Earlier this week, The Register touted the benefits of having a home lab.

That lab doesn’t necessarily have to be elaborate. But there is definitely something to be said for having some equipment that you can learn and experiment on, and that can break without the world ending.
I don’t think this was expected when my career started–I remember people asking me why I needed four computers when I was living in a one-bedroom apartment–but today, people want me to tell them about my home network.

If nothing else, running some stuff at home helps me keep my skills sharp. Setting up HP Jetdirect boxes still comes easily to me, even though I’ve set up exactly three of them since 2005. Two of them were mine. But if I go six months without touching a Linux box, I turn into a rustbucket of a sysadmin. Administering a busy web server is good practice.

But besides that, with current equipment, running a network at home isn’t hard. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that anyone at my level ought to be able to configure a network with a handful of devices on it, assign some static IP addresses, forward one or two firewall ports to those static addresses to run things like a web server, and keep it secured. I’ve actually been asked before, in job interviews, what I’ve done to secure my wireless network.

A coworker knows someone who just took a job in a Windows shop, and he’s dealing with Windows servers hands-on on a daily basis for the first time. I told him the best thing he could do is to get a copy of some recent version of Windows Server, load it on a machine, and put it to use at home doing something. Create accounts for himself and his wife, store data on it, have it manage the printer, and whatever else they can think of so that he can try things out, break and fix stuff after hours and get comfortable with it. If he can load Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate on all his machines and join them to an honest-to-goodness Active Directory domain, so much the better. It’s total overkill for home, but it’s practice.

For that matter, I advised another coworker just yesterday to think about migrating his home network. He’s an MCSE but wants to broaden his horizons, and mostly runs Apple equipment for his everyday stuff. He has his e-mail and web server running on a Windows box, but would like to migrate away from it. I pointed out that Apache, Postfix, and other standard Unix tools should run fine under OS X, and then he could say he has experience running production web and mail servers under OS X or under Unix, depending on what the situation called for.

Here are some more ideas for home network projects. Having a nice setup at home makes it much easier to become a sysadmin or network engineer.