One question that I'm frequently asked at conferences is how attendees can get hands-on training for a new Microsoft release without actually installing the software on their computer. I'm asked this question so often that it makes me wonder if IT professionals aren't permitted to install the new software because of security reasons, inadequate disk space, worries about poor performance, or just a power trip by the pointy-haired boss. Whether you want to tinker with the new Microsoft release or you're unable to install the software at work for whatever reason, Microsoft has a fantastic and very useful answer for you: MSDN Virtual Labs.
MSDN Virtual Labs lets you conduct hands-on learning for several Microsoft technologies by creating a virtual server with a running copy of the respective Microsoft software so you can walk through the lab's curriculum. For example, you can learn about new SQL Server 2012 features by running a SQL Server 2012 virtual server with Microsoft Virtual Labs.
See MSDN Virtual Labs for information about the labs that are currently offered. The Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Virtual Labs web page lists the labs that are currently available for SQL Server 2012, including the following sessions:
- Creating Excel 2010 Reports based on a SQL Server 2012 Tabular BI Semantic Model
- Working with the SQL Server 2012 Availability Groups
- Creating SQL Server 2012 Tabular BI Semantic Model with PowerPivot
- Exploring SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services PowerView
- Developing a SQL Server 2012 Tabular BI Semantic Model with Visual Studio 2010
- Managing Rich Unstructured Data in SQL Server 2012
- Exploring Transact-SQL Improvements in SQL Server 2012
- Exploring SQL Server 2012 Integration Services
- How to Build Your First Web App with SQL Server 2012 and ASP.Net
Each lab includes step-by-step instructions, a downloadable PDF eBook, and a 90-minute or less block of lab time. If 90 minutes isn't enough time for you to finish the lab, then the lab automatically adds a 90-minute block until you complete the lab. Figure 1 shows how Visual Studio is invoked in the MSDN Virtual Labs environment. Because MSDN's virtual labs are complete servers, you can play with other features outside of the features that are mandated by the lab coursework, in case you want to tinker with the technology.
MSDN Virtual Labs use two different platforms to host the hands-on environment: Virtual Server or Hyper-V. The system requirements to run MSDN Virtual Labs vary slightly depending on the platform that the lab is hosted on. I recommend running MSDN Virtual Labs in Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0 or later with cookies enabled and a high-speed Internet connection. You'll need to enable ActiveX controls to use MSDN Virtual Labs. You'll also need port 443 open for a remote desktop protocol (RDP) connection. I also recommend using a fairly recent OS such as Windows 2000 Server, Windows XP, or later and a screen resolution of 1024 768 or greater.
So, if you've ever thought, "I wish I could get a through and quick class on SQL Server, but I can't afford the class," then MSDN Virtual Labs is for you! As always, we want to hear your feedback on the Tool Time discussion forum at SQL Server Pro.
MSDN Virtual Labs