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Microsoft's Best-Kept Secret

By  Aug 22, 2008

Topics: Certification

This week I have been discussing ways to build a low-cost home practice network. Today I want to make you aware of a free service Microsoft offers that gives not only current IT managers quick, hands-on practical experience with Microsoft technologies, but also provides IT certification candidates with extremely valuable "grist for the mill" with regard to their certification studies.

What am I talking about? you ask. Well, to begin with, you should understand that Microsoft hosts two main subsites, each targeted to a particular type of information technology professional:

Within the TechNet and MSDN subsites reside a wonderful collection of Virtual Labs. This is how Microsoft describes them at the MSDN Virtual Labs site:

Welcome to the MSDN Virtual Labs! Quickly evaluate or learn how to build great applications for Windows and the Web through a series of guided, hands-on labs which can be completed in 90 minutes or less. The best part is, the MSDN Virtual Labs don’t require any installation and are available to you immediately for FREE.

The only requirements for participating in a TechNet or MSDN Virtual Lab are:

  • A Windows Live user account (free registration)
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or later
  • A firewall exception for TCP port 443 (SSL)

How the Labs Work

You can register for the same Virtual Lab as many times as you want to (you cannot save your session state, unfortunately). When you start a lab you are given a 90-minute time block and a live session with one or more virtual machines located somewhere in Microsoft's grid.

What's especially cool about the Virtual Labs is that they are guided exercises. You receive a free, downloadable lab manual in PDF format that walks you through an objective-based exercise in the technology under consideration.

Here are some sample Virtual Labs from each site that I have completed and enjoyed tremendously:

TechNet Virtual Labs

MSDN Virtual Labs

I hope that you derive as much benefit by using the Microsoft Virtual Labs as I have. Whether they are used to guide an IT infrastructure buying decision, or they are used to help you pass your next Microsoft certification exam, in my opinion, the Virtual Labs represent one of Microsoft's best-kept secrets for their customers and constituents.

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