Practice Labs: Make One Yourself, or Buy from Someone Else?
IT certification exams are designed to be a holistic test of a candidate's skills, both theoretical and practical. Many certification exams have a lab component that requires a prospective candidate to demonstrate IT skills in a real or virtual environment, either simulating or actually presenting the challenges and problems that IT professionals are expected to overcome in the workplace.
Generally, exam candidates are expected to prepare for the lab component of these exams by using practice labs. Some enterprising IT professionals make their own labs, while others use certification vendor or training provider solutions.
Either of the aforementioned training solutions can be effective, depending your specific needs, capabilities, and preferred learning styles. This article will examine the advantages and disadvantages of both lab preparation solutions so that you can determine which one is the best for you.
Do-It-Yourself Labs: Advantages
As mentioned above, many aspiring IT professionals preparing for certification exams prefer to simply build their own practice labs, rather than using vendor or training provider solutions. There are several advantages in doing so.
Cost. The principal reason as to why a lot of individuals prefer building their own practice labs is cost. Especially if you know the technology involved, something you do yourself is likely to cost less than purchasing a purpose-made produt from a business or other organization. With massive online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon already offering prospective IT exam preppers a plethora of excellent deals on switches, routers, cables, racks, servers, and other commonly used practice lab materials, assembling a fully functional practice lab can be surprisingly affordable. Additionally, many online marketplaces offer prepared "lab kits" that are assembled individually and come with everything you need to build a practice lab at a fraction of the cost of using a training provider or vendor solution.
Process. As you can probably imagine, building a fully functional practice lab isn't for the faint of heart, or for those who aren't fully committed to truly mastering whatever discipline of IT they're preparing for. As a result, the process of actually assembling a practice lab and creating one that works well is educational in and of itself, and will help teach and ingrain a lot of the skills you will need to succeed on whatever IT certification exam you're preparing for. Also, if you're one of those individuals who disdains structured study, the enterprising, independent nature of creating a practice lab yourself may motivate you to study harder for your IT exam.
Flexibility. Like with just about anything that's D-I-Y, building a practice lab and self-teaching will afford you a degree of flexibility that using a vendor or training provider solution simply may not. If you prefer having your own practice lab so that you can study whenever you please according to your schedule, definitely consider building something at home
Do-It-Yourself Labs: Disadvantages
Time: As mentioned previously, building a practice lab isn't for the weak-willed. Apart from the actual assembly of the practice lab, which can be a highly labor-intensive endeavour, expect to spend a considerable amount of time looking for parts, reading instruction manuals, and testing your practice lab. If you're on a tight schedule, the labour, effort, and time you spend gathering parts and assembling a practice lab may be put to better use studying the actual material for your upcoming exam.
Quality Control. While there is no shortage of videos, training guides, and manuals on how to create excellent D-I-Y practice labs, ultimately, there is no definitive means of testing for quality, or to ensure that the caliber of the lab you've built is equal to the demands exam you're preparing for, and the types of scenarios that you will face when taking it. Additionally, most third-party solutions are designed specifically to prepare you for the test you'll be taking. As such, the content they will teach you is exactly what you need to know for whatever IT exam you plan on taking.
Vendor and Training Provider Solutions: Advantages
Choice and Quality. Along with the exponential growth in demand for IT certification exams in recent years, there are plenty of vendors and training providers to choose from when it comes to finding a practice lab that's right for you. Many practice lab providers, such as MeasureUP and Boson, have been in the industry for years and have established reputations and proven methods of quality control. If you're going with a vendor or training provider to help you prepare for your practice lab component, then be sure to read customer reviews and what others are saying about the providers you're considering.
Support and Guidance: This is perhaps the most important advantage that going with a vendor or training provider solution affords you. Most training providers offer extensive information, support systems, and peer groups that help guide you through the preparation process, and give you excellent advice and input on how to best prepare for the practice lab component of your IT certification exam.
Vendor and Training Provider Solutions: Disadvantages
Cost: While there are some vendors and training providers that offer more affordable practice labs, as with virtually everything else, you get what you pay for. Some vendor and training provider solutions can be quite expensive. If you're on a tight budget, then you may want to consider either a D-I-Y solution or signing up for a more cost-effective virtual lab training course.
Lack of flexibility: Unless you've decided to use a third party's virtual lab simulator, many providers offer fairly restricted access to the use of their physical lab space and operate their courses in a relatively structured manner. Avoid physical labs operated by vendors or training providers if your schedule is fluid or if you prefer more unstructured learning environments.
Ultimately, there is no definitive answer as to whether you should chose a vendor or training provider solutions or simply build a practice lab yourself. Each choice is a function of both your capacities and your preferred methods of learning, so invest some time into determining which solution is right for you.