At the VMware Hands-on Labs, we receive a lot of feedback about our free online labs. As you can imagine, a great deal of it is positive, but we also receive notifications about broken labs (THANK YOU!), steps in the manual that seem confusing, and feedback about how we can make the experience more valuable to our users.
Obviously, there are certain limitations to what we can do, especially since the service is offered at no cost to our users, and we have to manage our available capacity very efficiently to keep our overhead as low as possible.
One of the requests we hear frequently is that some of our users prefer to sit for 4-8 hours and "finish" a lab in a single sitting rather than take it a couple of modules at a time. For what it is worth, a vast majority of our users spend roughly 60 minutes at a time, even at large events like VMworld. We only offer 90 minute sessions at VMworld, and have increased that to 4-5 hours for most labs online. We serve various workshops around the world using the same portal and capacity, and many of these workshops request extended sessions that keeps the lab environment live throughout the day so that attendees have a continuous experience. These requests either require handling one at a time (labor intensive) or modification of ALL deployments (resource intensive). For more information, or to request your own workshop, please check out HOL-In-A-Box at http://vmware.com/go/holinabox
To address the "more time" request for those who want it, but not kill our available capacity, we have decided to change things up a bit and scale the initial lifetime of HOL labs back from 4 hours to 90 minutes. Before you grab the torches and pitchforks, please read on! However, we are allowing labs to be extended by users in one-hour increments for up to 8 more hours. This allows those who would like to stay in a lab longer to do so, but prevents idle labs from consuming resources unnecessarily. In the current model, a lab pod that is deployed for 4-8 hours but used for only 1 hour may continue consume resources for 4-8 hours, which prevents new users from benefitting from "warm" labs, or getting a lab at all. In this new model, we enable people to extend the lab time to fit their needs, but also allow the system to more aggressively clean up labs that are no longer being used.
This is currently an experiment, but we think it is a good compromise and look forward to feedback from our users, including all of YOU.
Check out the post on the HOL blog: Please, Sir, I Want Some More (Time) - VMware Hands-On Lab (HOL) Blog - VMware Blogs
Thanks and enjoy your labs!