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A Look Inside Webster’s Updated Lab (Updated September 9, 2010)


Every now and then, people ask me about the lab environment I use to write my articles, answer questions on Experts Exchange and study for Citrix certification exams.  This article will show you what is in my lab and what future plans are for the lab.

I believe everyone should have a lab even if it consists of free virtualization software running on a laptop with minimal RAM.  Even a simple lab setup will allow you to install and test software to enhance your skills and knowledge.  My current lab is the continued growth of the first lab I started in 1998 to study for Microsoft NT4 certification exams.  That original lab consisted of separate physical servers and workstations for installing all the various Microsoft, Novell and Linux operating systems.  Now there is just one physical box running XenServer that allows me to install and run many different operating systems.  I do have three laptops but one is my personal laptop, one belongs to my employer and the other is my MacBook Pro which Apple does not allow to be virtualized.

The equipment in the lab consists of:

  • 1 Storage Server
  • 1 Lab Server
  • 1 Writing Station
  • 1 MacBook Pro
  • 1 Windows 7 Laptop
  • 1 Apple iPad
  • 1 XP Pro Thin Client 

Storage Server:

The storage server is a white box built with parts from Newegg.com (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 (Storage Server)

Figure 2 (Close-up of the nine hard drives)

System components are:

  • Lian-Li PC-V2100B Plus II full tower case (capable of holding 12 internal hard drives)
  • Tyan S2932-E motherboard
  • Dual AMD Opteron 2346HE 1.8Ghz quad core processors
  • Dual Supermicro Active Socket F Heatsink and Cooling Fans
  • 16GB Kingston ECC Registered RAM (8GB per processor)
  • PC Power & Cooling 910 watt power supply
  • Lite-On 22X Dual-Layer DVD Burner
  • Areca 1210 RAID Controller and optional battery backup pack and optional control interface
  • 1 Western Digital 120GB SATA 2 Hard Drive for the operating system
  • 4 Seagate 2TB SATA 2 Hard Drives in RAID 0 attached to Areca RAID Controller
  • 3 Western Digital 400GB SATA 2 Hard Drives in RAID 0 attached to nVidia on-board RAID controller
  • 1 External Seagate 1TB Hard Drive
  • APC BackUPS XS 1500

Software used:

  • Windows Storage Server 2008 Enterprise (from TechNet)
  • StarWind Software iSCSI SAN Software Enterprise version
  • APC PowerChute Business Edition

The four 2TB drives are setup as a virtual disk for iSCSI use for storing the XenServer Virtual Machines.

The three 400GB drives are setup as two CIFS (Common Internet File System) shares.  One containing the ISO files and the other for all file downloads.

This server runs in headless mode (i.e. no display, keyboard or mouse).

Lab Server:

The lab server was built with parts from Newegg.com (Figure 3).

Figure 3 (Lab Server)

The system components are:

  • SuperMicro 2U Rack Case
  • SuperMicro AS-2022G-URF Motherboard
  • Dual AMD Opteron 6168 1.9Ghz twelve core processors
  • Dual Supermicro Active Socket G34 Heatsinks
  • 64GB Kingston ECC Registered RAM
  • Redundant 710 watt power supplies
  • SuperMicro DVD drive
  • 1 Western Digital 160GB SATA 2 Hard Drive
  • 4 Seagate 1TB SATA 2 Hard Drives
  • APC BackUPS XS 1500

This server is used for all lab work and runs XenServer 5.6.  This system runs in headless mode.

Writing Station:

This computer is used for writing articles, answering questions on Experts Exchange, studying for certification exams and testing various virtual server builds for customers.  This is also a white box computer built with parts from Newegg.com (Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4 (Writing Station)

Figure 5 (Monitor on left is for Word, middle monitor is for XenCenter/Storage Server Management and right monitor is for graphics)

The system components are:

  • Lian-Li PC-7B Plus II mid-tower case
  • EVGA X58 SLI LE motherboard
  • Intel Core I7 920 quad core processor
  • Intel supplied Heatsink and Cooling Fan
  • 12GB Kingston HyperX DDR3 RAM
  • PC Power & Cooling 750 watt power supply
  • Dual EVGA 9800-GXT Video Cards
  • Samsung SATA Dual-Layer DVD Burner
  • 1 Western Digital 640GB SATA 2 Hard Drive
  • 1 Western Digital 160GB SATA 2 Hard Drive
  • 1 Western Digital 400GB SATA 2 Hard Drive
  • 1 External Seagate 1TB Hard Drive
  •  APC BackUPS XS 1500

The software used on this computer:

  • Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
  • XenCenter 5.6
  • Office 2010 64-bit
  • American Systems PrintScreen Deluxe 7.1

MacBook Pro:

Almost every customer’s Citrix Farm I have worked on in the last three years has Mac clients.  I was tired of having to tell customers that I knew nothing about Macs.  In January 2009, I finally bought a MacBook Pro, from Newegg.com, and love it.  This is a 15” MacBook Pro that was upgraded to 4GB of RAM.

The software currently being used:

  • OS X 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard)
  • Safari 5.0.2
  • Firefox 3.6.8
  • Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac (version 13.0.6) with Entourage EWS
  • Snapz Pro X 2.2.3
  • Citrix Online Plug-in for Mac V11.2

Windows 7 Laptop:

The original Vista laptop died a quick and untimely death.  Glad I had three backups of everything!  Carbonite saved the day so I could restore critical files while on the road until I got home and could use the external hard drives.

This is currently my main personal computer where all articles and graphics are stored.  This is an HP Pavilion dv8t with 6GB RAM, a 320GB hard drive, a 500GB external hard drive and a 1TB external hard drive.   All writing files are copied to the external hard drive, all Word files are also copied to a thumb drive and all writing files are also backed up with Carbonite.  Laptop runs Windows 7 Ultimate x64 and is used for testing the various Citrix Windows clients.

Apple iPad:

I won this iPad from the Citrix XenDesktop team via a Twitter contest.  It is a 16GB WiFi model.

Windows XPe Thin Client:

This is a Wyse Thin Client S90 running Windows XP Embedded SP2.  Wyse only supports and offers the Program Neighborhood Client V10.1 for the S90.  This system is also used to test Web Interface access.  Since it doesn’t appear that Wyse is offering any additional updates to this device, it may be time to shop for another Thin Client.

Future Plans for the Lab:

Add two Managed Gigabit Switches, preferably Cisco or HP, to setup the VLANs for storage, management and data traffic.

For Thin Clients, add a Linux based unit, a unit that runs no base OS, like the Wyse V10L and also look at a unit from 10ZiG Technology and or IGEL Technology.

If you have any questions about the lab hardware, software or setup, please let me know and I will do my best to answer your questions.

Carl Webster Carl Webster is a Sr. Solutions Architect for Choice Solutions, with over 38 years of IT experience, based in the Nashville, TN area. Webster has been working with application and desktop virtualization since 1990 and with Active Directory since 2001. Webster travels the world doing XenApp, XenDesktop, HP Moonshot and Active Directory projects. He holds the prestigious Citrix Technology Professional designation.

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