Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting free tools for your next certification exam

One of the problems with living in times as they are now is the lack of funds for what I like to call non-directed autodidactic exploration. Some of you would call this 'investigating new tools' but most would call it getting 'toys'. How do you know if D-trace, the MySQL Query Analyzer, or the next new announcement is that new tool that you can not live without if you do not get a chance to live with it? In the past I was able to rig an old laptop, my new laptop and an old development system to play, er, experiment with MySQL Cluster before taking my Cluster DBA exam.

Cisco CCIE candidates end up with an expensive pile of routers, hubs, switches, and cables in preperation for their lab exam. I wanted to get back up to speed on Solaris and went hunting used hardware for Sparc system so I could learn all the new items added since the 2.5.1/2.6 days (and boy did they add stuff). In the back of my mind is using some holiday time to work on a Solaris 10 Certification.

I also wanted hardware to let me investigate OpenSolaris, Glassfish, and the latest BSD-based releases. Plus there is that experiment I want to do with the Proxy Server and sharding. The list of wants was a lot longer than the funds on hand. And the idea of adding a pyramid of box past their prime did not appeal to me nor did the prospect of a higher electrical bill.

Virtual Box is a virtualization software that is freely available under a GPL license. Very quickly I was able to install Virtual box on my Mac and configure Ubuntu and OpenSolaris clients.

Nothing is really free. Each client takes a dozen or so GB of disk space. Running both clients, NeoOffice and Thunderbird at the same time makes my MacBook work hard. The good news is that is easy to remove the clients so that old opportunity cost is relatively low.

Now I have Glassfish and OpenSolaris on one virtual machine and can use my Mac and the virtual Ubuntu as clients. I can then query a MySQL 5.1 instance on the Ubuntu system and watch the Proxy Server re-route the request. Plus I was able to load the latest Zend Framework without having to disturb an older version on my main development system. Total cost out of pocket $0. Disk space cost about 25 GB. Time spent? Well that took about an hour for the first virtual server and twenty minutes for the second.

But now I have systems that I can use to explore all those new tools without having to crack open the wallet. And I have all these new toys, er, tools to learn. Times are good.

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