I’ve always been a fan of homelabs. It is common knowledge that I am a huge advocate of virtualisation technologies, and pretty much all my machines feature at least Hyper-V running on them.
If you are not familiar with this, a homelab is a set of machines you run at home which simulate a proper enterprise environment. This does not mean a 42U cabinet full of massive servers, but even just a decently-sized workstation acting as VM host would do. The key here is enterprise, so ADDS, DNS, DHCP, the usual suspects indeed, plus your services.
What I am going to talk about is applicable to corporate labs as well, albeit this can be less fun
So, if you are a TFS administrator, what are the advantages of a lab?
Yes, test upgrades are one of the uses of a lab. But not just testing the upgrade itself, it also helps understanding how long an upgrade will take and what are the crucial areas you need to be aware of.
In an ideal world, you will have an exact copy of the production hardware so you might be able to have a very accurate forecast. This helps of course, but it will also hide what are the critical areas in your deployment.
Let’s take TFS 2017 – one of the most expensive steps is the migration of all the test results data in a collection to a different schema.
This is a very intensive operation, and having a lab where you know inside-out any finer detail about your hardware really helps when it comes to planning the proper upgrade, especially if you have a large deployment.
Without mentioning that in case of failure you are not breaking anybody’s day and you can work on your own schedule.
Also, you will find that sometimes you might need to experiment with settings that require a service interruption. The lab is yours, so you are not affecting anybody again and you can go straight to the solution when it comes to the production environment.
All of that sounds reasonable and maybe too simplicistic, but I saw too many instances where there was no lab and the only strategy was test-and-revert-if-fails, given that Team Foundation Server is “just a DB and IIS” (yeah…).
Definitely not something you want to see or hear, trust me