Licensing Your Home Lab #VDM30in30

One of the benefits of having a home lab is that you have your own environment to build and test workloads without impacting any corporate systems.  This is great for testing out techniques and ideas and furthering your own knowledge of various systems.

Licensing a home lab can be a challenge, though.  A good lab should, ideally, be representative of a production environment.  For many environments, that means running vSphere, Windows Server, and possibly other business applications like SQL Server.

Unless you have a deep bank account to buy commercial licenses or are accepted into a program that provides licensing, acquiring licenses for a home lab can be very tough.  The main source of licensing is time-limited trial licensing that requires the lab to be rebuilt every 60-180 days depending on the product.  Tools like AutoLab help greatly with this by automating the lab building process.

But what options are available for those who want a more stable lab that doesn’t need to be rebuilt frequently?  The options there are a little more limited. Details on those options are below:

  • Microsoft: The very low-cost TechNet subscriptions used to cover this ground, but years of abuse and a shifting focus towards cloud services led to this service being discontinued in September 2013.  The official replacement for TechNet was long-term evaluation software from the TechNet Evaluation Center.  If evaluations aren’t your cup of tea, there are two options:
    • MSDN Subscriptions: MSDN subscriptions offer licensed software that developers can use, and they had fewer restrictions than the TechNet subscriptions.  There are a variety of MSDN subscription options, and some include Visual Studio and all products in the Microsoft catalog.  The most affordable option for a Home Lab is the MSDN Operating Systems subscription which is $799 per year.
    • Microsoft Action Pack: The Microsoft Action Pack is a subscription option for registered small business partners that provides some licensed software products for internal use.  This subscription can include Office 365 product use rights.
    • Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials – This is a lower-cost Windows Server license for one server up to 25 users.  The server running the essentials role would need to be the root domain controller in a domain with all the FSMO roles.  It also provides features to integrate with Microsoft Online Services such as Office 365.  If you use this option, you could have a core server without any time-limited licensing and utilize trials for other servers or services.
  • VMware:  VMware used to have a program similar to TechNet, but that was discontinued many years ago.  There are two options that home labs can take advantage of, though.
    • vSphere Free Hypervisor: A feature limited version of vSphere that cannot be managed by vCenter and has no writeable commandline access. 
    • vSphere Essentials: The Essentials kit includes vCenter and the vSphere Hypervisor for up to three hosts.  The cheapest version of this kit does not include vMotion or the other features of the regular commercial licensing tiers, but it does provide for licensed home lab software.
  • Linux Solutions: There are a number of Linux-based solutions that are free or very low cost.  There are Linux solutions that can provide similar functionality to Active Directory.