Pulse labs behind the scenes
Cloning Pulse lab images to 400 laptop computers
Takes months of planning, coordination and effort
by David Ross
This is the third in a series of postings that will show you some of the effort that goes into hosting live code exercises at a conference.
This series includes articles on:
- Where to host the labs: Local? Remote? Cloud?
- Host laptop configuration and setup
- Lab testing and
preparations for Pulse
In the first article in this series, we discussed why on-site laptops were the method of choice for hosting labs. In the second article, the process of creating a master laptop image was shown. Now, in this final article, we walk through the process of preparing 400 laptops for a conference.
Once a base master is ready, the virtual machine images for the labs need to be placed on a master for use at Pulse. 400 laptops is a large number, and the room is huge. There are plans made to keep labs on the same product set in the same area, so the proctors will be nearby to assist. As a result, there will be multiple “master laptop” configurations, with different sets of images for different labs on various laptops.
The planners have already decided, based on disk size and product sets, which labs are to be hosted on which master image. Once that is established, the individual enablement specialists will then work on their assigned master to copy, test and validate their labs. Each laptop master has an “owner” that will coordinate the image testing process for their laptop. Last year, our master laptops were delayed and it was December before they were online. This year, we are a full month ahead of that schedule, with the masters going online this week (5 November) if all goes well.
This is an iterative process that involves dozens of enablement specialists and other team members. A set of about 15 master laptop configurations is created by cloning the initial base image onto more W520s in our lab. These laptops are placed on the network. Each person responsible for one or more labs will then schedule a time, transfer their images to the appropriate master, and test their labs. Once every lab that is assigned to a particular master has been tested and confirmed, the master laptop owner notifies us that the master is ready for shipping. We capture that master image for backup purposes, then ship it off to our team in New York that will clone the master configuration onto a predetermined number of laptops for use at Pulse.
In years past, hardware disk cloning was used, but more recently, we have adopted clonezilla as our choice for replicating the images. One advantage of this method is we can clone on-site, which we have done for the past two years and will probably do again next year.
Pulse 2013 is in March. We started planning on the hands-on labs in late August. There's a lot of work that has already taken place, but the heavy lifting is about to start. Over the next 2 months, there will be dozens of virtual machine images copied and tested, hundreds of gigabytes of data captured and cloned, and more communications than I care to imagine. This part of the effort will wrap up in January as the masters are sent to New York and most will be cloned prior to shipping them to Las Vegas in late February.
So, when you arrive at Pulse 2013, swing by the labs and say hello. Remember, the proctors have been working for up to 6 months to make your experience go as smoothly as possible. I personally take great satisfaction in seeing people work with our products, learn new things, and leave the conference prepared to make things happen with their own organizations.