There’s a lot to be said for the free sample. A free cup of that new coffee variety, given to you in the hope that you’ll buy that brand next time you shop. Free software, given to you in the hope that you’ll use it, like it, and pay to upgrade to the full-featured version. Free hardware trials are trickier to manage at scale, and free test deployments of complexly interacting enterprise infrastructure are still harder unless the vendors concerned are pretty sure you’ll end up paying them an awful lot of money for a very long time. Two pieces of news this week illustrate examples in which vendors are doing what they can to bring aspects of the free sample a bit closer to the enterprise data center. First, Equinix, Dell and Rackspace have teamed up to offer full-featured OpenStack demonstrations running on Dell hardware inside a few Equinix data centers. Second, HP is putting part of their Fort Collins, CO, data center to work as a test-bed for comparing “sustainable data center technologies.” In both cases, the vendors — and their customers — will be able to test specific software and technologies without the expense and time involved in putting all of the pieces in place first. It’s not completely clear, though, how far these testbeds will go in shaping themselves to reflect all aspects of a customer’s existing set-up. So although CIOs will continue to reach that point at which they have to bite the bullet and deploy locally, at least they should have more confidence that they’re headed in a suitable direction before doing so.