Windows Azure (almost) free for IT pros
You can build a home lab with either the free version of ESX from Vmware or a free Hyper-V host from Microsoft. Next an old server or an HP Microserver would get you a basic home virtualisation platform. Software could come with Linux or you could splash out on a Technet Subscription at £99 per year.
Sadly Microsoft ended Technet Subscriptions and replaced them with time limited evaluations. Not so good if you want to set up domain controllers and a test SQL server that you want to return to periodically. However it's better than nothing.
However IT moves on. IT Pros need to understand about cloud services. From a Microsoft perspective this means Azure.
They offer a month trial with £150 of credit. Just sign up with a credit card. I have discovered that the card basically isn't billed because the default billing is set not to charge when you exhaust your credits but just turn it all off. So the £150 is good for 1 month.
If you want to run up some vms and build a virtual network over 30 days then this is a good deal. However I rarely get that concentrated time. So a little more often would suit me. Fortunately you can do that too.
First you need to sign up for Microsoft's cloud essentials; https://www.microsoft.com/itprocloudessentials/en-GB
It's free to join. Sign in with a Microsoft account and you are ready. Once inside head to the offers page.
Finally activate an Azure subscription with £20 per month credit.
I think it's a good deal for IT Pros and I will be trying it out over the next few months.