Thanks to an alert reader, I'd like to suggest a different strategy for Microsoft Certified Professions preparing for their MCP exams. What reader Phil Barry pointed out to me after reading an earlier tip about virtual server software, was that the model I described revolved around using desktop machines to do a server's job. While that is a viable and affordable approach, he opines, he's had good luck buying used servers that meet minimum system requirements for Windows Server 2003 (which are surprisingly low-ball, as a quick glance at Microsoft's "System Requirements" page will attest).
Barry proposes that certification candidates peruse classified or online ads in their local newspaper or on eBay, or even contact used equipment dealers. This can lead them to a pair of entirely capable servers, often including multiple network interfaces and RAID arrays, (albeit with more modest 4 GB or 9 GB SCSI drives, if you buy two generations back), for a bargain basement price of around $300 per unit.
Then, he says in a stroke of pure genius, if you're going to spend, say, $1,000, you've got $400 left over to purchase a subscription to TechNet Plus, which gets you copies of evaluation software, pre-release betas, service packs, resource kits, and all kinds of other good stuff that will help you prepare for the exams as well as the day-to-day functions of your job.
I can't help but endorse this concept, and intend to make this a part of all future discussions of doing the "home test lab" thing.
For those who want a recap of some of my earlier test lab suggestions:
1. It's still possible to go out and buy a couple of brand-new Windows Server 2003 capable machines (though probably in desktop cases, sans RAID arrays and other typical server add-ons) for under $1,000. For example, at Fry's Outpost, you can find plenty of computers with 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 processors (or better), 256 MB RAM or better, 40 GB disk space or better, and so forth, for under $500 per machine.
2. By acquiring some kind of virtual PC software (such as EMC's VMWare or Microsoft's Virtual PC or Virtual Server), it's possible to set up a single machine that emulates a multiple server environment, including networked communications.
Thanks very much to Phil Barry for his excellent input; I'm glad to share it with you!
Ed Tittel is a long-time certification follower. He's series editor for Exam Cram 2, a popular assembly of cert prep books from Que Publishing, and a contributing editor for Certification Magazine. He also covers certification topics for InformIT.com, and numerous other TechTarget Web sites.