In the same way that tapping into the engine power of a Mustang can change your 1970s Volkswagen Beetle into a roaring racing car, IT’s virtualisation project can turbocharge an ordinary computer.

How IT can


Louw Venter is a senior business analyst at IT.

eish! spoke to Louw Venter, a senior business analyst from IT, about their project, which will extend the lives of campus laboratory computers and also allow you to run programs exceeding the capabilities of the hardware you have on your personal devices.


Q: Why did you create the desktop virtualisation system?

A: As modern technology develops at lightning speed, the conventional personal computers (PCs) used in the computer laboratories on our campuses age very quickly. The initial goal of the project was to find a way to extend the lives of these lab PCs.


By employing virtualisation technology, the processing part of the work an ordinary computer does can be offloaded to a much more powerful machine on one of the servers that IT hosts.


This means the processing capabilities of the physical machine you are working on can be far lower than is required by the applications you are running. In effect, that would mean that when our current computer lab PCs become outdated, they can still be used effectively. It also means that we can buy computer lab PCs with lower specifications, as they would still be able to operate for much longer than would otherwise be possible.


Q: When did you first think of the idea?

A: The need to rethink physical computer labs was identified in 2016 already. After investigating possible solutions, securing funds and procuring the infrastructure required to run the service, the solution went into production during April 2020.


Having the system in production just as the Covid-19 lockdown was implemented meant that both staff and students could use these resources when working from home – resources which might otherwise have been restricted to use on campus.


Q: What benefits does the virtualisation system offer?

A: You can launch the virtual desktop on almost any device with a modern browser, including smartphones, tablets, Linux, Mac or Windows PCs – even Raspberry PIs and Chromebooks. You will be able to do this from wherever you are – even from outside South Africa – providing you have a stable internet connection of at least two megabits per second.


Another huge benefit is that you can use your own device to access almost all of the software you would find on a physical lab PC on campus.


Q: How much maintenance does it take to keep the system up and running?

A: It requires input from multiple departments at IT. There are the obvious infrastructure and systems aspects, but it is also necessary to engage with our stakeholders. We have to be sure our system is relevant and that it addresses the actual needs of the NWU community. To that end there is a core team which can quickly respond to issues and rope in experts from the relevant areas if needed.


But unless there are new software requests or update roll-outs, the system is mostly just monitored for performance on a day-to-day basis.


Q: Do you see this as the future of computer lab work?

A: Definitely – not only for allowing our users access to software and computing power at home, but also for when they are on campus.


The conventional computer lab will likely eventually disappear as more users are equipped with their own devices capable of accessing this service at any time. This can be from anywhere – from the cafeteria, on the grass in front of the library or during a contact session in a regular lecture hall.


The flexibility, convenience and power of this system will make it an indispensable tool for the future.