Believe it or not you can actually start playing around with virtual servers that are as real and powerful as the physical servers you're already used to deploying. And you can do it for literally pennies per month.
- Signup for an Amazon account or use the one you buy books with.
- Browse over to http://aws.amazon.com & click Sign Up Now
- Navigate to AWS Management Console, follow the Amazon EC2 link, and click Launch Instance
- Download Elastic Fox or the API tools & configure your credentials for easy browser or command line control of your virtual infrastructure and deployments.
- Terminate instances & delete volumes & snapshots so you'll have no recurring charges.
At a mere 8 and 1/2 cents per hour, you can play around with the technology with no real ongoing costs. And you can do it with your existing Amazon account and credit card info.