Building a Windows 2000 Training Lab on a Budget

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You have undoubtedly heard it said that in order to pass the MCSE exams, you must have an abundance of hands-on experience with the product. This is true, but how can folks new to IT gain hands-on access to Windows 2000 technologies? Furthermore, it is a fact that most people who are already employed in the IT field use only limited portions of the Windows 2000 feature set on a daily basis. After all, you can’t just start playing with DHCP/DNS integration on your company’s production servers just to test out the available options! That being said, how can you put together an honest-to-goodness Windows 2000 training lab that will allow you to test the lion’s share of the Windows 2000 feature set, without bankrupting your checking account? In this article, I will provide a “recipe” for developing a solid Windows 2000 training lab that will maximize your amount of hands-on experience while minimizing the amount of impact on your wallet.

Figure 1 displays the schematic for the Windows 2000 training lab that is described in this article.

 


Figure 1: Windows 2000 Training Lab Schematic Diagram

 

Assumptions

To begin, I will make but a single initial assumption- that you already own a decent computer. By “decent” I don’t necessarily mean a box with a 1-GHz CPU and 512 megabytes of RAM, only a machine with enough hardware to comfortably support Windows 2000 Server. What I suggest is that you install Windows 2000 Server on your home computer in a dual-boot configuration with your current desktop operating system. Don’t know how to do this? Great! Go ask someone who does know how or consult your reference materials. In this article I will leave all of the implementation to you as part of your education. The only fly in the ointment with dual-booting Windows 2000 with your current OS configuration is that you will need free disk space in order to create an NTFS partition (after all, you will need Active Directory to fully utilize Windows 2000 Server).

One option is purchasing PowerQuest PartitionMagic (http://www.powerquest.com). PartitionMagic will allow you to dynamically restructure your hard drive with no loss of data. Alternatively, you can back up your important files and completely repartition your hard drive. The advantage of the latter approach is that you can gain some excellent experience with managing hard disks; this is a major topic covered on the Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Professional exams.

First Things First- Obtaining the Software

Before beginning the process of creating a Windows 2000 training lab, it is prudent to ask the question, “How can I put together a Windows 2000 training lab on a budget when I can purchase a decent used car for what it costs to purchase just the necessary operating system software?” Well, the answer to that question is: evaluation software. Microsoft makes available, free of charge, evaluation versions of most of its operating system software. For our purposes, you will need to order evaluation CDs for Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Windows 98. You can order the software directly from Microsoft by visiting the Web page http://www.microsoft.com/SERVERS/evaluation/trial/default.asp. Incidentally, the evaluation process works as follows. You have a 120-day limit to use the software. On the 121st day of use, the software will “blue-screen” every hour, on the hour, which obviously renders the software unusable. Therefore, part of your training as an MCSE candidate will involve periodically reloading the evaluation software.

After you have obtained your evaluation software and have configured your home computer as a Windows 2000 Server domain controller, it is time to consider the construction of the rest of the training lab.

Computer Number Two: The Router

In order to exploit Windows 2000’s multi-protocol routing capabilities, you will need to set up a second computer as a dedicated, multi-homed router. I suggest that you purchase a used PC that barely meets Microsoft’s minimum hardware requirements for Windows 2000 Server- there is no need to buy a supersonic machine that will function only as a low-traffic router. For reference, Microsoft states that the minimum hardware that is required to operate Windows 2000 Server is a 133-MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, 1 GB of hard drive space, a VGA monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a floppy drive, a CD-ROM drive and a network interface card. Nowadays, you can pick up a PC of this caliber for $300 or less. You do not need a monitor for this PC because all of your lab computers will be accessible via a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch box. The KVM box is discussed later in this article.

Computer Number Three: Your Client Workstation

For your client workstation, you will need to acquire one more used PC. To gain the maximum amount of flexibility for your client workstation, your third PC will operate in a triple-boot configuration using Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional and Windows NT Workstation 4.0. As far as computer hardware is concerned, ensure that the box meets the minimum hardware requirements for Windows 2000 Professional and you will be all set. Those hardware requirements, as stated by Microsoft are a 133-MHz CPU, 32 MB of RAM, 650 MB of hard drive space, a VGA monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and a CD-ROM drive. Again, the KVM will be used to support keyboard, video and mouse connections.

Hooking It All Together

Only four more items are necessary to complete your Windows 2000 training lab: one KVM switch box, two Ethernet “network in a box” kits, and one null-modem cable. You can find a KVM switch that will support three keyboard, video and mouse connections at your local electronics superstore for about $100, plus $20 for each set of KVM cables. A typical KVM switch is the Omnicube, made by Belkin (http://www.belkin.com). The KVM switch allows all three of your PCs to share a single keyboard, mouse and monitor- literally a godsend for those of you who are using your home office or study as your Windows 2000 training lab.

Your typical network-in-a-box kit contains two 10-Mbps Ethernet cards, two lengths of Category 5 unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable and a four-port Ethernet hub. Purchasing two kits allows you both to multi-home your Windows 2000 router and to establish two separate IP subnets, perfect for performing subnetting exercises or playing with the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS). You can find network-in-a-box kits at the same store in which you found your KVM switch. A typical network-in-a-box kit is the SB104, manufactured by Netgear(http://www.netgear.com).

A null-modem cable costs less than $10, can also be found at an electronics superstore and will allow you to simulate dial-up sessions between your client computer and one of your Windows 2000 servers. Considering how heavily the MCSE exams stress RRAS, you would be well advised to spend plenty of time mastering remote access by using your Window 2000 training lab.

Conclusion

I hope that you found this article useful. You should find that the configuration I have suggested should allow you to test the majority of the Windows 2000 feature set, from RIS deployment to Dynamic DNS to Group Policy. Remember that you have two PCs that contain no personal data, so you can practice hard-core Active Directory acrobatics and complete client desktop lockdowns with no fear of losing your job (or your family’s patience!). In fact, the biggest risk you have to take while experimenting with your Windo

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