Facilities, Online Help

Virtual Machines in DCIT

Firstly I’ll answer a question that is going to be asked a lot. Why?
There were a number of reasons that the decision was made to move away from dual booting and deploy systems with virtualisation capabilities instead. I will outline a few of these for you:

  1. First and foremost it was in order to save you time in the labs. You will have noticed that starting and logging into a Windows install was taking anywhere from 5-20mins last year when logging in natively (or on a standard PC with Windows installed i.e. CT and Commons). This problem was the combined effect of the number of Active Directory policies and network congestion. The Mac OS does not receive group or user policies making the login quicker and even the additional time it takes to start the virtual machine (up to two minutes) is quicker than logging into a Windows machine bound to Active Directory.
  2. To provide flexibility to students. Chances are most of you are just doing word processing or some other activity with low overheads on processor/memory usage. With the deployment of virtual machines we will be able to provide certain classes/groups with customised virtual machines. i.e. only the things you need will be on the image. This flexibility is expanded by allowing you to plug your own virtual machine in and run it from an external hard drive. So you can configure the machine to work exactly the way you want and have it save changes- unlike the lab machines. We are currently working on some base images that you can just copy to your disk and run, unfortunately you will have to obtain your own copies of software for installation to your virtual machine. However I am working on licensing agreements to overcome this wherever possible.
  3. To provide exposure to other platforms. If you can operate in multiple environments you will have greater employment prospects. The use of Virtual Machines not only allows us to provide exposure to Mac and Windows environments, but also almost any other operating system available- with a minimum of fuss. And without having to restart machines constantly, as was the case with multi boot machines.
  4. To try and overcome login issues. One of the main causes of login errors in the past was the changing of time when machines were booted into another operating system and back again. This was due to some operating systems working in Universal Time and others in Local Time, therefore when machines were booted to and from time systems their clocks became out of sync with Active Directory.
  5. To make management of our complex environment simpler. Operating labs like ours is different to installing something on your computer at home, or even in other lab or office environments where you have both the freedom and control (a contradiction I know) to have machines in a standard configuration across the board. Having virtual machines deployed allows us to in many ways simplify our deployments by having isolated installations controlled by one system. In the same way that not needing to reboot benefits you, it benefits us as well- as we need only use one management system and don’t need to walk around and reboot 100’s of machines into the requires OS.

How do I use the standard Windows VM

Login with your normal username and password into the Mac login screen. When logged in you will notice a red icon on the desktop which is called “Start Windows 7”. Double clicking this icon will load and start Windows seven on your machine. As already stated this may take up to two minutes, so be patient. By default the VM will start up in full screen mode. From here you won’t notice any difference between using our systems and a normal Windows machines. That is, all applications will look and operate the same. There are two ways to get out of full screen mode without shutting down the virtual machine. They are by using the keystrokes “alt” and “return” together, or by moving the cursor to the top right of the screen where you will get a peel back effect exposing the mac desktop behind.

Whether you are using the VM in full screen mode or another setting, you will need to shutdown the Windows OS and log out of the Mac OS. Shutting down only the Windows OS will leave you logged into the Mac. The mac will log out automatically after 15 minutes of inactivity just in case- but be aware that someone may be able to operate on the network appearing as you if you dont log out of the Mac.

Where can I get more information?

The School will be updating its website (www.dcit.newcastle.edu.au) regularly to provide information about all things technical, Virtual Machines included. The website will also be the place to download a configured virtual machine as they become available.

If you have any questions or concerns about the lab setup please contact Dan Conway directly via email. (daniel.conway@newcastle.edu.au)

Cheers

Dan

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