SQL Server 2012 Sandbox on a Budget

I’m helping someone get setup learning SQLServer 2012, and it occurred to me there may be others in the same boat.    How to learn SQLServer 2012 on a budget…..

The first thing I recommend is using VirtualMachines.   Granted this doesn’t help with performance but it does give you an environment to setup and teardown servers, multiply them at will etc.    I’m still old school enough to have a quad core, 16 GB RAM, several TB of disk desktop, but this works also with laptops if sized appropriately.

Install VMPlayer from VMWare.   Myself my host OS is Linux but your host OS may be Linux or Windows whatever you prefer.   Yes there are other options, use whatever makes you happy.

Snag a copy of Windows 7.   Ideally you will have a copy with a license key that you can activate.  Some of us have legit mate copies of Windows 7 however due to changes in our physical server windows has run off and decided that we need to buy a new license again anyway even though we only have a single copy installed on the same single system we started with…. but I digress.   If you don’t you can evaluate Windows 7 for 30 days without a key, and you can extend this 30 days for a total of 90 days if you use “C: slmgr -rearm”.   After this your functionality in Windows 7 may continue but with some limitations and annoyance, most notably the lack of any Windows Updates.

Install VMWare Tools in your instance of Windows 7 and mount as a network drive some local directories.  Use these to store any data you want to save between refreshes of Windows 7.

Get a copy of SQLServer 2012.  You have two options.   The first is a free copy of SQLServer 2012 Express.   This is available from Windows and will run forever.   It however lacks many of the features in SQLServer 2012 Enterprise.   The other option is to download an evaluation copy of SQLServer 2012 from Microsoft.   This will give you a time limited, full featured, evaluation copy.   This will include Visual Studio so you can use things like Integration Services, Reporting Services and the like.

With this you will be able to fully explore all that you wish with SQLServer, and if you are a starving college student all you really need is the hardware.