I thought that I should mention the Hands-on-Labs in a separate post because they were very slickly implemented and managed, a testament to the people who put them together. Not only that though, it was VMware eating their own dog food in a very public way and, in my opinion, showing that they were up to the challenge.
For those people reading this who haven't been to VMworld before the Hands-on-Labs (HOL) are an area of the conference where you can work though a series of prescribed tasks to satisfy some requirementsconjured up in a brief scenario. It's an opportunity for some to try out some of VMware's products in a meaningful way.
In the HOL area, there were 240 seats available, each one equipped with dual 19″ widescreen monitors, a thin client, keyboard and mouse. Lab instructions were displayed on one screen and an RDP session to an isolated and dedicated environment for your chosen lab was displayed on the other.
In the centre of the HOL area was a control station for managing the environment and several, large screen displaying statistics for the duration of the conference.
This year there were 27 different labs available. I only managed to find the time to complete 3 but there were some people whose entire conference seemed to be taken up with lab sessions. Three of the 27 labs were also “vendor” labs with the emphasis of them being on NetApp, EMC and Cisco. Many of the other vendors exhibiting at VMworld would probably like a specific lab for next year – one even said as much to me.
Completing the labs was fairly easy once you were sat down. You simply had to decide which of the 27 you wanted to complete. The instructions were displayed on the right and the RDP screen popped up on the left. All that you then had to do was work your way through at your own pace. I didn't encounter any problems although there were some differences between different labs in how detailed the instructions were or in how they were laid out. That was a minor issue though.
The impressive thing for me was how everything was pre-provisioned and available for each of the thousands of lab sessions that were served during the conference. How it all worked together. Simon Seagrave chatted to me briefly about it at one point and showed me how you could work out which datacenter (Amsterdam, Florida or Las Vegas) your lab was being hosted in. Simply, it was just working out which timezone the RDP session appeared to be in. As you can see below, when I took this lab at about 8.30am, I was working on infrastructure in Las Vegas!
Also interesting to note was that VMware were running vCenter Operations Suite 5 (not yet available to download) to monitor the infrastructure. I was offered a short demonstration of it by Bas Raayman (vSpecialist at EMC) but I didn't manage to find the time to take him up on his kind offer. I also subsequently discovered that VMware had vCenter Operations for View running as well although give the rate at which lab environments were binned and re-provisioned I doubt that they would have got much useful information out of it.
I've asked quite a few other people what they thought of the Labs but I'd like to know what more people though about them too so please feel free to participate in the poll (in the sidebar) that'll run through to the end of October 2011.