I'm trying to set up a lab environment using Virtual box with a stand-alone network. To this end, I've set up 1 VM to communicate with the outside world with 2 NICs - 1 for the Internal Network and 1 in Bridged mode to download packages et all.

The aim is to learn installing Linux services like Apache httpd, MySQL, DNS, FTP, NFS, Squid, Mail Servers etc after which I'd like to proceed to learn more complex areas like IPtables, Nginx and try out other services like Varnish, Docker, memcached, Puppet/Chef/Salt and much more.

My questions are:

  • In a production environment, how are these installed? Are they compiled from source with custom install locations or are they installed using package managers (like yum etc)?
  • How do I go about testing these services? For instance, if I complete installing and configuring Apache httpd, should I test this from a client VM created within the Internal Network and/or should I add another NIC to test it from the main machine?

The idea is to create an environment that closely resembles a production environment in order to learn to install, configure these services as it should be done at a work place (as opposed to simply doing a yum install).

Any more feedback/suggestions about how to go about learning/setting this up would also be appreciated.


There are a few things you can do. My first recomendation would be to visit the Page for open scap and scan your system using the most recent security guideline configurations available for it. Go through your system and try to get it to at least 90% compliance. Focusing on such things as firewalls and SELinux

While openscap and its related security guiders are more focused on a government/DoD environment, they are generally good security guidelines. Having those done as a baseline, will mean that any of the software you install, may run into problems related to the hardening, that will give you a better idea of the challenges involved in setting up software in a secure production environment.

For something like apache I would recommend just trying to setup a simple wordpress site, that uses https if possible. That will also give you some experience in setting up a sql database. Again once those are done, Try to find some security guidelines to harden them, see what breaks, and learn how to fix it. Learn what allowances have to be made(In a production environment the only 100% secure system is a system that doesn't do anything, so different configurations require different security allowances. That is one of the reasons in a production environment it is best to not have all of your services on one machine. Dividing services among many servers means that not only does your infrastructure not go down in one attack, but there are less openings in any one server to allow an attack)

as far as your direct questions go:

  • In my production environment I will use yum install on anything and everything that is available for me to use it. That ensures that my patches are all managed/tested by redhat/centos/Oracle depending on the Distro being used. So there is a higher likely hood that things will NOT break when patched.

  • Setup a client machine that is on the same network as your server, and see if it can be accessed through there. In a more true test you'd configure it to be accessible by your local machine too, but that will open you to having to do more work than strictly necessary.

As for Puppet,chef, or salt. Setup 2-3 VM's that will be clients/minions, and go about writing states/recipes/whatever puppet calls their things, that will enforce the security settings I recommended you apply above. That will give you good experience setting up systems as they would be configured naturally, as well as making sure that after security is applied, your salt/puppet/chef servers still can communicate with the clients.

Also, a lot of what you want to learn, is actually covered in pretty good lab scenario's for many study guides for the Redhat Certified System admin and redhat certified Engineer tests, looking up labs for that might be a good place to find information too.

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