Lab in a Box

As far as I can remember, I always was interested in technology and especially all kind of hardware gimmicks. This didn’t change at all and I’m still addicted to gadgets, besides that it might got a bit more expensive than when I was a young lad.

The most astonishing thing about technology is it’s progress and especially the size of all the components. It all started with huge electronic components, they cost a fortune, were heavy as hell and you talked about centimetres. Nowadays we talk about nanometres (=0.000000001m) and complete PCB’s at an affordable price.

Missing hardware

A few weeks ago when we were in London, we talked about new technologies and some training opportunities. After a chat in a local coffee shop, we had a nice list of fancy stuff to “check out” and even some ideas for training courses. The only drawback was the missing hardware for our tests.

Of course we could setup new virtual machines on each of our notebooks, but that would getting a bit complicated if we’re working in a team. Another solution would be a cloud solution, but we don’t want our stuff end up somewhere on a remote data center. So we all agreed that we need a lab, therefor we need new hardware, at least 3 physical hosts to build a proper quorum.

YAY, let’s go shopping

Back in our flat, we ordered some hardware for our lab. Did you know about the Intel Nuc? It’s an astonishing little box and you can buy it with different hardware configurations, up to 16 GB of RAM, an Intel i7 CPU, WiFi and a lot more. But the most amazing thing is it’s size! The motherboard only measures 10.16 x 10.16 cm, which finally gives you slightly bigger box with the dimensions 11.5 x 11.1 x 4.8 cm.

Here’s what we ordered for our lab:

With this hardware we’ve a really nice small lab at our disposal. This is nice, but there was a big drawback. What if we want to move our lab to a different location? It could be annoying to tear everything apart, put it in a bag and assemble it on the new location from ground up. So there must be something “simpler”, something more K-I-S-S like.

Going mobile

With the thought in mind, I called my parents to get my LEGO back and I tried to build a proper LEGO-based tower out of the NUC’s and the Netgear Switch. It worked and it even looked funny, but it wasn’t that practical. So eventually I had to find another solution.

Because I once was part of a event technology company, I still had some old equipment boxes in my cellar. After some tinkering with 3M™ Dual Lock™, our mobile lab in a box was born. And because we’ve a vinyl plotter in our office, we had to print/cut some pixels for the lid.

It looks quite ok, doesn’t it? 🙂
The lab has the perfect size for our new Ansible training course – and hopefully a lot of other fancy stuff in the future.

Btw. all lab hosts are running Debian 8 (Jessie) with KVM and are maintained / managed via Ansible. We also developed a small framework to bootstrap training VM’s in seconds, based on a simple YAML definition file:

    web1: debian8
    web2: centos7
    db1: debian8
    db2: centos7

    web1: debian8
    web2: centos7
    db1: debian8
    db2: centos7

We’re thinking about pushing it to github and make it open-source. It’s all based on existing technologies, like Python as scripting language, SQLite as a simple IPAM, dnsmasq as DNS/DHCP server and libvirt to manage VMs.


  • proxy server list Reply

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  • Electrical Generator Reply

    Another great post Dominique! Woo hoo shopping time haha, I look forward to reading more from you.

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