Step-By-Step: Building Your Own Lab on Windows Server 2012



Studying for your Windows Server 2012 MCSA designation via related books should not be your only method of study.  While memorizing facts and figures is a great first start, however, nothing beats practical experience.  Microsoft provides a slew of resources called IT Pro Camps, or CANITPRO Camps here in Canada, allowing attendees to run through labs provided being led by an instructor.  Again, another great start, but still not enough hands on to gain practical experience.  There is however another option.

Building a lab at home provides the ability to learn on your own time and pace.  Most aspiring IT administrators think creating a home lab would be difficult and/or expensive.  This process is actually easy to do and will provide you a tool to test out many labs provided in reading material and online.  To setup your Windows Server 2012 lab machine be sure to keep the following PC requirements in mind: 

  • Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8 as installed OS
  • 64-bit capable hardware (x64)
  • Intel-VT or AMD-V support in firmware
  • Hardware-assisted memory protection in firmware (XD)
  • At least 4GB total RAM
  • At least 60GB free space on HDD
  • Full Administrator Rights to existing PC OS
  • No disk encryption or pre-boot authentication

Setting Up Your Lab

NOTE: This process installs Windows Server 2012 in a dual-boot scenario using Boot-to-VHD features in Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.  While this process is not intended to disrupt your existing OS installation, these steps are for use at your own risk.  No support or warranties are implied or provided.

  1. Backup your existing PC operating system before beginning this process.  While this process is not intended to disrupt the existing OS installation on your PC, performing a backup before any system upgrades or installation is recommended as a precaution.
  2. Download the Windows Server 2012 installation bits in VHD format
  3. Extract the downloaded VHD file by running the compressed .EXE file.  
  4. Copy the Extracted VHD file to C:\BootVHD\Server2012.vhd
  5. Mount the copied VHD file as a virtual Drive Letter
  6. Right-click on the "Command Prompt" shortcut and select "Run as Administrator"
  7. Run "DISKPART.EXE" from the Command Prompt
  8. At the "DISKPART>" prompt type the following commands, pressing Enter after each:

               SELECT VDISK FILE="C:\BootVHD\Server2012.vhd"

               ATTACH VDISK


  9. Allow the VHD file to be mounted as new Drive Letter.  When completed, this new drive letter will appear in both My Computer and Windows Explorer
  10. Add a new OS Boot Menu Choice for Windows Server 2012
  11. Right-click on the "Command Prompt" shortcut and select "Run as Administrator"
  12. Run "BCDBOOT <mounted_drive_letter>:\WINDOWS" from the Command Prompt
  13. Reboot and select "Windows Server 2012" for the OS Boot Menu displayed

Once completed, you now have a study tool that will allow you to conduct labs on your own time providing true hands on practical experience.  Stay tuned as we will provide more Step-By-Step posts to take your learning to the next level and help you achieve your Windows Server 2012 based MCSA sooner.

  • Mehdi HAMMADI (Regioanal Lead - Algeria)

    This is very interesting and I m using this method to setup up my classroom for teaching several version of Office applications.

    Thanks Anthony. for sharing

  • WirelessLife
    | |

    Mehdi - Thank you for your kind note.  Happy to help.

  • Dancar
    | |

    I prefer using Virtual Machines to dual booting - it's much less risky for a home computer that you are using for other things, like finances & family pictures.  But you do need a machine with lots of RAM.

  • whwantscertin28
    | |

    Really a neat idea.  

    Personally, I am using the Hyper-V feature in Windows 8 with both my laptop and my desktop computer.  I also created a couple of different virtual switches so that I can change network connections at will.  

    Probably the most useful thing that I did after doing the install, windows update, apps, etc.; was that I did not activate Windows.  Instead, I exported the machine as a model first.  With a model that is not activated, you can then add machines as you go for whatever lab(s) or testing you are working on.

    There are numbers of ways to create labs, and Anthony has given us a very good one that has me given me something else to play with;  Awesome!

  • Shayan M Mullegama
    | |

    Dear Anthony,

    Thank you very much. This relay helps me to do my MCSA

  • Ciaran Holahan
    | |


    hoping for some help.  I downloaded vhd_server_serverdatacentereval_en-us.exe but when I run the exe to extract the VHD file i get an error - "The specified path is invalid".

    The Microsoft VHD Expansion Utility dialog box gets half way throug Verifying then stops - then the error appears.

    Would appreciate guidance from anybody on what may be causing the error.  Thanks,


  • Ciaran Holahan
    | |

    FYI - I was able to solve my problem with extracting the VHD file by running Windows 7 in safe mode.