The Importance of Practice Labs

The Next Generation of IT Practice Labs

At Cloud People, we have been working with large education institutions now for almost ten years. These include TAFEs, Universities and private RTOs. One challenge that we’ve found that all these institutions have in common, is giving their students access to real IT equipment. This could be for labs, practical assessments or coursework. Students enrolled in IT courses want to roll their sleeves up and get hands-on practice.

The challenge of providing hands-on labs is even greater as education moves from traditional classrooms to an online environment. Online learning is seeing significant growth at the moment. In the past 5 years revenue has grown by on average 14% a year, and the forecast for 2018 is $8.8 billion dollars. However, student engagement levels and completion rates continue to drop with this change.

There are a number of ways that we have seen institutions try to solve this challenge. They either build an in-house solution or, they provide their students access to the software vendors online lab offering. Both of these approaches have their own challenges. In-house solutions are expensive to implement and difficult to manage. The software vendors online lab solutions, while usually provided at no cost to the institution, often suffer from poor performance, are limited in course availability and technical support, but most importantly the institution loses visibility of student activity.

Two years ago at Cloud People, we started to develop a platform to solve those challenges. There were number of key features that it needed to have to really provide value to our customers. The first was that it needed to be cloud hosted and fully supported by our technical staff. This would allow institutions to remain focused on teaching, and not the management of the underlying technology. By hosting it in the cloud, and allowing access from any modern web browser without the need to install additional software, it would provide easy and secure access for both remote and classroom based students. We also considered the needs of course administrators during our two years of development. Our platform would need to provide detailed reporting of student activity to assist in managing engagement levels and completion rates, the creation and publishing of courses needed to intuitive. And lastly, it should become an extension of the institution by custom branding and learning management systme (LMS) integration.

The result of these two years of development is Virtual Labs. Virtual Labs is a cloud hosted IT practice labs platform. It is fully integrated with all major LMSs to provide students seamless access to practical modules of IT courses. Students are given hands-on access to real equipment – servers, desktops, and networking equipment, in their own secure private cloud. They have full administrative access to interact with the equipment and they can carry out their own configurations, or follow lab guides. Course administrators are given access to detailed student metrics that allow tracking student progress and management of engagement levels.

We have seen institutions increase student engagement and completion rates, while reducing the total cost of ownership by implementing Virtual Labs. This has been very encouraging for us. We still consider Virtual Labs to be a young product, and feedback from our customers is invaluable in helping us define the future product roadmap.

We understand that moving online is difficult for traditional education institutions and try to assist in everyway possible, including building and running free Virtual Labs trials for all customers.

Jason Kinsella – Cloud People Announces Latest Release of Virtual Labs Platform.

Cloud People announces the latest release of Virtual LabsTM, their next generation IT practice labs platform for TAFE, University, and IT learning organisations.

Cloud People’s Virtual LabsTM platform provides TAFEs and Universities with a fast, easy and secure method to create full-featured IT practice labs in the cloud. With the Cloud People platform, organisations can increase student engagement and completion rates, while reducing the total cost of ownership. By using Virtual LabsTM, students gain unparalleled hands-on access to virtual environments from anywhere.

“This latest release of Virtual Labs has a very strong focus on analytics.” said Jason Kinsella, Director at Cloud People “One of key messages we received from visitors to our stand at the EduTech conference this year, was that they all struggled to get access to accurate detailed student activity information.” He continued to say “As education moves from classrooms to online environments, student engagement and completion rate significantly decrease. These dropout rates can be as high as 80%. This latest version of Virtual Labs captures all student activity on a minute-by-minute basis and provides both online dashboard reporting and scheduled engagement triggers that are completely customisable. By exposing these granular student metrics to course administrators we have already seen significant increases in student engagement and retention rates. Virtual Labs has always been very strong in providing students with an excellent experience, and now with the introduction of analytics on the platform, the course administrator experience is also greatly enhanced.”

Benefits of the Cloud People Virtual LabsTM include:

  • All aspects of the platform are fully managed to ensure each student has a secure and predictable experience. This allows educators to focus on teaching, and not the management of the underlying technology.
  • Virtual LabsTM can be scaled to match teaching needs and student numbers. Learning organisations need never be restricted by physical lab environments again. Everything is done on-demand, in the cloud.
  • Security risks are eliminated by removing the need to grant access to an organisations internal infrastructure from untrusted traffic sources. Every student environment is fully isolated and secure.
  • Significant cost savings can be realised compared to physical infrastructure deployments by only paying for consumed resources.

For more information, please visit

 About Cloud People

Cloud People has revolutionised how Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) deliver IT courses to their students. This Australian cloud provider established in 2010 provides a fast, easy and secure method to create full-featured virtual lab environments in the cloud. With Cloud People’s Virtual LabsTM platform, organisations can increase student engagement and completion rates, while reducing the total cost of ownership.


About Virtual LabsTM

Virtual LabsTM is a cloud based IT learning platform. By using Virtual LabsTM, students gain unparalleled hands-on access to real equipment found in any work place, paired with step-by-step course guides and delivered via a web browser.


For more information, please contact:

Jason Kinsella

Tel: +61 421 733 465


SQL Server 2008 / 2012 – Encrypting connections with an SSL Certificate

Valid for: SQL Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2012

If you are communicating with a SQL server 2008 or SQL Server 2012 over an unencrypted internet link then it is essential that the traffic is secured. The best way to do this is using an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate. This blog post provides the instructions necessary to accomplish it. If this is a new setup I would suggest testing that standard connection to your server works before implementing an encrypted connection. Troubleshooting is always more difficult if the basics have not been tested previously.


  • Ensure that the computer name on your SQL server matches the name you wish to use for client connections. For example if client applications connect to “” then the computer name should be sqlsrv. This name will also need to be registered as an A record on your public DNS name servers.
  • Allow port 1433 through the firewall (or appropriate port as configured on your SQL server)

Step 1 – Generate a certificate request

The easiest way is to use certutil and an input file.

Edit the subject line of this request.inf file and change the following

E = your email address
CN = the FQDN of your server name
OU = this can be anything you like that reflects your organisation structure (e.g. Internal Infrastructure)
O = your organisation name
L = city
C = country code

Open an elevated command prompt on your server and run this command

  • certreq -new request.inf %computername%.req.txt

Step 2 – Request a certificate

Use any public certificate authority to sign your SSL request. Most authorities will require you to upload the req.txt file or copy the contents into their portal. This file can be opened using notepad (or similar). Godaddy is always reasonably priced – google “godaddy discount coupon” prior to purchasing as there is ALWAYS coupons available. More expensive certificate are NOT more secure in terms of encryption. This is controlled by the keylength.

Step 3 – Install certificate and set permissions

Copy the signed certifcate files locally to your SQL server. On your SQL server open a blank MMC console and add the certificates snap-in. Choose “Computer Account”, then Local computer and hit finish. Browse to this location

  • Console Root \ Certificates \ Personal \ Certificates

Right click, choose all tasks and then import. Locate the certificate file and import it. Refresh the MMC console (F5) and you should now see the new server certificate. Double click the certificate and you should see “You have a private key that corresponds to this certificate” – if this is not present there has been a problem during generation and the private key has been lost. Do not go any further until this is correct.

Right click on the certificate – choose all tasks and Manage Private Keys… Add the SQL Database Engine Service account user with READ permissions.

Note: If this last step is missed the SQL Service will not start and the failure message in the windows application log will be: Event ID 26014, source MSSQLSERVER, contents

Unable to load user-specified certificate [Cert Hash(sha1) “A3B….913C”]. The server will not accept a connection. You should verify that the certificate is correctly installed. See “Configuring Certificate for Use by SSL” in Books Online.

Step 4 – Configure the SQL server to enforce SSL encryption

Open the SQL Server Configuration Manager (Start – Microsoft SQL Server – Configuration Tools – SQL Server Configuration Manager). Expand the SQL Server Network Configuration and right click on the protocol properties. On the certificate tab configure the Database Engine to use the certificate. If you cannot see the certificate one of the previous steps is not correct. On the Flagstab set the ForceEncryption option to Yes.

The SQL Server must be restarted after changing this setting.

Step 5 – Test

There are a couple of test that can be done. The first is to check the Windows Application log for event ID 26013 with content:

  • The certificate [Cert Hash(sha1) “A3B2…7913C”] was successfully loaded for encryption.

The next test should be to setup a Netmon or Wireshark session between the client and the server.

Step 6 – Relax

Sit back and relax in the knowledge that you’ve secured your client server application and are ahead of the other 99% of sysadmins who haven’t read this article.