Using Hands On Labs to Build Real-World Cloud Skills

Neal Davis
6 min readDec 13, 2021

What are “Hands On Labs”?

The term “Hands On Labs” can be used to describe a couple of different approaches to learning and practicing cloud computing skills such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, VMware, Docker and more.

  1. Instructor-led Hands On Labs is an approach where a course instructor or online tutorial (video or article) describes the steps to complete an exercise. These are also known as “follow alongs” as you follow along using your own cloud account (such as an AWS free tier account). In this case you are responsible for any bills you rack up with AWS, Azure etc.
  2. Sandbox / Challenge Labs is an approach where a hosting provider offers a hosted cloud environment that you can use for learning and practicing. This means you do not need your own cloud account and are only subject to the fixed costs associated with the service. You are either left to do your own thing or given some instructions to follow with “Challenge Labs“.

At Digital Cloud Training our AWS courses are all taught in a guided hands-on manner and we encourage students to setup their own AWS free tier accounts so they can follow along with the guided AWS hands-on labs. We also recommend using Challenge Labs as they are extremely useful as an additional tool to improve your skills and test your knowledge. In this article, I’m going to explain more about this type of cloud lab and how you can use them to your advantage.

How Hands On Labs Work:

Step 1. Logging In

I’ll use an example where a student is learning Amazon Web Services (AWS) and needs to get some hands on experience. The same approach will apply whether you’re learning AWS, Microsoft Azure, Linux, Docker Containers, or VMware.

With AWS hands on labs you will launch the cloud lab environment for a specific challenge using your web browser and the hosting provider will then spin up the cloud lab for you very quickly:

This cloud account is owned by the hosting provider so you are not responsible for any bills you run up. When you click on “Get Started” the cloud account will be presented to you from within your browser.

Step 2. Completing the hands on challenge

Once logged into the hands on lab you will be presented with two browser windows. As per the image below, you will have access to the AWS Management Console (left), and the instructions for completion of the lab challenge (right).

You must follow the instructions to complete the exercises within the cloud lab environment. You can copy/paste the values for some settings. You may be provided with detailed instructions or hints, or the challenge lab may just offer a basic set of requirements and leave you to test your own skills (more on the different options will follow below).

In some cases challenge labs may automatically validate the configuration and/or provide a score for your work:

Sandbox Labs vs Challenge Labs

A sandbox lab typically refers to an environment where you are offered access to a cloud environment, such as an AWS account, but no instructions on what to do with it. This leaves you with more scope for coming up with your own lab challenges or using it for testing.

However, due to the risk of running up huge bills for the cloud provider, sandbox environments will often have many restrictions imposed upon them so you are often better off using your own account (such as an AWS free tier account) for this purpose. You can always create a billing alarm to make sure you don’t run up large bills.

Challenge Labs are scenario-based hands-on exercises that run in a secure cloud environment. There’s no risk of running up bills and these hands on labs are designed to teach and validate role-based skills that are useful for those preparing for cloud jobs or cloud certifications. Challenge Labs go beyond sandbox environments by presenting you with a specific challenge to complete and the resources to complete it.

Challenge Labs for All Learners

At Digital Cloud Training we offer Challenge Labs for different levels of learners:

  • Guided — Simply follow the step-by-step instructions in the guided labs with detailed hints to learn the fundamentals.
  • Advanced — Create solutions according to requirements with supporting documentation — each step is checked / validated.
  • Expert — Create solutions according to requirements with basic instructions and no supporting information — receive a final score.

These options are designed to cater for different learning requirements from picking up new skills right through to testing and validating your abilities for complex tasks. The challenge labs are well suited to those preparing for a new cloud job role or cloud certification exam.

What can you learn with Hands-On Challenge Labs?

Our Challenge Labs catalog includes over 700 on-demand challenges across the most in-demand cloud skills businesses need today:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft 365
  • Docker Containers and Kubernetes
  • VMware
  • Linux
  • Windows Server
  • Cybersecurity

You’ll gain real-world experience that can help you prepare for your cloud job, cloud interview, or cloud certification exam. The challenges are designed to build the skills and knowledge required by those preparing for AWS certifications, Microsoft Azure certifications, VMware certifications, etc.

For example, learn how to use AWS and prepare for your exams such as the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate, and AWS Certified SysOps Administrator.

See Challenge Labs in Action

Check out the following video where I guide you around the Challenge Labs console, launch a lab, and use the automated validation feature to check my work:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I need to create an account with AWS, Microsoft Azure etc?

No, this is one of the best features of Challenge Labs. They are delivered in hosted accounts so you don’t need to set anything up and there are no additional charges applicable to you.

  • How do I access the Challenge Labs?

You use a web browser to login and then launch Challenge Labs. No additional software is required.

  • What charges are there?

You only pay for the Challenge Labs service through a single fixed payment. There are no additional charges for actually using or completing the Challenge Labs within the access period.

  • Do I get any recognition for completing a Challenge Lab?

Yes, you earn Digital Badges for successful completion of a Challenge Lab. Digital badges enable interested parties to view and learn more about your credentials with a single-click. When someone clicks your digital badge, an overview page is presented on Credly’s Acclaim platform

How to get started with Hands On Labs

As the cloud computing market explodes there’s never a better time than the present to invest in yourself and start to build your cloud skills. Get started today by enrolling in our Challenge Labs and gain access to over 700 hands on labs across the most in-demand skills including AWS, Microsoft Azure, VMware, Docker and Kubernetes, Windows/Linux, cybersecurity and more!



Neal Davis

Founder of Digital Cloud Training, IT instructor and Cloud Solutions Architect with 20+ year of IT industry experience. Passionate about empowering his students