Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Imagine Cup 2012 Final Competition

May 9, 2012 5:00pm California time (00:00am May 10th GMT):  IT Challenge 2012 is Done!!!
We just finished 24 straight hours of the Imagine Cup 2012 IT Challenge competition!  We just wrapped up the competition with the finalists and a great group CONGRATULATIONS for making it through 24 hours of competition!!!

We randomly drew slots for the judging period that'll go on for the next 3-hours.  Each competitor gets 30-minutes to present their final completed project!  The judges will score each of the students across 15 additional categories and submit the scores for final tally.  The rankings will be provided to Microsoft who will public announce the 3 students who will earn a roundtrip travel to Sydney Austrlia as well as learn who will end up being #1 in the world.  Each of the top 3 finalists will receive a cash prize.

We congratulate the finalists for  the hard work, effort, dedication, and determination contributed the past year in competing in the 2012 Imagine Cup competition!!!

Great job!!!


May 9, 2012 4:00pm California time (11:00pm May 9th GMT):  One Hour to Go!!!
We have just ONE hour to go, can't believe we've gone through 23-hours already, when we started this a full day ago, was thinking the end was so far away...  The competitors are downloading final updates, configuring their systems, working on their documentation...  Whew!

Fortunate to have Cosmin Ilie, the Imagine Cup 2009 (Cairo, Egypt) first place winner providing a few last minute words of wisdom to the finalists.  Cosmin should know, he was a 3 time finalists, advancing from 3rd place in 2007 (Seoul, Korea), 2008 (Paris, France), to finally first place in 2009 in Cairo!.  From Cosmin:
"You've all done a great job till now. All your year's work has brought you to this moment. It's your chance to shine and prove you're one of the best in the world so give it your best. You won't regret it !

We all know that the last few hours are the toughest of the completion, but each of you have proven that you've got what it takes to be a winner and the IT Challenge champion. Don't worry if you feel you could have done better, everyone feels the same (past and future competitors) the most important thing is to focus, never give up and keep positive. You've already proven that you're among the best, now show us you are THE BEST.

Keep focus, keep determined and don't loose sight."

May 9, 2012 1:48pm California time (8:48pm May 9th GMT):  Milestone #5, Draft Documentation...
Okay, the students have been at it non-stop for the past 20+ hours straight, have a little lighter of a milestone here, basically requested draft documentation for their project!  At the end of the 24-hours, they will be requested to provide more detailed documentation on their design, structure, and configuration, so to make sure EVERYONE has points on the board, this milestone is considered an "easy one", although not like this group of finalists need it!  This year's competition is going very smoothly, gone are the days like the Imagine Cup 2006 competition in India when we showed up, the computer systems we were to use for the competition were nowhere to be found.  Or the Imagine Cup 2008 in Paris when we completely lost power to the entire multi-city block when we pulled too much power for the competition!  Knock on wood, so far, so good!  3-hours, 12-minutes left to go...

A couple very nice notes from past competitors!

From Andreas Tomek, the Imagine Cup IT Challenge winner in 2006 - Agra, India "
Good luck and try to stay awake! I send you all a virtual Red Bull from Austria!"

From Jean-Benoit Paux, the Imagine Cup IT Challenge winner in 2008 - Paris, France "You've almost made it! You'll never forget this final, stay focused. You can be proud of being where you are. Don't mess up now. In a few years you'll remember the last seconds of the 24h rally and how you're happy its actually ending so continue to work hard. It's worth it! Remember there is a trip to Sydney!"

And a picture from our Captain and Judge out of Romania, Valy Greavu, an Imagine Cup IT Challenge finalist himself in 2005 (Yokohama, Japan) and 2006 (Agra, India) working out of his office the past 20+ hours as a judge and mentor in the competition!

Just over 3-hours left to go in this year's final competition!

May 9, 2012 9:30am California time (4:30pm May 9th GMT):  McDonald's Run!!!
Well, it's been 28-hours since I last slept, still have another 11-hours to go before this competition (and the post-competition judging) is over, will see if I survive...

Just made a run to McDonalds, nothing like a greasy Sausage McMuffin with Egg to get the body thoroughly cranked up and going for another few more hours...

The students are all fully engaged again, it was a little quite there for a while, I think a bit of dinner breaks for those in Europe and Africa, next milestone is due up in a half hour!

May 9, 2012 7:30am California time (2:30pm May 9th GMT):  Milestone 3, Cross Cloud / On-Premise Integration!
The sun is back up here in California, and the competition is moving along!  We just completed Milestone #3 which was to demonstrate cross-cloud / cross-premise integration of Microsoft Office 365 calendaring, a complicated task which demonstrates that the student competitor has successfully "integrated" Microsoft Exchange 2010 on-premise with Office 365 in the cloud.  This means directory synchronization needs to be working. This means that Active Directory Federation is working.  This also means that Calendar Synchronization is working.  This is a complicated task of which only 1 competitor got this task working.

HOWEVER, this is just 1 milestone, and 1 judging criteria.  As we have seen every single year, a competitor can get nearly perfect scores during the milestone phase, but fail to meet the total end project completion.  And we've seen competitors trailing early on, and then kick it in gear in the end!  This competition is nowhere close to being determined, these are some VERY smart competitors!
Snapped off a picture of IT Challenge Captain, Chris Amaris, going through the online judging with one of the competitors, combination of Voice over IP communications, Instant Messeging texting, and remote control desktop access, gotta love the use of technology in a global competition!!!

We know that after 14+ hours of competing, it's a little hard to keep focused...  Just had a pep talk, look forward to the finalists making it to the next milestone!

May 9, 2012 5:00am California time (12:00pm May 9th GMT):  Hacker Attack!!!
Amazingly, we're now halfway through the 24-hour hands-on competition, the students are all doing GREAT!  It's tough being "on" for 12 straight hours, but so far, they seem to be holding it together!

We had Milestone #2, a Hack Attack, about an hour ago, this was to test the external security of the competitors.  A port sniffer was used to check for vulnerabilities of the competitor's environments from the Web.  We did not further the test to actually hack into the competitor's systems, just identify vulnerabilities.

A couple were detected, we'll debrief during Milestone #3 coming up in just under 2-hours...

May 9, 2012 2:35am California time (9:35am May 9th GMT):  First Milestone Success!!!
Okay, 8 hours since my last post when I said I'll post every 2-3 hours, sorry about that, combo of a lot of day to day things going on AND the normal flurry of support tasks for the competitors like setting up DNS records and all, BUT back to getting a blog post in here, now a whole 9 hours into the 24-hour competition!

Overall, a GREAT competition so far!  We had the first milestone an hour ago which was for the competitors to have setup the proper DNS records to successfully send and receive email messages from their Office 365 online email environment.  All 6 students got this 100% correct, an Imagine Cup competition FIRST, so we are excited to see the progress, success, and accomplishment so far of the competitors, great job!

Without giving away too much of the competition challenge, effectively the students were given a case study where the Executive Director of this ficticious case study organization is just starting to setup her Foundation, she has 60 employees right now, expecting to grow to 600 employees in the next 2-years, and needs to setup eMail (both on-premise and in the cloud), do heavy document sharing, wants/needs security, and wants to manage the environment (can't provide too much detail on that final point just yet).

Each of the 6 student competitors have been given a single host server with 16 cores, 32gb RAM memory, and 500gb of storage, and they need to build out this computing environment for this organization. 

Simple enough?  It would seem relatively straight forward, but the chalenge is balancing building out on-premise Active Directory, Windows, Exchange, SharePoint, etc with the cloud-based Office 365 Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online...  What do you put in the cloud, what do you put on-premise, and what ends up being a hybrid?  And as much as each student has a dedicated host system, there's only a single hard drive in each host server (remember, this Foundation is new, has limited budget, and hasn't completely invested in all the fancy hardware and technology), so the student competitors can't just start building out too many guest sessions all at once (will tax the single hard drive) or build out too many guest sessions (run out of memory), or overrun / overheat the processor capacity of the system.

A fine balance between moving quickly (because there's only 24-hours in this competition), but not moving too quickly that'll impact build out performance or cause a system overload and a system reset.

The students have been working at it for 9+ straight hours, at varying timestones around the globe (for some, they've now worked through the night, others, they are just getting to the end of the normal day), the challenge is making sure to keep focused and not make a fatique induced mistake that'll cause system problems and rollback hours of progress...

So far, we are seeing EXCEPTIONAL work from all of the student competitors, we hope they continue on strong to the finish line!

May 8, 2012 6:05pm California time (1:05pm May 9th GMT):  1 hour down / 23 to go!
So we kicked off the competition an hour ago, what are the competitors doing?  For the past hour, they have read the case study scenario and instructions, have (hopefully) formulated a plan how they plan to address the case study, and they are busy building computer systems (Windows servers, email systems, etc) to build out their computer network.

It's a little uneventful for us judges as this year's competition is "in the cloud", meaning that the students are working from home, their University, or a local Internet spot that has high speed and reliable Internet connections in their respective countries around the world as opposed to most years when we fly the competitors all to a single location somewhere in the world, local them in the room with us, and they build/configure systems real time.

But, this year's competition is "all about the cloud", and so a competition where the students are working remotely.  The most the judges are seeing are network traffic, server activity, hard drive activitity as guest sessions are being "built" to meet the needs of the case study.

Here's a photo of the part of the datacenter where the 2012 competition servers are housed...

As truly "virtual" as this competition is run this year, I'm actually not even in the datacenter myself.  I'm working out of Downtown San Francisco right now, at the Microsoft San Francisco office, have a meeting here in SF, then will be heading over to the datacenter in a couple hours...

So, I'll be offline for a bit, then back and will post more...  Hopefully in a couple hours things will be a little more exciting!  Rand

May 8, 2012 4:57pm California time (23:57pm May 9th GMT):  Meet the Finalists!

With 3 minutes before the lab systems open up for 24 straight hours, a bit of background of the finalists!

Dominik Trojnar
Country: Poland
University: Rzeszow University of Technology
Faculty (Major): information technology
Year of study: 5th
City:  Warsaw (current), Łańcut (hometown)

Q. What was your first reaction when you saw the Results from Round Two?
I was happy to see the information on Imagine Cup website. I've seen it before receiving an email. It is a huge happiness to be in the finals again.
Q. What are you thinking or how are you right now (few/great words)?
Now I'm trying to rest before finals as it starts overnight (laughs). I feel very proud of myself that I've advanced. I'm also looking forward for final tasks :)
Q. What are your expectations from this Final Round of IT Challenge?
I'm looking forward for it. I'm nearly sure that it would be great but tough competition. I expect Exchange in Hybrid deployment and a lot of System Center stuff.
Q. What are you going to do to resist for 24+ hours?
I'm somehow prepared - I've got some juices, teas and water as well as snacks. I think I'm ready :)
Q. Do you have any specific story in few words about you?
Advancing to finals? I've did it once before, but it was nothing but luckiness. Since then I've been working with some Microsoft products and now I feel much better prepared. Would it be enough to win? We'll see in the next 28 hours (including judging :)

Petru Alexandru TicleaCountry: Romania
University:  Romanian American University
Faculty (Major):  Management
Year of study:  2
City: Bucharest

Q. What was your first reaction when you saw the Results from Round Two?
 As much as I have worked for this project, it was the result that i was expecting. I was very happy about it and then I said to myself “That's it, so now comes the heavy part!"
Q. What are you thinking or how are you right now (few/great words)?
 Now I listening some music, something motivating, inspiring. I am thinking about Sydney (Crawford  :D )
Q. What are your expectations from this Final Round of IT Challenge?
 I am waiting for hidden tasks, something that you can't find in the today's IT activity .
Q. What are you going to do to resist for 24+ hours?
 I am trained, 28 hours it's not too much. Water, salad, and a quartz crystal. 

Alexander WachtelCountry: Germany
University:  Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Faculty: Computer Science
Year of study: 7
City: Karlsruhe

Q. What was your first reaction when you saw the Results from Round Two?
I was very happy and thankful to reach the Finals again.
Q. What are you thinking or how are you right now (few/great words)?
I am already excited to participate to the challenge and looking forward to meet the Finalists and the Judges online.
Q. What are your expectations from this Final Round of IT Challenge?
To solve the challenges and make systems work better than last year.
Q. What are you going to do to resist for 24+ hours?
Small breaks, cold showers and a lot of coffee

Benjamin FEBVINCountry: France
University: SUPINFO International University
Faculty: Computer Science
Year of study: 5th
City: Paris 

Q. What was your first reaction when you saw the Results from Round Two?
I didn't realize that i were qualified for the final, there were so many competitors...
Q. What are you thinking or how are you right now (few/great words)?
I'm eager to begin the competition! I'm very happy and very proud to be at this stage of the competition!
 Q. What are your expectations from this Final Round of IT Challenge?
I really want to go in Australia, so I hope I will resist the 24 hours and do the best to win :)
Q. What are you going to do to resist for 24+ hours?
I have my Red bull stock and my coffee machine is ready!

Sherif TalaatCountry: Egypt
University: Helwan University
Faculty (Major): Management Information System
Year of study: Pre-Masters student
City:  Cairo

Q. What was your first reaction when you saw the Results from Round Two?
I didn't believe it at first... I refreshed the leaderboard too many times to realize it
Q. What are you thinking or how are you right now (few/great words)?
Proud, Exited, and Ready
Q. What are your expectations from this Final Round of IT Challenge?
I'm expecting a tough and harder 24 hours
Q. What are you going to do to resist for 24+ hours?
Thinking about Opera from Sydney :)
Q. Do you have any specific story in few words about you?
This is my 6th year as IT Challenge competitor, and my 3rd year as WW Finalists. Hope to make it as one of the top 3 this year. :)

Joshua SimCountry: Singapore
University: Nanyang Polytechnic
Faculty (Major): School of IT
Year of study: Second Year
City: Singapore

Q. What was your first reaction when you saw the Results from Round Two?
I was both excited and surprised that I got into round 2, I did not think that i would ever be selected to represent my country for IT Challenge, it is a great feeling.
Q. What are you thinking or how are you right now (few/great words)?
It is the calm before the storm for me right now; the anticipation is building up every passing minute.
Q. What are your expectations from this Final Round of IT Challenge?
I expect that it will be an intense competition; the caliber of the contestants involved will probably make it a close fight as well.
Q. What are you going to do to resist for 24+ hours?
I feel that the adrenaline of being in a competition will keep me going through out, but if i feel lethargic I would go wash my face and grab a cup of water
Q. Do you have any specific story in few words about you?
I discovered my passion for IT through playing PC games; every time my PC crashed I would find solutions online and fix it myself. This started me on my adventure through IT, trying to learn as much as I can, culminating to my point here today.

May 8, 2012 4:25pm California time (23:25pm May 9th GMT): Imagine Cup IT Challenge Final Competion BEGINS!!!
We just completed the Imagine Cup IT Challenge Final HANDS-ON competition!  Over the next 24-hours, the top 6 IT Challenge competitors are remoting into a cloud-based HyperV environment building out full blown Windows-based environments!  They are being asked to build email, document management, systems management, and security systems that'll effectively have them install and configure the networking environments!

I will be posting updates as the day rolls along, stay tuned!

May 1, 2012: Imagine Cup IT Challenge Finalists Announced!
This is my annual blog posting on this site where I blog the Imagine Cup IT Challenge competition. The Imagine Cup is a global IT competition that starts off with over 350,000 student competitors from over 135 countries participating in a "best of the best" technology competition for prize money and global recognition. I run the "IT Challenge" competition of the Imagine Cup, which challenges student competitors in everything Microsoft "network" related (ie: Windows, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Office 365, System Center, Office, etc).
This year's competition went through a multiple choice quiz roundwhere the comeptitors knowledge of these various technologies were tested, those who got 50% or higher on the quiz advanced to the next round. The quiz round had several qualifying rounds and ran from September 2011 through January 2012. The next round was an essay, where the competitors had to write a 10-page essay answering a ficticious case study. Those essays were scored by a series of industry expert judges (I'll do an intro of the judges in a subsequent blog post).

The final 6 in the competition are:
    Alexander Wachtel, Germany
    Benjamin Febvin, France
    Petru Alexandru Ticlea, Romania
    Joshua Sim, Singapore
    Dominik Trojnar, Poland
    Sherif Talaat, Egypt
On May 9th, these 6 competitors will be challenged to build out a full blown network and make the technologies all work together. I will continue my blog posts and update you on the competition ongoing... Rand

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Imagine Cup (New York) 2011 Blog

I just arrived into New York City for the Microsoft Imagine Cup worldwide competition finals in my 6th year as the IT Challenge competition head judge! This year’s competition started with over 100,000 students from over 83 countries participating in various technology competitions (software design, IT, digital media, embedded design, Win7 phone) through a series of qualifying rounds ultimately leading to the top 400 in the world to face off with the best of the best from around the globe at the worldwide finals!

This year’s final competition is in New York City with previous worldwide finals in Warsaw Poland (2010), Cairo (2009), Paris (2008), Seoul (2007), India (2006), Japan (2005), Brazil (2004), and Barcelona (2003).

Over the next 7-days we will be welcoming the finalists here to New York and put them through their last challenge of the year to crown the finals champion!

In the competition that I’m leading, which is the IT Challenge, it is an individual competition (as opposed to a team competition) where our finalists have worked their way through a Round 1 multiple choice online quiz and Round 2 essay to result in the final 6 individuals.

The individuals come from France, Poland, Germany, China, Singapore, and Romania. More on each of these individuals in a future blog post once I get a chance to meet them in person.

Today (Thursday, July 7th) is a setup day where 6-yr IT Challenge co-captain and judge, Chris Amaris, has prepared the infrastructure environment here at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel for the competition. Chris and I have another several hours to get everything ready, but just in the past few hours of getting started, working in NYC is so much better than working in the backwoods of India where the server systems got “lost” in transit and arrived 3-days late, or even in Paris where the minute we turned on the server systems we blew the power grid for an entire City block. So far (and I’m knocking on wood right now), so good…

The student competitors arrive tomorrow and we jump right into competition briefings and the welcoming ceremony, and the actual competition starts at 9:30am on Saturday morning the 9th and goes for 24 straight hours, finishing at 9:30am on Sunday the 10th.

We officially kicked off the Imagine Cup 2011 competition here in New York today with the Opening Ceremony keynote by Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer himself presiding over the ceremonies!

Earlier today, Steve was on CNN and interviewed about the Imagine Cup competition: http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2011/07/08/exp.am.imagine.cup.microsoft.cnn

Overall, today was a day of final preparations for the competition. For the IT Challenge competition, we were given all new external IP addresses to support a new (hopefully more reliable) network connection to the Internet, so Chris spent time re-addressing gateways, firewalls, and recreating firewall rules to get everything ready to go (again) for the competition that starts at 9:30am EDT tomorrow. Although the great thing is that this new internet connection is MUCH better and a lot more reliable than the previous connection, so a little extra work for a more reliable connection is definitely well worth it!

We had several prep meetings today which included a competition Captains meeting where the Captains of the 7 competitions all got together one last time before the kick off. There was also a Judges meeting where the 90+ competition judges got together and were updated what to expect, what their jobs are, and to answer questions.

And inbetween the various meetings, I ran out to Times Square and bought a jacket… The guy at the gift store said “you know it’s going to be 80-90 degrees today”, and I had to tell him that I’ll be spending the next 3 days locked into conference rooms and convention halls with full blown air conditioning blowing down on me, and as such, I needed the jacket to keep warm indoors than enjoy the nice weather outdoors…

Few facts that Microsoft released today for the competition:

* 358,000 students registered for this years competition
* 183 countries represented by student competitors
* 7 competitions
* 424 finalists here in New York City representing 73 home countries

The key things the lead from Microsoft wanted all of us Captains and Judges to remember, that the students are here to:
* Learn New Skills
* Make New Friends
* Change the World!

We will start the competition tomorrow morning, I will get my next blog post out tomorrow mid-day to report on how the start of the IT Competition is going!

Today is COMPETITION Day here in New York City for the kick-off of the Imagine Cup 2011 IT Challenge! All of the competitors met at 8am this morning for an overall competition briefing…

At 8:30am, the competitors were given a briefing by the IT Challenge judges on what to specifically expect for the next 24-hours of the non-stop head to head competition! Effectively, the IT Challenge competitors have each been given a server system running Microsoft Hyper-V virtualization software, a workstation system, and connectivity to the Internet.

In the next 24-hours, they are to build an entire IT network environment to fulfill the needs, requirements, and expectations of the competition case scenario. In more technical terms, the competitors will be building systems including:
* Microsoft Active Directory 2008 R2
* Exchange 2010
* SharePoint 2010
* Lync 2010
* Windows 7
* Windows File and Print
* Office 365 (Exchange / SharePoint / Lync in the cloud)
* Microsoft Azure (SQL / IIS Web in the cloud)

Some of the things the competitors will need to do are as follows:
* Send and receive email messages both from an on-premise as well as in the cloud Exchange 2010
* Store and share documents from SharePoint 2010 in the cloud
* Provide anti-virus / anti-spam security for messages
* Prevent messages from being “leaked” from a secured access point (ie: using Rights Management Server)
* Prevent a hacker attack
* Access information both on the LAN as well as from a remote/mobile system
(left to right: Valy Greavu (Co-Captain/Judge), Gwendolyn Tan (Judge), Chris Amaris (Co-Captain/Judge), Sinescu Ionut (Romania), Blazej Matusyk (Poland), Xuewen Tian (China), Alexander Wachtel (Germany), Yunheng Mong (Singapore), Jean-Sebastien Duchene (France), Rand Morimoto (Co-Captain/Head Judge))

These are all relatively common business scenarios that organizations setup, implement, and support every day, however with the Imagine Cup IT Challenge, the competitors are given 24-hours to do it all and make it work! And these are not competitors that have been working in IT for the past 10-20 years, these are college students that are only 20 years old, working on their own with no outside help nor working as part of a team. These competitors only have the resources available to them such as Microsoft TechNet or search using Bing to access information and in many cases install the software for the first time.

The competition has begun, with the following 6 competitors

Xuewen Tian (China) - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Imagine-Cup-IT/127052839754#!/notes/imagine-cup-it/presentation-of-the-finalists-tian-xuewen-china/10150219229948773




I just participated in a Press Briefing, with over 140 members of the media from around the world, the press briefing provided print, TV, blog, social media representatives to hear from the 7 competition captains about each of the competitions, what to expect, and what will be going on over the balance of the competition!

We are now 2-hours into the 24-hour IT Challenge period and all is VERY quiet… The competitors are hard at work getting their Windows guest sessions setup, I see a couple of them reading whitepapers trying to learn a new technology today, no power problems like we had in Paris or India (knock on wood), no Internet problems like we had in Egypt, a GREAT start to this years competition!!!

I’ll post again a good 15-18 hours into the competition, will see what no sleep and the stress of the deadline looming does to the work efforts of the competitors…

Our IT Challenge competition is now 18+ hours into the 24 hour period and the competitors are still going really strong! They’ve likely been up for over 20 hours and still have a good 8-9 hours to go to make it thru the rest of the competition period and judging…

Few things that have happened here in the past dozen or so hours…

12:30pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) – July 9, 2011
I had to write down the lunch they served us today, I’m sure somebody in the corporate office thought this sounded like a good lunch for a bunch of IT people…

Half Harrisa Grilled Vegetable Wrap (with baby arugula, Hummus, toasted feta and artichoke spread) on Pita bread (by the way, what the heck is a Harrisa??? Sounds like the name of someone who could be your ugly step-sister or something…)
Half Roasted Turkey (with arugula, grilled eggplant, aged goat cheese, olive and artichoke aioli)
Bag of Terra exotic vegetable chips (what happened to plain ole potato chips?)
Couscous with chickpeas, cilantro, and tomatoes

3:48pm EDT – July 9, 2011
Okay, this has to be the quietest Imagine Cup IT Challenge competition in the 7 years that we’ve been running it. The environment has been calm and stable (no power outages, no network outages, they’re actually bringing in food to the competitors!), and these competitors are FOCUSED! They have all be working non-stop on the competition case study for the past 6-hours and 50-minutes, no one seems to be slowing down and no one has taken more than a quick bio break… Also, none of them are looking completely “lost”, they are just chugging along!

The calmness has the competition solution architect, Chris Amaris, a bit nervous right now as he’s second guessing himself whether he’s made the objectives and solutions “too easy” and all of the competitors are going to be walking out the door in a few hours completely done (which won’t happen, there’s a LOT left to do). But still, makes Chris nervous, and since we’re all bored, we might as well egg it on and keep telling Chris that we better make dinner plans for all of the competitors when they finish the 24-hour competition requirements in 9 hours…

4:53pm EDT – July 9, 2011
The competitors just got a visit from Jon Perera, Microsoft’s General Manager in charge of the Imagine Cup competition! It’s great to have Jon swing by and visit with the competitors, check in to make sure that us judges have what we need, and that all is going well! Fortunately all has gone well so far, so nothing to report other than we’re chugging along!!!

6:00pm EDT – July 9, 2011
We handed out the first of the mini-challenges an hour ago and had the competitors work to complete this initial interim challenge to earn points for the competition. The requirement was for them to successfully send (and receive) emails, something that would seem simple, but assumes the competitor knows how to (and successfully is able to) configure Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory, setup DNS records, etc. For this challenge, of the 6 competitors, 2 got this challenge completely correct, and 1 half correct… This is not easy stuff and this is just 1 of many tasks, so no one is winning or losing at this point, it’ll be a tight race to the end! The competitors continue to roll along!

8:10pm EDT – July 9, 2011
This evening, we were visited by the Imagine Cup IT Challenge 2008 winner from the competition in France, the Imagine Cup Alumni Jean-Benoit Paux. Here’s a profile on Jean-Benoit from an interview he did with us end of last year… http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=471439523772. It’s always GREAT to have ongoing support and participation from our past competitors, it’s a great family of competitors that support the Imagine Cup and all that it does for students around the world! Thank you Jean-Benoit for joining us this evening, was great to introduce you to our finalists at the 11-hour marker into the competition!
9:30pm EDT – July 9, 2011
We’re at the halfway point of the competition and just completed the 2nd mini-challenge in the competition. This challenge was to ensure the competitors have properly protected their systems from hacker attacks, which with the latest versions of Microsoft Windows, by default, firewall protection security is enabled, so as long as the competitors haven’t done anything to lower the default security, they should have ALL gotten full points for this challenge, and sure enough, they ALL got 100% full credit on this mini-challenge, so now All of the competitors have points on the board!

I have noticed in the past half hour the competitors are rubbing their eyes more, standing up and stretching a little more, a little bit of the fatigue is wearing on, however with everyone now completely in the game with points on the board, there’s a little bit of emotional relief and renewed energy!!!

11:00pm EDT – July 9, 2011
Okay, somehow between 10pm-11pm I must have dozed off as I don’t remember what happened in that hour long period, been a long day… Chris, on the otherhand, has been taking advantage of Red Bull being a sponsor of the Imagine Cup competition and is wired up on the stuff! The competitors are still hard at work, this is one TOUGH group of competitors this year!!!

12:10am EDT – July 10, 2011
We just had our 3rd mini-challenge, the competitors had to show “rich coexistence” between Exchange 2010 on-premise and Office 365 “in the cloud” to share calendar free/busy information. None of the competitors have successfully gotten the integration between Exchange and Office 365 working, although they ALL got more points as they all had some progress in their work effort having at least either Exchange 2010 on-premise, or Office 365 in the cloud working…

The competitors have been at it now for over 15 hours, amazing group here, they are all working through the case scenario little by little and making really good progress, very proud of all of them!

1:23am EDT – July 10, 2011
Okay, I’m going to go forage for something to snack on, maybe head up to the room and take a quick shower too…

1:50am EDT – July 10, 2011
Whew, a nice hot shower and a walk around the hotel, MUCH better, good for another few hours… So as we cross past 16 hours of the competition with only 7-hours and 40-minutes left to go…

So as I have a few moments here with 3 of the competitors taking a break and all is pretty quiet, a moment to talk about the competition this year… So as much as my initial blog post talked about the competitors having to build out an on-premise (Exchange 2010 / Active Directory) environment as well as a cloud-based environment using Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, this inclusion of “cloud” technologies is a huge shift in the IT Challenge this year! The past 15 months, everything in this industry has been about “the cloud”, and in the business world today, organizations are looking for assistance in implementing cloud technologies, like Office 365 and Azure, so the focus of the IT Challenge is to test the competitors on their grasp of “the cloud”.

Things like Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Office 2010 in the cloud is technologically no different than these products in a traditional inhouse datacenter, however since the cloud infrastructure is shared among multiple organizations (which is called “multi-tenant”), the administration and management tools and functionality are very different. An IT Administrator can’t just remote into a server console and begin administering and managing the entire server, instead, the administrator is given a limited console with the ability to only do a limited series of tasks specific to the administrator’s organization. Much of the underlying technologies are related to the cloud provider, in this case Microsoft, to handle things like inherent security, “fabric”, high availability, redundancy, and the like.

I just asked the competitors if any of them had previous installed or worked with Office 365 or Azure, and this is new to all of them. Nothing like learning the latest and hottest technologies here and now, will say, these competitors will have a HUGE leg up in the industry with the experience they are getting in learning these cloud technologies!

Oh, by the way, Chris is no longer worried that the competitors will easily finish all of the tasks of the competition before the time is up, this is definitely a LOT to throw onto the competitors, and while they are all in the competition and doing extremely well, none of them are on track to finish everything up quickly and be done with before this 24-hour period is over...

I'll blog again later in the morning...

The 2011 IT Challenge competition started 9 months ago, through challenging qualifying rounds, to the final 24-hour non-stop competition. The top 6 finalists have worked extremely hard to get here, and they have ALL done a GREAT job in making it through to the finish!

As head judge and Captain of the competition, I’m proud to know these competitors have done their best and have truly done some amazing things! It’s more than just knowing the technology, it’s also in most cases traveling halfway around the world, outside of their home country for the first time, taking something new and different, trying to figure it out, and reasoning through the solution, which they have ALL demonstrated!

The competitors were asked to build a full blown computer network in just 24-hours time, and they all worked through the challenge without for a moment giving anything less than their best! Chris’ worry of the competitors finishing the full competition far before the end of time never came to fruition, the competitors were adequately challenged with the scenario.

As we wrapped up the 24-hour period, there were smiles on the faces of ALL of the competitors, happy to have made it through the challenge.

Over the preceding 3-hours, we met with each of the 6 competitors for 30-minutes and had them show us their effort, progress, and results. We asked them to demonstrate to us functionality across 20 functional areas, to present to us their final results. The presentations were all very well done, the 4 judges noted their scores, the score cards have been tallied and the top 3 will be announced on Wednesday afternoon during the World Festival Awards Ceremony!

Some stats from the IC2011 IT Challenge Networking:
* The competitors visited over 2,700 different web destinations during the 24-hour period
* 11.6 GB of data was transmitted from over 13,000 packets during the competition

This is a wonderful competition that we thank Microsoft for supporting every year to help support, develop, educate, and provide opportunities to thousands of technology enthusiasts from around the world!!!

This afternoon, we announced the winners of the Imagine Cup 2011 competition. It’s hard to actually “name” a winner, because ALL of the students have worked extremely hard for the past year, have risen through the ranks of pre-qualifying rounds, and are the best of the best in their country doing incredible things.

But the competition does recognize the top scores, and this year, for the Imagine Cup 2011 IT Challenge that I lead. A quick video that led up to the awards:

The top 3 in the IT Challenge for 2011 are as follows:
* Jean-Sébastien Duchene (France)
* Błażej Matuszyk (Poland)
* Yunheng Mong (Singapore)

The World Festival was welcomed by New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg himself, so wonderful to have him attend and kick off the awards ceremony!

The entire Lincoln Center in New York City was abuzz with all of the competitors excited to be at the worldwide finals and have a chance to be on stage among the best of the best!

To wrap up the worldwide finals, Eva Longoria awarded the People’s Choice Award to the team from Bangladesh!

So the Imagine Cup 2011 competition in New York City wraps up and in just 48-hours we’ll start taking registrants for the 2012 competition which the finals will be held in AUSTRALIA!!! Hopefully Microsoft will invite me back to lead my 8th Imagine Cup competition and I can help drive the success of the competition yet again!

I congratulate ALL of those who competed this past year, and if you are still eligible, to compete again starting this Fall!

Until next year! Rand

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Imagine Cup (Warsaw) 2010 Blog

Welcome everyone to my Blog of the 2010 Imagine Cup IT Challenge! Over a 40 continuous hour period, I blogged the final competition of the IT Challenge LIVE. The following is the account of the competition...

The Imagine Cup is a Microsoft sponsored competition for college students from around the world who compete in any of a number of competitions, from software development, to game design, to digial media, to the competition I run which is the IT Challenge.

The IT Challenge is for Information Technology (IT) enthusiasts, frequently computer science students, but many times just college students that like technology. We started off in October with over 100,000 competitors from over 100 countries and through a series of qualifying rounds have ended up with the FINAL SIX (6) in the world who competed in a non-stop 24-hour competition to build an entire computer network environment.

The students who advanced to the finals and competed in this 24-hour competition are as follows (in alphabetical order of the country they represented):
Miklos Cari (Bolivia)
WeiQiu Wen (China)
Sherif Talaat (Egypt)
Bastien Sivera (France)
Dominik Trojnar (Poland)
Hu Zhengbin (Singapore)

The following is an account of the competition weekend as it happened...

Friday, 23-April, 8:01am GMT (12:01am California time)

A bit about the competition...

It's Friday, the day of the big competition. For the past 7 months, we have been quizzing and challenging college students from around the world through online multiple choice quizzes, to a mandatory 10-page essay relative to Microsoft technologies (specifics of Round 1 and Round 2 will be blogged later today...). In past years, the final competition was held in a city somewhere in the world (2009-Cairo Egypt, 2008-Paris France, 2007-Seoul Korea, 2006-Agra India, 2005-Yokohama Japan), however this year we're doing the final competition "online". This will be a very different experience for us as judges.

Normally in the 24-hour final competition, we bring the Top 6 finalists into a room with a stack of computer server hardware and have them install Windows software from DVD, load on Exchange email, SharePoint document management software, System Center management tools, SQL databases, etc from disc. And in the 24-hour non-stop competition period, we can watch the competitors fight fatique, chug down Red Bulls, coffee, go through bags and boxes of chips and candy, and even fall asleep on their keyboard.

This year, it'll be all "online". The servers are based in a centralized location "in the cloud", and the student competitors will be online working from their home, school, or at a location where they have reliable Internet access. We'll be remotely monitoring their progress and efforts, will have to see how "exciting" I can make this blog, although I've already started my non-stop sleep cycle for the competition by spending a better part of tonight finalizing the hardware, servers, storage, etc that the competitors will be using, so we'll see what kind of goofy blog postings I can cast after being awake for the next 40+ hours...

Friday, 23-April, 8:50am GMT (12:50am California time)

A little about the judges...

We have 4 competition judges, Chris Amaris, Valy Greavu, Kim Amaris, and myself. This is the first year we have a woman judge (Kim), a very well respected consultant in the San Francisco Area who was a delegate at the 2009 Competition in Cairo, and was a Round 2 judge this year for the 2010 competition, now joining us as a Final Competition judge! When I get a picture of Kim, I'll post it on the blog...

Ah, just heard from Valy, our judge out of Romania, checking in to the competition finals here. Valy is a GREAT role model for the competitors. Valy was a college student competitor in 2005 (Japan) and 2006 (India) being #2 in the world, to come back in 2007 and join as a competition Assistant Captain in Seoul Korea and Co-Captain and Judge in 2008, 2009, and now this year. Because he was a competitor himself, he clearly understands what it's like to be a student sweating it out in the 24-hour head to head competition.

Chris has been involved with the Imagine Cup IT competition since its beginning as a Judge every year since 2005. Chris is a very well known IT expert with over 30-yrs experience and recently the title author of the 1050-page book titled "System Center Enterprise Suite Unleashed" that came out on Monday along with co-authoring a 1500-page book on Windows 2008 R2 that released in January, and a 1350-page book on Exchange 2010 that released in October (yeah, over 4000 pages of single spaced manuscript over the past 9 months...).

I've had the opportunity to participate in the Imagine Cup since 2005 as well and have found it to be a wonderful competition, one that blends my interest and career in technology, with my passion for education and skills development, with the opportunity to meet and work with some of the smartest students from around the world! These student competitors have nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain. Not only is there an $8000 first prize, $4000 second prize, and $3000 third prize that'll be awarded to the Top 3 of this weekends 6 finalist, but to be able to put on their resume for the rest of their lives that they competed in an international competition with THOUSANDS of competitors changes the lives of these finalists forever.

We look forward to having a GREAT competition this year!

Friday, 23-April, 9:20am GMT (1:20am California time)

What the finalists will have to do over the 24-hour competition period...

So what will the competitors have a chance to look forward to doing starting in about 16-hours? They're going to be given a case study about a ficticious company that has a need to build out an entire computer network environment. The competitors will be given a Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 Hyper-V R2 host server and asked to build out virtual guest images with working email, document management, security, monitoring, alerting, patching and updating, data management, data replication, etc.

So for you techies, that means they need to install and configure probably a good 6-12 virtual guest sessions, Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2007/2010, System Center ConfigMgr 2007 R2, Operations Mgr 2007 R2, Office 2007/2010, OCS 2007 R2, Windows 7, ISA or TMG, SQL 2008, etc. They'll need to integrate the applications together to make sure they all work together.

24-hours later, they'll need to demonstrate that everything works, that they met the end goals of the case study, and that they built the network environment securely.

More blog postings to follow...


Friday, 23-April, 3:19pm GMT (7:19am California time)

Okay, fewer than 7 hours before we go online, 8-hours and 40 minutes before the competition formally begins (12am GMT / 5pm California time). All of the server equipment is ready to go (I'll take a picture and post a little later this am), we have competitors that will be starting the competition at 1am, 2am, 8am, and 7pm in their local timezones, so at all hours around the clock.

In the past, we used to fly the competitors into a common City, so wondering whether spending a day of travel and then starting a competition during daylight hours in a foreign timezone vs this year where they are working in their local home timezone some in the wee hours of the night is better, worse, or a non-factor?

I think the adrenaline of competing in an international competition and the chance for prize money, title of best of the best in IT in the world, and a chance to travel to Poland for the awards ceremony will have all of the competitors pumped up regardless of what timezone they're starting and ending the competition...

Some last minute testing and then we kick off formal competition communications with the competitors in a little over 7-hours...


Friday, 23-April, 8:26pm GMT (1:26pm California time)

T minus 3-1/2 hours before the competition begins, we start a Live Meeting with the competitors in 90-minutes time where we'll share with them for the first time the details of the 24-hour competition. Up until now they've been provided the overall logistics of the technologies they need to know, how to get online, how long the competition will run, and "generally" what to expect, but the kick-off online meeting we'll have at 10pm GMT will give the competitors full details on what to expect for the competition!

When we're done with the kick off meeting in the next couple hours, I'll share the details and catch you all up on what the competitors will be seeing and experiencing over the 24-hour competition!

Got a great picture from one of the competitors (who says he's so excited about the competition that he hasn't been able to sleep tonight) so he's up waiting for the competition to start... He snapped off a few pictures, the one to the left is his "stash" to keep him awake for the 24-hour competition... Hmm, Snicker bars, Mars bars, cookies, and Red Bull! (and some mystery snack in that plastic container, we'll have to figure out what those are once the competition gets rolling along...)

Back to finalizing details...


Friday, 23-April, 11:45pm GMT (4:45pm California time)

Intro Meeting Complete - Meet the Competitors!

We had our intro meeting with the competitors and we have less than 15 minutes to go before the competition starts. Our judge from Romania (Valy) had each of the competitors send him information about themselves and a picture, so we can put a face to the name/competitor because the system... Here we go:

Sherif Talaat (Egypt): Sherif was a finalist in 2009 and went on to the finals in Cairo (his home country) and Sherif also competed in 2008 and won an offline competition where we challenged a number of folks online to compete in a mini-challenge. Sherif is a 5th year student a the MOdern Academy in Maadi (Egypt). He is studying Computer Science and Managment Technologies. Sherif's home town is Cairo.

Dominik Trojnar (Poland): Dominik, who goes by Piku, is from Rzeszów - Łańcut in Poland. He is a 4th year student at the University of Technology in Rzeszow (Politechnika Rzeszowska) studying electronics and telecommunication. Piku is the hometown favorite as the 2010 Imagine Cup awards ceremony is being held in Warsaw this summer.

Bastien Sivera (France): Bastien is a 4th year student from the Supinfo University with the campus of Nice, France.

WeiQiu Wen (China): WeiQui is studying at the Huazhong University of Science and Techonology in Electronical and Information Engeering. WeiQui is in his 2nd year of study, and his home town is Wuhan, Hubei Province, China

Miklos Cari (Bolivia): Miklos is doing his post graduate studies at the Universidad del Valle (UNIVALLE). He completed his Masters in Information Systems in 2009 and was actually an Imagine Cup 2009 competitor in the final competition in Cairo last year. MIklos is from the City of Cochabamba in Bolivia

Hu Zhengbin (Singapore): Hu is a 3rd year student at the Nanyang Polytechnic School of Information Technology in Singapore.


Saturday, 24-April, 12:00am GMT (5:00pm California time)

Imagine Cup 2010 Final Competition BEGINS!!!

It is now 12am GMT and we have begun the 2010 Imagine Cup IT Challenge! The competitors have downloaded the case study (9 pages in length) and are reading the challenge now. In brief, the case study is about a non-profit research organization that has offices around the world. The requirement of the case study is to build out the initial "main office" of this organization and provide remote connectivity for laptop users and users working from Internet kiosks to access typical business technologies.

"Some" of the things the competitors will need to setup and demonstration:

  • Basic email, presence, and chat communications
  • Ability to share documents and collaborate with others in the organization
  • Users need to have access within the organization's main office as well as while the users are traveling
  • Security is critical, so having a secure environment that can be monitored with alerting to the IT administrator is key

As we are monitoring the competitors efforts, we're now 7 minutes into the competition and the first competitors are already logged into their Hyper-V virtual host server, getting familiar with the hardware that they have available, and are preparing to build out their first Windows network system configurations already!

More to follow...


Saturday, 24-April, 1:18am GMT (6:18pm California time)

Hour in, All is Chugging Along...

We are an hour+ into the competition and all is flowing along just fine! (I'm knocking VERY hard on wood right now...). The top questions from the competitors have been access to versions of Windows (2003, 2008 with SP2) and license keys that we didn't provide them at the beginning of the competition, so this is GREAT, they have a design and plan in mind, know which operating system they are building the software on, and moving ahead with installing base guest session operating systems!!!

A datacenter view... Competitors are currently logged on remotely each to a dedicated server, local disk, and plenty of capacity to run the number of guest sessions needed for the competition!

One of our judges, Valy, had a power failure at his home, so at 3am in Romania, he's driving to his office at his worksite and will be back online shortly... The normal day to day challenges in IT!

All quiet on the frontline...'


Saturday, 24-April, 4:00am GMT (9:00pm California time)

4-hours down, 20 to go, FIRST milestone issued!

Can't believe the competition has already run for 4-hours, only 20-hours to go (ouch, that sounds like a LONG time from now...). The competitors are doing GREAT, as judges, we can peer into their work and we see that ALL of the competitors have several virtual guest sessions configured and running already (actually most of them had a full compliment of servers already built out within 2-hours of the start of the competition!). We know they have read the problem set and are working on a specific task of the competition as they are asking for a weird compliment of software and license keys needed to run this one quirky Microsoft product. It's a great way for us to know where they all stand...

Chris issued the first Milestone that's not due for another FIVE (5) hours, he's such a nice guy. Was supposed to give them just an hour heads-up, but instead, he's giving them 5-hours to prepare. The first milestone is a relatively easy one, they simply need to be able to send an email message out of their network.

For you techies out there, basically they need to have gotten Active Directory setup (preferrably AD/2008 R2), have gotten Exchange email going (Exchange 2010 preferrably), have gotten a workstation setup with Office installed, and they need to setup DNS records between themselves and the Judges DNS server so mailflow happens. The qualifying test is to be able to send a message to the judges, and have an email message replied back.

Sounds pretty simple, and it kind of is if you've done it a couple times before, but when you're a college student, how many times have you setup Exchange, requested an MX record be setup in a public DNS, or have been responsible for end to end mailflow? Many time as students they may have worked as a SysAdmin or Helpdesk support in the school's Computer Science department, but building out an entire fully functional network sometimes is a stretch. We'll see how the competitors fare on this task...


Saturday, 24-April, 4:45am GMT (9:45pm California time)

A Bit about the qualifying rounds

Okay, I promised a little background on the qualifying rounds of the competition on how these 6 finalists ended up being here in the final competition... So as mentioned, we started off with over 100,000 competitors 7+ months ago. These are college studetns represening over 100 countries. This is an individual competition (where some of the Imagine Cup competitions are "team" competitions). As an individual competition, each competitor registers to participate in the IT Challenge.

The first round of the competition is a multiple choice quiz. There were 30 questions in the quiz and the competitors had to get at least 15 correct to advance to Round 2. Hey, 50% pass rate and you advance to the next round, pretty easy, right? Well of the 30 questions, the questions span the following technologies (usually 1 or 2 questions from each category):

  • Windows 2008 R2
  • Exchange Server 2010
  • SharePoint 2007
  • OCS 2007 R2
  • Windows 7
  • Office 2007
  • SQL 2008
  • System Center ConfigMgr 2007 R2
  • System Center DPM 2007 SP1
  • System Center OpsMgr 2007 R2
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2
  • Forefront Identity Manager 2010
  • Forefront Client Protection
  • Threat Management Gateway 2010
  • Unified Access Gateway 2010
  • Hyper-V R2

So while you might be a whiz at say Windows, or Exchange, or SQL, you're going to get bombarded with 30 questions across 15-20 different productlines. An example question: "When running Exchange 2010, which of the following technologies would you use to replicate data across multiple datacenters for disaster recovery? A: Cluster Continuous Replication (CCR), B: Standby Continuous Replication (SCR), C: Database Availability Group (DAG), or D: Single Copy Cluster (SCC)" (correct answer is C: DAG). And "When changing the Alternate Context in SharePoint 2007, which tool would you use? A: SharePoint Site Manager, B: SharePoint Management Console (SMC), C: Windows DNS, or D: SharePoint Central Administration" (correct answer is D)

Okay, so 15 or better on a quiz, there were 4 different days that the quizzes were offered from November/09 thru January/10 where the competitors could take the quick during the 24-hour quiz day periods, and they had 1 hour to complete the quiz. The average pass rate on the quiz was 12%.

We advanced several hundred competitors on to Round 2 at the end of January of this year...

In Round 2, the competitors were tasks to write an essay, no longer than 10-pages long, and were given 2 months to complete the task. The essay was a response to a "case study" they were provided where they had to write a technical recommendation of what an organization would need to buy and implement in terms of technologies to meet the requirements of the case study... This is a little harder, now instead of doing a multiple guess online quiz, some actual time had to be spent reviewing the case study, doing a little research, and writing up a clear and concise response.

As we get every year, this year was no different, although we had MORE competitors advance to Round 2 than ever before, and we had MORE Round 2 essays submitted than ever before as well which made the judging difficult because we had so many great submissions. The judges independently scored each case study and the resulting aggregate score resulted in the top 6 finalists!

So that's the road to the Finals...


Saturday, 24-April, 7am GMT (Midnight California time)

Kim Amaris, the FIRST Imagine Cup IT Challenge Woman Judge!!!

We hit the midnight hour here in the Americas, the sun is up for the new day for our competitors in Europe and Africa, and for our competitors in Asia, it's mid-afternoon... Competition is 7-hours down, 17-hours to go...

As it is pretty quiet on the competition front, I wanted to introduce the Imagine Cup IT Competitions FIRST Woman judge, Kim Amaris. The Imagine Cup as a whole has had MANY women judges as software development, digital media, and other fields have a wide diversity of participants. The IT Competition though has been challenged that we have never had a woman finalist, which we can't change the rules to give preference to one person over the other in the competition, but we could add a woman to our judging staff, so this year, Kim Amaris has joined the ranks as a Judge for the competition!

Kim has been in the IT Industry for more than a decade and has been a contributing author to several books on Windows, Exchange, SharePoint, and the like. She is an expert not only in technologies, but also in the management of enterprise scale IT projects.

Kim was interviewed last Fall and a transcript of that interview is posted up on our Facebook page up on http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=163626803772

Hopefully with Kim's participation as a judge this year she can inspire women to compete and participate in the Imagine Cup IT Challenge competition this coming year!!!


Saturday, 24-April, 10:20am GMT (3:20am California time)

Milestone #1 In and Done - Email Working (well, kind of...)< Alright, it's past 3 in the morning here in California, 10:20am GMT, amazingly 10 hours into the competition already. Competitors are doing GREAT. We had our first milestone a few moments ago, the requirement was to be able to send and receive emails from their network to the judges network... Half the competitors were successful completing the milestone, that's pretty typical. Those who know how to do it know the routine. Those who have never done it before, there are a lot of moving parts as I noted earlier in my blog around DNS, Exchange 2010, MX records, etc.

BUT, as I reminded ALL of the competitors, this is just 1 of 20 milestones and we have 14 hours left in the competition to go. The key is that they don't get hung up on 1 task, to go back through the total project and make sure that they look at all of the goals and objectives and circle back around to email, they can get that working later...

So they are all chugging along, VERY impressive group of competitors!!!


Saturday, 24-April, 11:15am GMT (4:15am California time)

Warning, Hacker Attack!!! - Milestone #2

At the top of the hour, the competitors were informed that there "might" be a hacker attack within the hour and to harden their networks. At noon GMT (about 45 minutes from now) we will run scans against the competitor networks looking for system vulnerabilities. They should have proper protections in place from an external attack...


Saturday, 24-April, 12:51pm GMT (5:51am California time)

WOW, Hacker Attack THWARTED!

So for 32 minutes, the competitors were bombarded with security attacks to their network systems, with over 4000 port scans against each IP address looking for vulnerabilities. For the FIRST TIME in Imagine Cup IT Challenge history, our security attack was COMPLETELY thwarted! Not a single major vulnerability, and only 8 minor vulnerabilities detected that amounted to nothing.

After 2 of 20 milestones, ALL of the competitors are on the board with points, and in fact for milestone #2, they all got full points, so this is really anyone's competition still!

I just shot a congratulatory note to all of the competitors, we're 50% through the competition, just over 11 hours left to go, everyone is on the board with points, and they are ALL further along than at the same point in previous year competitions! (does this mean this is a SMARTER group of competitors this year, or do we need to make the IT challenge harder next year, hmm...)

Although, as with every year, as the competitors get a little sleepy, they make silly mistakes, so while they may be far far along, they might second guess themselves and in the very last moment choose to reinstall everything from scratch (we've had that happen a couple times in the past!)

The sun should be rising here in California shortly, might be good I step outside soon for a walk, been in this chair for the past 18 hours straight...


Saturday, 24-April, 3:45pm GMT (8:45am California time)

Milestone #3 OCS 2007 DONE!

With just 8-1/2 hours left in the competition, we completed the judges review of Milestone #3 which was to demonstrate that OCS 2007 instant messaging was working properly. This was a little harder of a test as the competitors had to get OCS 2007 working for IM on the "backend" and they had to also make sure the OCS IM "Microsoft Office Communicator (MOC)" client was working internally, from their laptop, and from Communicator Web Access (CWA) from their kiosk machine.

All of the competitors received at least a few points on this challenge for getting "some" of OCS working.

There is no clear-cut leader right now, we only have 3 of 20 milestones complete and a LONG way to go, this is anyone's game... We look forward to seeing the competitors continue to work through their list of tasks!

Thank you everyone for your ongoing encouragement for the competition and the competitors! I have relayed your best wishes on to the students who are glad to know they have THOUSANDS of followers right now reading up on my blog here, following us on Facebook, and sending in IMs of support! We're two-thirds done, onwards!!!


Saturday, 24-April, 4:05pm GMT (9:05am California time)

Judging an Online Head to Head Challenge...

One of the interesting things in the back of all of the judges mind was what it would be like to judge an "online" competition. For the past 5-years, the final compeition has been a face to face competition. We arrive into a foreign city, we make sure the servers arrive (which has been quite challenge in years past, like when we arrived in India and the servers weren't there nor was there adequate electrical power or even Internet connectivity to run the competition).

After getting all of the systems together in a room, we'd normally gather all the competitors, shake hands, talk about the competition, see them cart in boxes of drinks and candies, and build camaraderie among one another...

But this year, the final competition is "online", meaning that instead of all of us being in a single room, we're working from our homes or offices... Would it be the same? Would the experience be that much different?

The feedback from the competitors has been that the online competition lacks the personal touch and the friendships that are built from participating in a shared experience, so it'll be something we'll look to in future years whether we can go back to a face to face final competition.

Technologically though, I'm actually very pleased that despite the lack of a face to face contact, through the use of online cloud-based tools, we've been able to make the most out of the experience! By collecting photographs of each of the competitors in front of their workstation, we have been able to "see" who we are talking with and working with.

We are using Microsoft Live Messenger, a component of Live.com where we have a group chat setup. Any time any of the competitors or judges posts something to the group chat, everyone gets the message, so ALL questions and ALL answers to those questions are shared by everyone in the group.

We've used Microsoft Live Meeting for shared desktop and voice over the Internet communications where the judges have been able to peer into the systems of the competitors to browse their work, and the judges have been able to collectively review competitor progress on the milestones. Despite the judges literally on opposite sides of the globe with the competitors and judges spanning 5 continents right now, we are working and communicating as if we were all in the same room together!

So while I had a lot of reservations of the potential for success of a fully online final competition, with a little Microsoft technology on our systems, and a lot of Microsoft technology in the cloud, the online competition is a new experience and so far, so good...


Saturday, 24-April, 5:40pm GMT (10:40am California time)

A visit from Cosmin Ilie, the IC2009 (Cairo) IT Challenge Champion!

Fewer than 6-1/2 hours left in this competition, I don't quite know what happened in the past half hour, I think I must have nodded off at my keyboard... The competitors have been given the Milestone #4 challenge, so in the next half hour, we'll check in with them on their progress toward that milestone.

In the meantime, the 2009 Imagine Cup IT Challenge champion, Cosmin Ilie, popped in on Judge Valy at his University office in Romania! This is all part of that personal relationship / camaraderie that I mentioned in my last post that the IT Competition builds. We have seen Cosmin for the prior 3 years as he competed in 2007 in Seoul (took 3rd), then in 2008 in Paris (took 2nd), and finally 3rd time was the charm as he ended up in 1st place in Cairo in 2009!

Cosmin has been active on the Imagine Cup forum, providing guidance and tips to the competitors, it was great to have him pop into Valy's office and come in on the judge's concall to chat with us here in California!

Back in 2008 when we were all in Paris, the 2005 (Yokohama, Japan) Imagine Cup IT Challenge Champion, Stefan Plizga popped in on us at the final competition in Paris when we had the face the face competition there.

It is GREAT to have the Imagine Cup IT Challenge alumni continue to participate, mentor, and lead as role models!


Saturday, 24-April, 6:25pm GMT (11:25am California time)

Milestone #4 - SERVER CRASH! / ALERT!!!

The competitors just finished Milestone #4 which was to simulate a server crash and to be alerted that one of their key systems had failed. In IT, being on top of system operations is very important, and knowing the state of servers and systems is crutial. As we get to the final 6 hours of this competition, the competitors have already (should have already) built out their core infrastructure including Windows, Exchange, SharePoint, File/Print, Databases, etc. So now it is a matter of making sure they can keep their systems patched and updated, have monitoring and alerting enabled, and fine tune their environment.

In milestone #4, we brought down one of the students servers (we were nice and had them tell us which server they would like us to bring down), and with the server going offline, the person they designated as the System Administrator should have received an email alert notifying them that a server is down and give them specifics.

For you techies, this is a feature in System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, a part of the competition that Judge Chris likes as his 1050-page book System Center Enterprise Suite Unleashed thru Sams Publishing just became available worldwide on Monday that covers the step by step process of implementing SCOM, ConfigMgr for patching/updating, Service Mgr for helpdesk management, DPM 2010 for backup, and Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 for virtual server management...

Anyway, 4 milestones down, 16 left to go and 5-1/2 hours left... Chris just emailed all of the competitors the final ruberic of how the last 16 tasks will be graded. Usually we keep it a secret and just see what the competitors come up with from the description of the case study, however since the final scoring will be done by just the judges instead of a face to face interview and demonstration by each of the competitors as we have done in the past, we need each of the competitors to document their scenario so we can zip through to see that everything is working (or not).

So, onward, the final kick here to the end... 5-hours, 27-minutes, 18-seconds...


Saturday, 24-April, 9:45pm GMT (2:45pm California time)

Milestone #5 - Documentation Done... 2-hrs, 15-min, 11-sec to go...

Whew, wouldn't have believed 20 hours ago that we would be near the finish line, but we're really really close... All of the competitors completed the last mid-competition milestone, #5, which was to submit documentation of their planned/current environment. Basically, what is it that they are building to meet the requirements of the case study, what technologies do they plan to do, how do they have (or plan to have) the servers configured, etc. EVERYONE submitted their docs and earned more points. According to my scorecard, the Top 5 competitors are all within 10 points of the mean, and considering each task is worth 10 points and we have 15 more tasks to grade them on, the 5th place person can jump into 1st place right now simply by doing just 1 task that the current 1st place person doesn't complete, that's how close this competition is right now...

The Top 3 out of the 6 competitors today will go to Warsaw this summer to spend a week participating in the Imagine Cup cultural exchange activities meeting finalists from other Imagine Cup competitions (Software Design, Digital Media, etc) and ultimately walking the stage during the Awards Ceremony to pick up either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd prize awards!

This has been a GREAT competition so far, counting down...


Saturday, 24-April, 11:48pm GMT (4:48pm California time)


Okay, 23-hours, 48 minutes through the competition, and the final results are...

Oh, not of the competition, I was looking inside my trash can of what I've managed to choke down for the past 23-hours and 48-minutes while I tried to stay awake, and the tally is:

  • 3 Snicker bars
  • 1 bottle of Cherry Coke-Cola Zero
  • 1 bottle of Crush Cherry
  • 1 large bottle of Crystal Geyser sparkling water
  • 2 McDonalds Sausage McMuffins with Egg
  • 1 Hash Brown
  • 1 McCafe Orange Juice
  • 1 Order of greasy Chinese take-out
  • 1 Order of Dak Gui Korean take-out
  • 2 packages of M&Ms (with peanuts, of course)
  • 1 bag of Kettle Brand Salt and Pepper potato chips
  • and 2 packages of Skittles (Berry flavored)

I have my doctors appointment this coming Tuesday, he'll have a field day when I tell him my diet this past week... Actual competition closure happening VERY soon, 7 minutes and counting...


Sunday, 25-April, 12:10am GMT (5:09pm California time)


The 2010 Imagine Cup Competition IT Challenge has come to an end. After 24 solid hours from 6 of the BEST IT finalists we've ever had, the judges will now individually review each competitor's project across 15 tasks to score the outcome

I want to thank ALL of you who have followed my blog over the past 40 or so hours. I think I have imprints of my keyboard on my forehead as I fell asleep a couple times on my keyboard...

I will update this blog one more time in the next couple days once the official announcement is made on which of the 3 competitors will be traveling to Poland the first week of July to participate in the Final Awards Ceremony and World Showcase activities.

From there, it'll be July 8th when I post the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners... (this is like the TV show Survivor, the tiki holder flies away from the island from a bunch of dirty, stinky, unshaven folks, and in July we'll fly in all clean shaven, hair cut, clean clothes, make-up on (okay, no make-up for me), and the finalists will be named...)

As I closed the competition today with the finalists, there are NO losers today. These 6 are #1 in their respective countries, and even #1 on their contienent. They ARE their country representatives for the best of the best that have risen from THOUSANDS of college students from over 100 countries (okay, was curious and had a few minutes of free time and went through and did a data sort, and actually 86 countries):
Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Colombia, Congo (DRC), Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, Vietnam , Zimbabwe

Just to BE in the Top 6 in the world is something these students will be able to put on their resume for the rest of their lives! They have spent the past 24 solid hours (after a normal long week of school (and for most of them, work as well)) in a head to head competition!

I am VERY proud to have been able to participate once again as the Head Judge for this year's competition, and I thank my Co-Captin and Judges Chris Amaris and Valy Greavu for their continued support, and for our Judge Kim Amaris for her contribution this year! (we want to see more women compete next year!)

Watch the Final Wrap-up session here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao1SSy2KlYc

GREAT competition, looking forward to a week in Poland this summer to greet the competitors in person and participate in a wonderful week of festivities!



Thursday, 29-April, 9:37am California Time

Top 3 Finalists Announced!!!

From the 6 finalists who competed head to head last weekend, the Top 3 were announced. These 3 will fly to Poland this summer for a week of cultural activities, a chance to meet other Imagine Cup finalists, and at the end of the week to walk up on stage and learn whether they are #1, #2, or #3 in the world. I look forward to meeting these Top 3 competitors in Warsaw in July!

The Top 3 are as follows (in alphabetical order of the company they are representing):

Miklos Cari (Bolivia)
WeiQiu Wen (China)
Hu Zhengbin (Singapore)

CONGRATULATIONS to the Top 3, you have advanced a LONG way in the competiton!!!

However I would be remiss if I did not again recognize the other 3 finalists in the competition who endured a very long journey this year in a challenging competition that tested their knowledge and experience working with Microsoft technologies. So a huge congratulations to the other finalists who competed last weekend!

Sherif Talaat (Egypt)
Bastien Sivera (France)
Dominik Trojnar (Poland)

I will update this Blog post on or around July 9, 2010 announcing the sequence of the competitors once the awards ceremony presents the finalists with their awards!

And again, thank you to ALL of you who have followed my Imagine Cup 2010 Blog!!!