools in my toolbox. Without it, I’d feel lost. I know plenty of tech sales engineers who disagree and are very successful without a homelab, but, for me, it’s simply a necessity. And although VMware’s Hands On Labs (HOLs) are a truly amazing resource, due to their temporary nature, they aren’t enough for me. I need to able to able to touch the gear, install it, break it, and fix it. If I encounter a problem I can’t solve, I want it to be waiting for me a week later until I fix it and learn from it. Which is exactly what our customers are doing.
In almost every meeting I attend there is someone across the table whose free time pales in comparison to the time they spend in vCenter Server (VMware’s central management UI). One of the key aspects of my job is to connect with these individuals on a personal, strategic, and tactical level in an effort to help them achieve their goals. How can I become their trusted advisor if I too don’t ‘live’ in vCenter Server or other VMware products? The tactical part of that relationship is where having a homelab shines and it can also serve a purpose in strategic conversations.
A pre-meeting conversation can go like this: “I installed PKS (Pivotal Container Service) in the homelab last night, I say.” to which the customer quickly replies “oh yeah, what’s your homelab setup?” which could mean one of two things: 1) A twenty minute chat about homelab hardware which eventually ends up in Paul Braren’s https://tinkertry.com blog for some good hardware read and ideas or 2) A twenty minute chat about the cloud native landscape and how Kubernetes aka K8’s is kicking ass and taking names. Thanks, Google. Heck, even Docker has a Kubernetes solution these days.
Just recently I was helping out one of my customers with a proof of concept (POC) involving vSphere, NSX, vSphere Replication, and Site Recovery Manager (SRM). These particular products come together to make a fascinating solution that satisfies many key business goals i.e. increase security, increase revenue, all while reducing expenses. vSphere provides the foundation while NSX , vSphere Replication, and SRM work together to create the magic. Failing over a complex, multi-tier application from one side of the world to the other without having to re-IP or re-create security policies? Yes, please.
We’ve been successful in the past at doing these POC’s in customer environments but I can’t stress enough the importance of a stable environment i.e. underlay that is inline with VMware best practices. Without this you’ll spend more time scratching your head than moving the needle. In this particular example we spent many hours troubleshooting storage and certificate issues that were all self inflicted wounds that took hours to solve.
I was able to re-create the proposed POC in my homelab before doing it with the customer. After wrestling with my HP switch and Synology storage, this effort took me about six hours total from beginning to end and gave me all the confidence I needed to prove to the customer that our solution helped them achieve their business goals. Just don’t ask me how much my electric bill is, sheesh.