In my last post, I talked about building a lab PC to learn Lync. In this post, I’ll talk about what software you can run, and some extras that you might want to add depending on what your learning goals are.

First up, you’ll need some software. Hyper-V Server 2012 is free, as is the brand-new Hyper-V Server 2012 R2. While 2012 R2 has some newer features, virtual appliances that are in Hyper-V 2008 R2 format can’t be imported directly into Server 2012 R2 – you have to first import the vm into 2012, then to 2012 R2. You might want to stick with 2012 and upgrade to R2 later.

You’ll need Lync if you’re going to set up a Lync lab. You can download Lync Server, Windows, and SQL trial software. If you’re looking for something more ready-to-go, try the pre-configured Test Drive environment. For everything else Microsoft, hit the TechNet Evaluation Center.

For something a little more complete, Tommy Clarke and Ståle Hansen have released the script that they use to build labs for the training they do.

If you beef your lab up and run System Center Virtual Machine Manager, Shawn Gibbs has an excellent blog on something called Service Templates. Service Templates allow you to quickly deploy lab or hosted environments. If you’re looking to easily experiment with different environments, this could be great for you.

While a couple of PCs or laptops can be great for clients, you can also use virtual machines. Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise can redirect both speaker and microphone audio. You might need to dive into the registry to enable it. Fire up regedit, and the key you want is

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server\WinStations\RDP-Tcp\

Change fDisableAudioCapture = 1 to 0

When you launch your RDP client to connect to the vm, make sure you select Show Options, select Local Resources, Remote Audio Settings and configure the audio options to play and record from this computer:

Setting Remote Audio Playback and Recording

If you want to try out mobile apps, an inexpensive consumer access point or wireless router can help you out. Use this to create a wifi network for your lab, that connects directly to your Lync environment, without having to do any funky routing through your home network to get there.

Speaking of routing, Bhargav from Kemp Technologies has an excellent blog on using Windows Server as a router in your lab.  You can use a router to emulate a WAN, or you can use a router to stand in for a firewall. You won’t have the fun of dealing with access control lists, firewall rules, and content inspection, but at least your Lync servers will be in appropriate subnets.

For the real firewall experience around edge servers, you can use Forefront TMG, Vyatta, or you might also be able to find a decent small-office firewall on eBay.

If you want to work with phones, a small PoE switch is nice. If you want to work with enterprise features, you’ll need to get a switch with VLANs, LLDP support, and one that at least respects DSCP markings. The HP ProCurve 2600 series is great for this, there are a few 8 port PoE models that are fanless. You can also skip POE and use power adaptors, though some manufacturers charge way too much for these – check out 1, 2 and 4 port PoE injectors that you can find online instead, for a lot less. Plan your cable management well, you’ll have a lot of cables that will tangle themselves into knots as soon as you’re not looking.

If you’re using Lync Server Enterprise Edition in your lab, you can use DNS load balancing, however the only supported design is with a hardware load balancer in front of the web services on the front ends. One unsupported option is to have the Internal Web Services URL FQDN resolve to the IP of just one of your front end servers. No web services will work if that server is down and your server load will be heavier on the front end you’ve chosen, so don’t do this in production. In a lab environment, you’ll otherwise be able to work with Enterprise Edition as if you had the HLB in place.

If you want to learn about hardware load balancers, you’ll need to spend more money, right? No way – check out the websites for the major vendors listed on Microsoft’s Infrastructure Qualified for Lync page, many of them will offer demos or limited bandwidth virtual appliances for free.

And lastly, if you’re going to have all kinds of VMs running, you might want a bigger monitor. You can find some 27″, 2560 x 1440 resolution monitors from stores on eBay. While you may have never heard of the brands, they’re less than half the price of name brand screens of the same resolution. What you don’t get is some of the bells and whistles like multiple inputs, USB hubs, and on-screen display.