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Thoughts on the community lab

By stretch | Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 6:11 a.m. UTC

One month after introducing the community lab, here are some observations I've made:

  • Almost 600 reservations have been made to date (not all of these have been completed yet).
  • I estimate that the lab costs roughly $40/mo to power, which is significant but not too bad (donations are welcome).
  • Attendance has really been picking up! The lab schedule is almost completely packed for the next three days.
  • Be prepared to schedule your reservation at least two weeks out if you want the first shot at a Saturday or Sunday.
  • I'm extremely pleased that - so far - none of the lab devices have had their software images erased or otherwise corrupted. (Knock on wood!)
  • Sporadic spot checks seem to indicate that there is a problem with people not showing up for their reservations. I'm working on implementing email reminders and a punishment system for no-shows.

Regarding that last point, I'm curious what people think would be a reasonable punishment for making a reservation and then not showing up. My plan at the moment is to allow for a grace period of 30 minutes; if no one has logged into that device block(s) by then, the reservation will be considered a no-show and deleted.

I'm thinking about barring no-show members from creating another reservation for a week. Is that too long? Too short? Should second chances be given? Reasons for or against this entirely? Comments appreciated.

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December 16, 2009 at 6:43 a.m. UTC

Hmmm i would say a second chance would be appreciated by your visitors...something like an email warning?

If the second chance is also violated, maybe a 1-2 weeks ban seems appropriate? What say?

December 16, 2009 at 7:15 a.m. UTC

I am agree with tacack because of it can happen sometimes some mistakes with UTC time or things of life which happen when you are not waiting for these.

So thank you for your community lab.

Regards, Christophe

December 16, 2009 at 7:42 a.m. UTC

Bans don't work; you can always get another e-mail address from Google. They might only be useful if there's a significant value attached to your username (for example, stored configurations).

Alternatively, you could block new users from booking the labs less than a week in advance ;)

December 16, 2009 at 8:08 a.m. UTC

Email reminders could be useful, the second chance too.

And the ban of one week for all other reservations not showed is (for me) appreciable.

Thanks for this lab, it's awesome !

December 16, 2009 at 9:28 a.m. UTC


i think that an email remainder would be really usefull. Moreover, it will be quite handy to "backup" the working config at the end of the session and expose (Read Only) to the user at the end of the session, maybe allowing the user to reload it when he pick another reservation.

I'm unable to lab for 8 hours, but some labs requires quite a lot of time, plus...i can use it only in (GTM+1) late hours, at home...

Thanks very much for you lab!


December 16, 2009 at 1:44 p.m. UTC


I think that an email to remind the time left to the reservation (and not only the exact UTC time of the lab) would be handy. Also maybe there could be a value of timezone per user so that the email would notify with the exact region time.

Regarding the ban issue, as others have mentioned it won't work as someone may subscribe more than once. Also there can be a good reason not to log in, or login on a later time. Since the nature of the lab is to be public and free, users must respect that and it should not be someone's work to police. A small donation for the use of the lab to cover the power costs or other maintenance would be acceptable by all I guess. With a rough calculation the cost per hour is approximately 6 USD cents. Maybe with a paypal account we could easily donate a small amount each time we use the lab and then everyone will be happy.

Regards, Panagiotis

December 16, 2009 at 2:06 p.m. UTC

I like the idea of ppalias.

The other thought that came to mind was a small monetary deposit for time slot that's returned only if the person logs on during the time period. I'm not sure how easy this would be to implement..maybe with paypal? I'm sure you would have enough no-shows to cover out-of-pocket costs.

I think time restrictions/bans wouldn't work. Especially as the lab becomes more popular and reservations may take several weeks anyway. Plus, as Ivan stated, someone could find an easy work around.

December 16, 2009 at 3:38 p.m. UTC

Why not make a waiting list and let the people grab the slot if someone doesn't show up. The list for that thay can be emailed and ..first come first served. No need to punish anybody, there will be always people waiting for an opportunity like this.

December 16, 2009 at 4:21 p.m. UTC

I think a one time = a pass, two times in a row/month = 1 week ban, three times in a row/month= 1 month suspension.

December 16, 2009 at 4:42 p.m. UTC

Email reminders sound like a good idea as well as maybe limiting new user accounts to scheduling a single session. Maybe some sort of probation system would work after that.

Also, I like the idea of a paypal acct for donations. I'm lacking in L3 switches in my personal lab so I imagine I'll be using yours in the near future. I'd have no problem tossing you a few bucks when I use it to help keep this resource available.

Charles Wyble
December 16, 2009 at 6:25 p.m. UTC

Charge a deposit and refund it if they show up. Otherwise keep the money. :)

December 16, 2009 at 6:42 p.m. UTC

second chance would be nice (i tend to get up early on the weekends and do stuff but will randomly oversleep for a few hrs if its been a long week), but after that a minimum 1 week ban seems appropiate

email reminders are also nice.

December 16, 2009 at 8:02 p.m. UTC

About timezone-related mistakes mentioned by clucas:

Adding the user timezone in the profile field would allow for calculation and confirmation in local time and thus helping avoid mistakes.

Just disallow reservation if the timezone is not set in the user profile and make sure to take Standard to Daylight Savings Time transitions in the calculations.

December 16, 2009 at 9:40 p.m. UTC

I personally haven't used my session because I had login issues. Maybe because of the timezone or maybe the password didn't work. Whatever the reason is, a reminder an hour or two prior will definitely assist.

Ban is a great idea but then there is the option of alternate emails. I dont think it will work.

If this is something you will like to pursue, maybe the lab users needs to be verified against PayPal or your own way. The lab will be public but only to verified users.

Financial assistance I think should NOT be mandatory but a few who can afford should it do so. Who can, will assist you and those who cannot afford. Kinda sharing the blessing if you believe in that.

December 16, 2009 at 10:10 p.m. UTC

can you somehow generate .vcs, the import format for outlook calendar? it calculates proper time and does the alarm automatically according to OS timezone. using fields, the calendar entry could also contain details about which block, etc..... other calendar types could be also useful

December 16, 2009 at 10:11 p.m. UTC

With regards to said punishment system, would "death by hanging" be frowned upon?

December 16, 2009 at 11:40 p.m. UTC

I agree to some basic policing of the service.

Email reminders would be a big plus

December 17, 2009 at 2:22 a.m. UTC

One-hour email reminders have just been implemented. I'm going to wait to see how effective they are before making any more changes.

Note that any banning would take place by IP block, not by user account, as mentioned in the user agreement. This means that bans would affect the offender's entire region/company.

The lab operates entirely on UTC because timezones are nontrivial to account for. A naive person might assume there are only 24 timezones when in fact there are, for some reason, hundreds. Bottom line: if you can't manage to calculate your local offset from UTC you're not going to get any real use out of the lab anyway.

The idea of charging a deposit is good in theory but I'd rather not involve monetary exchanges beyond simple donations.

December 17, 2009 at 6:23 p.m. UTC

Thanks for doing such a great favor to the community by offering the remote lab! Today I tried to use your lab setup to run ASA lab. There are 2 Ethernet connections on F2: fa0/3 to S3's f0/10 and fa0/4 to S4's f0/10. However I don't have access to S3 switch in blockB reservation. How do I configure the switch port connecting to the F2's fa0/3, such as adding a VLAN or trunk? I suggest F2's fa0/3 should connect to S2's fa0/9 and F1's fa0/2 to S3's fa0/10. This will make BlockA and BlockB independent. Please let me know your comments.

Thanks again! Dan

December 17, 2009 at 8:08 p.m. UTC


I haven't used the lab yet, but I would welcome a friendly reminder and the suggested waiting list. Thus, people who are flexible can profit from other's slacking :-)

December 17, 2009 at 11:33 p.m. UTC

Put a paypal button so as people can pay to maintain those devices.

December 23, 2009 at 3:55 a.m. UTC

Hi stretch,

First of all thnx for all your efforts and the lab. I just cancelled an appointment and I think that one of the best ways to punish no shows would be a points system like the one used with the driving license.


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