ITx 2020 Programme

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Automation in a Lab Network

Wednesday 11:30am - 12:00pm, CITRENZ (

TechLabs, the lab network environment at Ara Institute of Canterbury is used for technical courses in information technology. As it has made use of virtualisation since 2001, it is likely the first lab environment in New Zealand that was based on virtualisation, specifically VMware software. The network has 84 student and staff workstations, and a number of physical and virtual servers, switches and so on. Deployments make use of various technologies, including the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) and Windows Deployment Server (WDS). The initial build utilises PXE boot and then configuration is automated through the use of PowerShell scripts, applications and Group Policy. It works well and enables one to push out new applications and configuration quickly.
However, this solution has two disadvantages. First, as it is scripted, it requires academic staff to be fluent in programming PowerShell. Second, the approach has limited compatibility with Linux-based equipment, such as servers, routers and switches. An automated solution would improve the efficiency of system management.
The current PowerShell-based configuration will be replaced by an open-source configuration system, Ansible. However, this open-source software, contains modules that are not regularly maintained or do not work as intended. Therefore, the existing scripts need to be reviewed, converted or redesigned to fit into the new system during the process. The long-term goal is to migrate from VMware Workstation to Oracle VirtualBox, as it provides greater potential for automation, in terms of provisioning virtual machines and grading student products.


Brett Davidson


I was born at a very early age…hehe. Born and reared in Christchurch but worked in Malaysia for a brief time. Started life as an electronics engineer in the early 90’s specialising in factory automation but quickly drifted into computing to reduce my stress levels. (That and PC-based automation made my microcontroller business obsolete).
Been in systems engineering my whole life for both large (Hewlett Packard) and small Managed Service providers until I obtained my BICT degree and then went to work at Ara as a tutor/lab tech.
I’ve been in this role since January 2017 primarily teaching Operating Systems, Principles of programming, Systems Infrastructure and Deployment and Cloud Services at degree level.
I manage (with assistance) the Techlabs learning environment I’ll be talking about today.

Eduardo Correia


Eduardo (Ed) Correia is a principal academic in the Department of Enterprise Digital Innovation at Ara Institute of Canterbury (formerly the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology) in Christchurch. He worked for a number of years as a university lecturer and systems administrator, and his professional interests include virtualization, cloud and a range of Microsoft-based technologies. With a colleague, he designed and implemented TechLabs, a network based on virtualization used by the Department for teaching. Dr Correia currently teaches courses in operating systems, networking, and cloud technologies, and besides academic qualifications holds a number of industry certifications.