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Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing

Brien Posey, Freelance Writer and Former CIO | 8/22/2013 | 22 comments

Brien Posey
Operating system upgrades have always been something of a crapshoot. We as administrators make every effort to follow all of the recommended best practices, but it is difficult to know with absolute, 100 percent certainty how a new OS will behave in a production environment.

In the past, I have always recommended a multi-step approach to OS upgrades. The first step is to build an isolated lab environment, and then configure the lab in a way that mimics your production environment, but on a smaller scale. That way, you can work through the OS deployment in the lab prior to trying it in a production environment.

In the case of desktop OSes, I recommend following lab testing with a pilot deployment in which the new OS gets deployed to select power users prior to performing a large-scale distribution. This gives you the chance to work through any issues that were not caught during the lab testing. Of course, I also recommend performing a clean installation (as opposed to an upgrade) whenever possible, because doing so greatly reduces the chance that you will have problems.

This method of working through new OS deployments has worked well for me for years, but I will be the first to admit that it isn't perfect. After all, lab testing will only go so far in helping you to predict how the new OS will behave in a production environment. My experience has been that no matter how good the lab environment may be, there always seem to be some subtle nuances that are unique to the production environment.

Thanks to virtualization technology, however, the differences between a production environment and a lab environment can become a non-issue. I recently spoke with a friend who used his backup software's virtual lab feature for Windows Server 2012 deployment testing.

My friend is using Veeam Backup and Recovery to back up all of the servers in his fully virtualized datacenter. This particular backup application not only keeps the virtual machines backed up in near real time, it also allows for on-demand creation of virtual lab environments. In other words, it is possible to provision an isolated lab environment very quickly that is an exact replica of your production environment as it exists at that point in time.

There are several advantages to using this approach. First, administrators do not have to waste time manually creating a lab environment. Second, creating this type of virtual lab is much faster than building a virtual lab from scratch. Snapshot technology is used to instantly provision the lab environment. There is no need to work through a backup restoration. Perhaps more importantly, because the virtual lab runs directly from your backups, there is no significant amount of additional storage required for the virtual lab.

The virtual lab consists of a series of virtual machines running in a sandboxed environment. These virtual machines look and feel exactly like the virtual machines on the production network. The virtual machines that make up the virtual lab can communicate with one another, but they are completely isolated from the production environment. Likewise, snapshots are used in a way that makes it safe to make alterations to the lab virtual machines without having to worry about accidentally modifying your backup in the process.

A virtual lab environment is absolutely ideal for OS deployment testing. Because the virtual lab is an exact replica of your production environment, you can determine just how the deployment process will behave once upgrade for real. You can even use the labs to work through the deployment multiple times in an effort to rehearse or fine-tune the deployment process.

Veeam isn't the only company that offers a virtual lab product, but my friend who uses Veeam Backup and Recovery is the first person I have talked to who used this type of virtual lab to prepare for an OS upgrade. His overall assessment was that the virtual lab environment allowed him to take the risk out of the deployment process.

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Tuscany   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   9/30/2013 1:32:07 AM
Re: Virtual labs Are Ideal for OS
@Zaius  Thanks for the Link, just goes to show there are providers for just about every tech need there is.   Kudos to India for using this to create jobs !
Tuscany   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   9/30/2013 1:29:28 AM
Re: Virtual labs are great but....
I am a bit confused about the definition here.  Virtual Labs versus Virtual based OS testing.  I think the two are different but this distinct seems to be often blurred.
Trek   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/30/2013 6:51:58 PM
Re: Outsourcing of test jobs
Temple Grandin was a true glass ceiling breaker for those with autism. Our uniqueness, diversity, flaws and weirdness can be untapped resources for answers and points of view. 

 Try using those who only speak broken English and see if they can understand your diagrams  and instructions in English. 
Toby   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/29/2013 5:02:35 AM
Re: Outsourcing of test jobs
@Akselbork: Well that is a pretty amazing story. I have always wondered if there was not a better way to put those with detail skills above and beyond the ordinary to work and it sounds like your friend has. There is a very famous example of how alternate sensibilties have huge value in the case of Temple Grandin in the USA.
akselbork   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/29/2013 2:08:05 AM
Outsourcing of test jobs
A follow up on Zaius commment.

It is quit interresting aspect when it comes to test OS/apps. Here in Denmark and respected and highly paid IT-expert quite his job to create a company where every productive work (testers) were all peoples with autism.

They are amazing to find even the smallest error within the workflow of a program, and give a suggestion to have to fix it. They do not miss a thing.

I have deeply respect for their work and how such a company are willing to give a group of people a chance to get a "normal" job, instead of been placed on an institution from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m each and every day.
anthony.nima   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/28/2013 5:49:19 AM
Re: Virtual labs are great but....
I prefer virtual labs for anything since its very convenient and secure I feel. Im not sure what sort of a load it can handle but at a given time it wont be much I guess  
Cybertaff   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/27/2013 9:39:05 AM
Virtual labs are great but....
I use Oracle Virtualbox to test different versions of Windows and Linux in different scenarios and find it to be an effective solution, however not everything that works in a lab will nessarily work in a production environment.  For example setting up software raid on a linux distro in Virtualbox is a breeze but I have had times 'in the field' where there have been issues and it has taken me a lot longer than I thought it would. There does come a time when only production testing will do.
michaelsumastre   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/27/2013 2:08:53 AM
Re: Virtual labs Are Ideal for OS
Zaius, the link you posted was very interesting. I was already aware that such companies exists but I didn't know they were that big. I can see that beta testers are important to software development. I'm not sure though if there are companies that would serve as testers solely for OS deployment. That would sort of contradict the purpose in my opinion. But a company that will allow you to outsource your own tests for app and OS deployments sound like a interesting albeit far fetched prospect. I can only imagine them using virtual labs most of the time and then have a bunch of systems to really simulate the needs of the clients.
Zaius   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/26/2013 11:59:06 PM
Re: Virtual labs Are Ideal for OS
May not be very relevant, there are companies that can serve as testers. Almost every company developing software uses in house QA team, however there are companies that are highly focused on in. You can read:

India's Testing Boom Creates New Jobs


Susan Fogarty   Virtual Labs Are Ideal for OS Deployment Testing   8/26/2013 8:35:13 PM
Re: Virtual labs Are Ideal for OS
As Michael pointed out, we are actually talking about several different scenarios in which you might prefer different testing, or which only certain ways of testing are possible. The original article was describing using a virtual lab to test a server OS upgrade. That's something that is difficult to try out in part of your company, so using a lab might be a good option. other people were talking about desktop/client OS testing, which you can probaly test in a more hands-on way. Application performance testing is yet another layer of testing. I think these all need a different approach and a specific process to follow for each.
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