Saturday, June 27, 2009

Imagine Cup (Cairo) 2009 Blog

Hey All, Welcome to my 2009 blog for the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition! From June 27th through July 8th (2009), I will be blogging this link to update you on the latest for the competition!

Keep visiting this site for regular updates. I will be blogging every couple days from June 27th through July 2nd on my travels "to" and through Egypt, and then starting July 3rd 10:30pm California time until 10:30pm July 4th I will be blogging hourly during the 24-hour head to head competition. And my last blog on this will be on July 8th to announce the winners of the final competition.

June 27, 2009 (Saturday) 5:15pm California Time
First Blog - Intro to the Imagine Cup!
Blogging from Los Angeles, California
Okay, just starting off the journey to Egypt, but had to stop in Los Angeles to join my nephew's Bar Mitzvah, so a day of celebration here with family. So for those of you new to the Imagine Cup, it's a competition that starts off in September with over 100,000 college students from over 130 countries competing in a series of qualifying rounds in one of nine technology topics. The topics range from software development to short film to robotics to digital photography to algorithm and the like. I'm the head judge of the Information Technology (IT) competition.

For my competition, we started off with just over 15,000 competitors representing 134 countries. We had a series of 8 qualifying rounds that were multiple choice online quizzes on the topics of Microsoft Windows Server 2008, Exchange 2007 email messaging, SharePoint 2007 document management, SQL 2008 databases, System Center systems management, ForeFront security, Windows Vista desktops, OCS 2007 instant messaging, and the like. The first round competitors had to get at least a 50% score on any of the 8 quizzes we ran from September 2008 through Jaunary 2009. Amazingly the pass rate was just 16% on some of these quizzes, so it wasn't easy for just anyone to jump online and take the quiz. They really needed a pretty good book knowledge of these technologies to pass.

After 5 months, we ended up with 650 students from 82 countries advance to Round 2. Round 2 was an essay round where the students were given a case study about a real world business scenario and the students had to write an essay 10-pages or less that explained how they would use these various Microsoft technologies to solve the business challenge of the case study. This essay challenged the students to truly understand the products (not just guess at the answers) and it required them to think through the scenario and make difficult choices on how to respond.

After 4 months of working through the case studies, we ended up with just over 90 very qualified submissions. A panel of industry experts (more on the judges later in this blog) reviewed the case studies and the finalists from this 9 month journey that will be traveling to Cairo this coming week come from the following countries:
- Bolivia
- Brazil
- China
- Egypt
- France
- Hungary
- Morroco
- Romania
- United Kingdom
- United States

In Cairo, the finalists will be given a stack of computer hardware and a pile of software DVDs and will be asked to "build" a fully working computer network. The computer network will need to have Windows running on it, send and receive email messages using Microsoft Exchange, allow users to collaborate using SharePoint, store data in SQL Server, protect the information using Microsoft ForeFront, all running in a virtualization Hyper-V environment. Basically they'll have 24 continuous hours build a fully working network.

More on this later, off to dinner...

July 1, 2009 (Wednesday) 11:30pm Egypt Time
Blogging from Luxor, Egypt
Made the journey from Los Angeles to Luxor Egypt and have been here for a day. The journey was 24-hours in transit, LAX to Frankfurt (12-hours), 5-hour layover in Frankfurt, FRA to Cairo (3-hours), 3-hour layover, CAI to Luxor (1-hour). Have had some time to acclimate to the time change and temperature, visited the Valley of the Kings, the Carnack Temple, and the Luxor Museum among other sights here in Luxor. Will be departing tomorrow to Cairo to get started in on the competition!

July 2, 2009 (Thursday) 1:55pm Cairo Time
At the Imagine Cup Site!!!
I have now arrived in Cairo at the Imagine Cup 2009 site at the CityStars - Intercontinental Hotel! The competition room for the most part was setup by the time we arrived with 10 workstations setup in the main room, and a portable Rack with 10 servers setup in the datacenter room here in the hotel. Picture with Chris and the server rack in the datacenter...

We're now testing Internet connectivity, printing capability, workstation to server connectivity, and running through a checklist of at least 30 things we want to make sure "work" before we can relax and say we are "ready" for the competitors to walk in here in a couple days to start in on the competition...

July 2, 2009 (Thursday) 3:15pm Cairo Time
Info on the Judges...
As Chris and Jeff prep the workstations and servers for the competition, I'm going to drop this post in here to give a little background on the judges...

- IT Competition Co-Captain and Head Judge: Rand Morimoto (that's me, I'll be doing the postings here, this is my 5th year as Captain and Head Judge of the competition. I was tapped to lead the first Imagine Cup IT competition back in 2005 in Yokohama Japan. I run an IT consulting firm (Convergent Computing ( out of the San Francisco area that specializes in Microsoft technology consulting services to mid and large size organizations. In my spare time I write the Unleashed series of books for Sams Publishing including Windows 2008 Unleashed, HyperV Unleashed, Exchange 2007 Unleashed, etc.)
- IT Competition Co-Captain and Judge: Chris Amaris (this is Chris' 5th year as Captain and Judge as well. Chris is the Chief Technology Officer and a partner for Convergent Computing and is a principal consultant for the firm leading some of the network design and implementation for some of the largest companies in the world. Chris has authored several books on Windows and Exchange, and specializes in Systems Management with co-author credentials on titles on Operations Manager 2005 / 2007, Microsoft SQL, and security systems)
- IT Competition Assistant Captain and Judge: Valy Greavu (Valy was a top 3 finalist as a competition in the 2005 (Japan) and 2006 (India) competitions and joined as a judge and assistant captain since 2007. As both a former finalist and now a captain/judge, Valy brings a perspective to the competition that is helpful year after year with the competition. Valy is an Assistant Professor at the Universitatea "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" in Romania and is a Microsoft MVP)
- IT Competition Assistant Captain and Judge: Jeff Guillet (Jeff joined the competition as a judge and assistant captain in 2008 (Paris) and returns this year here in Egypt. Jeff is a senior consultant at Convergent Computing and is an author/expert on specializations including Windows, HyperV virtualization, Exchange messaging, and Operations Management. Jeff spends his time consulting for a major San Francisco based organization providing daily expertise in his area of specialization!

July 2, 2009 (Thursday) 4:05pm Cairo Time
First IT Competition Setup Challenge
Alright, so checklist item #5 of verifying that the 10 host servers that the competitors will be working on are setup properly just failed. The systems (10 HP DL380s) sitting in a rack are not BIOS-enabled to support VT virtualization support. Will need to go into the datacenter and manually reconfigure the BIOS for all 10 systems to enable hardware virtualization support. I'm making Chris nervous, telling him that we "hope" this make/model of server even supports virtualization (if not, the whole premise of this competition for the students fails and we're in deep trouble), but of course that would presume these systems are really OLD non-standard systems... (although being that these systems we're pieced together from across Europe and shipped here to Egypt for this competition, who knows...). We'll work through a couple more checklist items, and then work through the "fixing" of this virtualization hardware support issue shortly...

July 2, 2009 (Thursday) 5:25pm Cairo Time
Competition Timeline...
Okay, solved the BIOS issue, Jeff enabled VT on all 10 of the servers in the datacenter, then realized the remote access wasn't enabled, so he's there right now during on remote desktop access to the host servers.

In the mean time, few timelines here to share (all times are Cairo Egypt time (which is California time + 10-hours)):
July 3rd (Friday): competitors arrive
- Worldwide Competition Opening Ceremony (opening address by Ray Ozzie, Microsoft Chief Architect / Country Host - Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt)
July 4th (Saturday): IT Competition begins - 8:30am Cairo Time
July 5th (Sunday): IT Competition ends - 8:30am Cairo Time
July 6th (Monday): Cultural Day (visit to the pyramids of Giza, the Cairo museum, lunch on the Nile)
July 7th (Tuesday): Digital Theater / Showcase / World Festival awards ceremony at the pyramids

Back to testing and configuring servers...

July 2, 2009 (Thursday) 10:42pm Cairo Time
Too easy???
Alright, this is too easy, Jeff finished up the tests of the 10 physical servers (making sure that VT was enabled, BIOS was configured, remote enabled, HyperV service tested and working fine, unloaded HyperV service (and still working fine)), so the servers are "done". And we have 10 workstations connecting to those 10 servers and they all work fine.

Chris and I snuck out to a Captain's dinner where the Captains from all 9 competitions gathered (funny, this is Egypt so no alcohol, so we're sitting in this outdoor "lounge" having fruit smoothies and eating stuffed grape vine leaves things). Back from dinner and back to building out the judges competition server system (Windows, Exchange, ISA, VLAN, DMZ, etc). We still need to load up software images (ISO files) to all of the competitors servers and we should be done.

Hmm, no power outages, no Internet connection problems, no "missing systems", this is feeling WAY too easy...

July 3, 2009 (Friday) 11:07am Cairo Time
Judges are here, We're rolling along...
Up bright and early here in Cairo, 90 degrees out at 6 in the morning although sadly this hotel is so cold that it felt good being out in the warm dry air of the desert! We got started in this morning and are continuing getting things ready for the competition. We needed a whole stack of software DVDs available that were to be supplied to us only finding out this morning the guy forgot to get the software before he left Redmond, but fortunately Chris had most of the software on his hard drive and we're downloading the rest, although despite the hotel having a 30MB pipe to the Internet, we're only getting 100kb/sec transfer speeds, so some of these files are taking 5-6 hours to download.

The competition here starts in about 24-hours, the competitors are just flowing into town now, it's fun to talk with the students in the hallways and elevators, so far have run into competitors from China, SriLanka, Portugal, Senegal, Ecuador, Canada, Jamaica... The energy here with excitement and anticipation is incredible, one of the competitors I met must not have been older than 18, first time he's been away from home in his life, he kept looking for stairs as he said he didn't know how the elevator worked. Not only an experience of a life time for these competitors in competing in a major international competition, but a life experience seeing new and different things for the first time in their lives! This is the part of this competition I love the most, having a chance to talk with the competitors to find out who they are, what their motivations and aspirations are in life, learn about their background and how they got here, all so amazing!

All of the judges have safely arrived. Valy was the last to get here, a major layover in Istanbul and running around to find his lost luggage, but with his bag in hand, he arrived here this morning a little past 4am and was bright-eyed and ready to roll (or at least jazzed up with excitement), so we're elbows deep in working through the details.

A picture above of the judges Valy, Chris, (me), and Jeff... Back to work for us...

July 3, 2009 (Friday) 4:27pm Cairo Time
Opening Event Briefing
At 4pm this afternoon, the competitors all assembled in the Grand Ballroom and were (informally) welcomed to the competition and briefed on the rules and upcoming activities (the formal Welcome will be done this evening with all of the Microsoft and polical bigwigs at the Citadel).

The Opening briefing was attended by all of the competitors (400+), the media, school and event mentors, competition Captains and judges.

July 3, 2009 (Friday) 5:04pm Cairo Time
IT Competition Briefing
At 4:30pm this afternoon, the competitors for the IT Competition all assembled in the competition room to hear about what to expect for tomorrow's start of the competition. The competitors were told generally what to expect, the overall plan for the 24-hour competition, what they can bring into the room (paper, books, MP3 player), what resources they can access during the competition (internet search engines, Technet content, etc), their ability to come/go from the room throughout the competition to go to the ballroom for meals, go to the restroom, grab coffee, etc, and what they cannot do like email, IM, poll the audience, or phone a friend. A little tension in the room as the competitors get to understand a bit of the details of the competition and cautiously look forward to the 24-hour head to head battle.

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 3:16am Cairo Time
Opening Ceremony!!!
The official Opening Ceremony was last night hosted at the Citadel, a site rich in history dating back to AD810 with scenes in history including the Crusades, the Ottoman Empire, and the era of Sultans. I unfortunately missed the opening ceremony as I was finishing up last minute details for the competition and readying myself for a non-stop 36-hours of competition activities.

So the picture above was borrowed from the Microsoft Imagine Cup blog, and from what I've read on the various Twitter, Facebook, and blog postings, it was quite an evening! Joe Wilson, the Microsoft GM in charge of the competition noted that the competition started with over 300,000 competitors, and that 440 finalists are here in Cairo right now representing 70 countries. It is absolutely amazing being among these incredibly talented competitors!

I'm hoping that our 3 missing IT competitors have safely made their way into Egypt. At our competition briefing yesterday afternoon we only had 7 of the 10, we were missing our competitors from France, the UK, and from Romania. There were a handful of flights that were delayed as well as a number of missed connections for competitors, so by 7pm last night, only 75% of all of the competitors had arrived in Egypt, so I've been working with the Imagine Cup event coordinators to check in on the status of our competitors, hope they arrive in time for our 9am start, which is just over 5-1/2 hours from now!

Oh, while I was surfing around, I found this picture of the Stage being built for the Awards Ceremony being held on the 7th. So after 3-4 days of competition and event activities, the final awards will be handed out, but not in some hotel ballroom or theater, but on a special stage being constructed with the Great Pyramids of Giza as the backdrop, check out this picture! How fun will it be to walk up on the stage as a winner of this competition with the 7th Wonder of the World right in front of you!!!

So, with all of the pomp and circumstance beginning, this competition is now officially "on" and in just a few hours I'll be kicking off the 24-hour IT competition and then the 5-hour judging period that'll follow. A nice 29 hours non-stop event with a few hours before and few hours afterward, so 36+ hours of no sleep ahead of me...

I'm going to try to get a couple more hours of sleep... Will blog in a few hours as I kick off the 2009 IT Final challenge! Join me starting 11pm California time (July 3rd) as the 24-hour competiton clock begins!!!

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 9:04am Cairo Time
IT Competition is a GO!!!
We are off and running, all 10 competitors have made their way into Egypt (couple late flights with our last competitor arriving at 4am this morning, ugh!), but everyone is here!

We did a quick briefing again on the rules and at 9:02am, the competitors were position at their workstations and will be working for the next 23-hours and 56-minutes to meet the requirements of the competition.

Pictured above: [back row] Jeff Guillet (judge), Thiago Cabral Valverde (Brazil), Miklos Cari Sivila (Bolivia), Mohamed Karim Es Skalli (Morocco), Abdul Rauf Butt (UK), Sebastien Cubito (France), Roland Sarkozi (Hungary), Mike Burr (USA), Chang Wu (China), Rand Morimoto (Head Judge), Valy Greavu (Judge) [squatting] Cosmin Ilie (Romania), Sherif Talaat (Egypt)

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 9:55am Cairo Time
The Case Scenario...
Each competitor has been given a 9-page case study (with 2 addendum pages) based on this year's competition theme "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the world's toughest problems". The scenario is abouta non-profit organization that is providing computer training to children ages 12-17 worldwide who otherwise do not have access to computers. The main office is where all administration takes places, and remote training facility offices are on the other end of wide area network connections where the trainings will take place. These remote training facilities will pop up worldwide, and the competitors are to build out the infrastructure needed for both the main administration office and the first training facility.

Some of the requirements the competitors need to setup:
- have email setup for communications including presence and chat
- need to be able to share documetns and collaborate internally and externally
- ability to create and post forms on a Website
- ability to manage data in a database
- etc

For those familiar with various Microsoft technologies, the competitors have been given a workstation and a single physical host server (8-core / 32GB Ram / 500GB of disk) and will need to setup Hyper-V for virtualization and work with a variety of Microsoft server products like Windows 2008, Exchange 2007, SQL 2008, SharePoint 2007, ISA 2006, System Center Operations Mgr 2007, System Center Configuration Mgr 2007, ForeFront security, etc.

About an hour into the competition, the competitors are busy building base server images after they have penciled out their design and architecture. We had a slight power failure for the workstations in this room here, although fortunately the servers are on UPS battery backup so none of the competitors lost actual work they were doing, about 3 minutes later the power came back up and everyone was back to where they left off. We understand the entire bottom floor of the hotel has no power right now, so we'll see if we end up with more impromtu power failures here the rest of the day...

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 12:28pm Cairo Time
All's quiet, Lunch is available, Visit from Ray Ozzie
The competition, now 3-1/2 hours into the 24-hour period is humming along, no new power failures, competitors are heads down building out server images and appear to be making great headway. The room is super quiet other than the hum of computer fans and the clicking of keyboards, so nothing exciting to report on the competition front.

Lunch is available for the next 90-minutes so we've told the competitors they can swing into lunch any time, grab food and bring it back, or eat down in the lunch pavillion. We're not concerned about the competitors leaving the competition room, they've all been advised to not talk about the competition, ask questions of friends or peers, and as they have worked VERY hard to even get here, last thing they want to do is get disqualified, so it's a great group of competitors working their hardest and doing their best!

We just had Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's "Chief Software Architect" join us in the IT competition room. Ray took over Bill Gate's roll as the Chief Software Architect for Microsoft a few years back, it's a very big honor for us to have Mr.Ozzie here in Cairo with us, and was nice he came to visit the IT competition!

Back to twiddling our thumbs here and answering a few random questions here/there that the competitors come up with...

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 3:35pm Cairo Time
6-1/2 hours down, still not much excitement...
We're now just over 6-1/2 hours into the 24-hour competition and still nothing too exciting to report. The competitors are chugging along on their systems building out system images, a couple are struggling to get the appropriate IP addresses set on their images (they were given a specific range of addresses to use, and they're getting creative on using addresses they haven't been assigned), and a lot of users are reading content on the Internet to learn software they've never used before, nothing like Just in Time product learning. But overall, all has been smooth, systems are continuing to operate, no further power shutdowns, and plenty of sodas, candy bars, and ice cream to keep them sugared up.

During the lull of the past few hours, I was asked to sit in as a judge for the Imagine Cup Software Design competition. VERY interesting process, 68 teams that have created software over the past few months, they then created a 10-minute video that demonstrates their software, and the judging criteria is used to determine if they've met the goals and requirements of the challenge. It was a very new experience and a chance to crossover to another competition.

We'll have our first "challenge" in 2-1/2 hours, which the competitors have already been given the challenge which is for them to be able to successfully send and receive email messages from their system(s) out to the judge's system. A task that will be interesting to see how many of the competitors are able to make this first milestone in a few hours...

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 6:09pm Cairo Time
Milestone 1 Complete!
We just completed the first of 5 milestones for the competition, after 9-hours into the competition the competitors had to demonstrate that their system was capable of sending and receiving email messages. For you techies, that means their DNS records need to be setup properly to find the judges email system, and they needed to provide a DNS record to the judges DNS to find them. About half of the competitors successfully completed this task, and the other half did not successfully complete this task.

As I mentioned to the competitors, their ability to complete this task or not, while worth 10-points in the competition, does not make a major difference in the whole competition scoring as there are still 19 milestone/tasks they need to complete, so the competition is still up in the air.

We will have a 2nd milestone a little later this evening, I can't say exactly when, but gave the competitors a heads up it will not happen in the next 90-minutes so they can go to dinner and walk around to freshen up. Half the room is empty, so it looks like they all took me up on the having a break here...

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 9:10pm Cairo Time
Hacker Attack!!!
Alright, 12-hours into the 24-hour competition period and the competitors are slowing down a bit, okay well a few of our competitors are slowing down a lot. But they are all still slugging away at the competition challenge and it seems like everyone is making great headway...

The milestone challenge (#2) was a simulated hacker attack. An hour ago, the competitors were "warned" that there was an escalation of hacker-like activity going on in the world and they needed to protect their systems to prevent being a victim of this errant activity on the net.

During this simulated attack, the judges ran a series of port scanners, vulnerability assessment tools, and security analysis algorithms against each of the competitors networks. Overall, the competitors all did extremely well on this milestone challenge, thanks in part to the "secure by default" nature of the latest Microsoft Windows operating systems, and the sensitivity and awareness of IT professionals like these top notch competitors who are made aware of the importance of security in their daily default implementation of technologies. Effectively, in the past, the nature was implement first, then worry about locking down security some time later; whereas today it is lock down security while you are implementing the technology.

A very good milestone challenge with great results across the board, something that will be very comforting to some of the competitors who finally have points up on their scorecard...

July 4, 2009 (Saturday) 10:45pm Cairo Time
Okay, this place is too quiet, got bored, fiddled with Photosynth of the competition room so you can effectively see a panorama of the entire room that we're in. Click on the link below and you'll be able to pan around the room, zoom in on one of the diagrams on the wall, and see where we've been held up for the past almost 14-hours...
Link to Photosynth of the Competition Room

We were also informed that there will be a planned power outage in the next 10-15 minutes. They have the entire competition area running on 2 gas generators for power, and every 12-hours they have to flip from one generator to another, and during that switchover our workstations drop offline for a couple minutes (the servers are on a separate UPS battery backup and are protected from the power cycle)

July 5, 2009 (Sunday) 12:37am Cairo Time
Milestone #3 - Secured Email
We are now 15+ hours into the 24-hour competition, this challenge involved having the competitors demonstrate their ability to send a secured message from an external kiosk. Effectively in this case scenario, one of the mobile executives in this non-profit organization needs to send a private message back to her main office and needs to do it from an Internet kiosk. As with any private or confidential communications, the key is to ensure that the data stream is encrypted (using HTTPS) and that the end to end message creation and transmission is protected (using SSL/TLS).

This was very much an extension of Milestone #1 that was just basic email sending and receiving, and you'd think that if 7 hours ago the competitors had to just send basic email then, that by now they would be able to send an email still and add encryption to the communications. However 2 of the competitors that were able to send emails earlier in the competition "broke" their configuration and they cannot even send a basic message right now. This is a common challenge as things work, then the competitor tries to add functionality or is tinkering with other functions and then all of a sudden something stops working.

However, now 65% into the competition, every one of the competitors has points on the board and even a person who scored very high on the first 2 milestones got a 0 on the 3rd milestone, so this is still anyone's game as it always is. With just 3 out of 20 scores recorded, there's a long way to go...

July 5, 2009 (Sunday) 2:44am Cairo Time
Network Traffic...
What does one do at 3 in the morning when all is pretty quiet on the competiton front? You map the network traffic being generated by the competitors in and out of the network...

This diagram shows the communication from all of the competitors to the outside world, so the various Web searches, blog searches, sites they're connecting to download information, etc... As part of the competition, we (the judges) have to monitor the communications of the competitors to ensure that the competitors are only accessing publicly available static Web content.

A couple years back we had a competitor that contracted a worm and the traffic from his system was going crazy as the worm was broadcasting all over the place, problem when you are out downloading a bunch of junk haphazzardly...

So far this year, no worms and no errant traffic, just your typical Bing, Google, TechNet type of stuff...

July 5, 2009 (Sunday) 3:20am Cairo Time
Milestone #4 - Chat...
At a little past 3am this morning the competitors had milestone #4 they needed to have completed. The challenge was to provide the ability for the Executive Director of this case scenario organization to be able to step up to a kiosk and carry on a quick "chat" session with someone from her organization. Technologically, we were looking for the successful implementation of Office Communications Server 2007 R2 with the instant messaging feature operational over an SSL-based Web connection.

This was a tough challenge as OCS isn't the easiest product to make work, lots of moving parts and the need to setup certificates and all. Needless to say, only a couple of the competitors had it working in time for the challenge, but one of the competitors who had successfully completed this milestone hasn't been completely successful on any of the other milestone challenges, so in a single challenge, he's now in the game!

As we zip past 18-hours of non-stop / no-sleep action here, the bowl of chocolate covered expresso beans gets emptier and emptier, and the pile of shish kabob flavored potato chips that we thought no one would venture eating is almost gone too...

July 5, 2009 (Sunday) 6:18am Cairo Time
Milestone #5 - Morning in Cairo!
The sun is rising here in Cairo and the competitors have now been at it for 21-hours straight (well, most of the competitors, we've had a couple competitors disappear in the past couple hours, likely in their rooms taking a quick nap, with one competitor that fell asleep at this workstation, we let him sleep for a while, but Valy then woke him up).

6am marked the deadline for Milestone #5 which was to manage a "Server Crash!" The scenario is that during the course of business the organization has a server failure and the IT department, properly prepared, is notified of the failure and is able to quickly respond to the failure. For you techies, this typically involves the implementation of System Center Operations Mgr 2007 (some of the competitors here have implemented the lighter System Center Essentials which is perfectly fine).

Timingwise, the hotel had informed us that they were going to cycle their gas powered generators at 6am, so we had both a simulated system outage as well as a scheduled real world power outage with the requirement of this milestone for the competitors to be electronically notified of such outage...

Half the competitors successfully met the requirements for this challenge which means they are moving along the process to completing all of the major tasks for the competition! 2-hours 48-minutes left to go, we'll see where the competitors all end up in the end here...

July 5, 2009 (Sunday) 9:08am Cairo Time
24-hours Done!!! On to the Judging!!!
It has been 24-hours since we started this competition, the room in the end was still filled with the 10 competitors we started with, everyone worked very hard to the very end! As I we completed the competition, I reminded the competitors that it wasn't about being "first place" this week, it's about competing! Regardless of where these competitors end up in the scoring, they are #1 in their country and they are at worse #10 in the world among 300,000 students that started this competition way back in September 2008!

As we wrap up the competition phase and move onto the 5-hours of judging, I want to thank my co-Captain, Chris Amaris, whom after 5-yrs with the competition an amazing supporter of education, learning, skills development, and motivation to so many in the IT industry! To Jeff Guillet and Valy Greavu, our judges that have been with the students throughout this competition from the blogs and forums, to the hour by hour of the competition. Thank you for being the mentors and supporters of the competitors to make this a wonderful competition!

And lastly, to the 10 competitors, a wonderful opportunity meeting and working with each of you this past 24-hours! We will do the judging now, get some sleep, and then enjoy the rest of the week here in Cairo among the pyramids and antiquities with our peers from around the globe!!!

This will be my last post for a couple days, and then on the evening of July 7th here in Cairo after the Worldwide Finals Awards Ceremony, I will be able to announce the top 3 finishers of this years competition!

Thank you for all of you who followed my blog these past many hours!!!

July 7, 2009 (Wednesday) 9:03pm Cairo Time
And the Winners are...
Okay, the final awards ceremony is still going on, but wanted to make a quick post of the top 3 finalists for the Imagine Cup 2009 competition here in Cairo that was just announced here on the stage overlooking the Great Pyramids of Giza!

The top finalists are:
1. Cosmin Ilie - Romania
2. Wu Chang - China
3. Miklos Cari Sivila - Bolivia

I'll post more a little later this evening, but didn't want all of you waiting at home to keep waiting... I'll share more about the final awards ceremony as well as the state of the judging, the competition, and where the Imagine Cup 2010 will be held... I'll post something in a few hours...
Okay, back online to finish this post from last night... So the final awards ceremony begun as the sun was setting in the Egyptian desert, the Great Pyramids of Giza in the backdrop behind the stage, everyone of the 440 competitors along with mentors, advisors, competition captains, judges, the media, and dignitaries from around the world joined in this celebration!

After months of qualifying rounds and sleepless nights, ending in a week of head to head competitions, cultural events, and collaboration with peers from around the globe, the energy at the final awards ceremony was enough to light up the peaceful patch of the sandy desert. As has been the tradition for from the very beginning of the IT competition in 2005 in Yokohama, the winner of the IT Competition (this year, Ilie Cosmin from Romania) when asked to give his acceptance speech invited up the 9 other IT competitors to share the stage with him. The IT competitors share a comraderie and together they know they have a shared experience that they'll never forget!

It has been a FUN competition to support this past year, a whole lot of work, but something that is extremely rewarding when given the chance to work with some of the smartest young minds from every part of the globe that'll shape our future! I'll never forget an email I received from a competitor a few years back from one of our finalists who got a check for $8000. He said he didn't compete to win money, and in fact wasn't aware there was a cash prize, he just wanted to participate. He lived in a very small town that only had a single computer, and every evening after school and finishing his chores at home, he'd walk to the doctor's house (who allowed him to use the computer) and competed online until the power in the town shut off at 10pm. When he received the check, it was more money than his mother and father made in a year, and he got a full time job working for Microsoft after the competition. He was able to send his 7 brothers and sisters to school, move his family out of a dirt floored home with a bathroom shared by 100 people to a 1 bedroom apartment in the city with 2 shared bathrooms just for their floor. He shared with me the Imagine Cup changed the life for him and his family forever. A wish that he and his parents could have only dreamed of came true.

Communicaitons like that from past competitors remind us that we can do something that can make a difference in a small way or maybe in a big way by touching the lives of young, hard working individuals in the things we choose to do...

Thank you to all of you who joined my blog this year! I wish you ALL the best!!!


July 8, 2009 (Thursday) 5:54am Cairo Time
Imagine Cup 2010 Poland!!!
Okay, I haven't even checked out of my room here in Cairo and I'm getting flooded with emails for our work with the NEXT competition! Starting this morning, the Imagine Cup 2010 competition has kicked off, competitors are encouraged to sign up and participate in the 2010 competition that'll end in Warsaw Poland next summer!

We've been working on the details for the 2010 competition now for the past month working through the details of the IT competition, how we'll step it up a notch (or two) to make the next competition as challenging and rewarding as in the past...

I've never been to Poland as I've never been to Cairo, Seoul, Delhi as the Captain and Head Judge of past Imagine Cup competitions, so I'll do some research on Poland and start getting the competition off the ground for 2010!

Catch you all next year!!!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Imagine Cup 2008 (Paris) Blog

Welcome to my Imagine Cup 2008 blog! This year's worldwide finals are being held in Paris, France! This is my 4th year as head judge of this global competition that identifies the best college students in the world in the field of technology. Between July 2nd and July 9th (2008), I will be blogging the events and activities of the competition...

*** Posted Monday, June 30, 2008 5:30pm Paris, France local time (8:30am Monday, California time) ***
Preparations have begun, co-Captain and co-Head Judge, Chris Amaris, has arrived, although the competition rooms are completely empty. Electricity still needs to be pulled into the rooms, and the computer equipment needs to arrive before setup can begin. T minus 72-hours before the students arrive, lots to do, but a lot of waiting for hotel and event logistics to take place...

*** Posted Tuesday, July 1, 2008 11:45am Paris, France local time (2:45am Tuesday, California time) ***
Monday morning here, while the events folks here get the basic room stuff in place, let me take a moment to catch everyone up to date on what this whole Imagine Cup thing is about...

The Road to the Finals in Paris: The Imagine Cup is a UNESCO endorsed / Microsoft and British Telecom sponsored competition that started off last Fall with over 100,000 competitors representing over 100 countries. Through a series of qualifying rounds over the past 9 months, the competitors have battled their way to the worldwide finals where the top 500 competitors are here in Paris to compete and hopefully be crowned the best of the best in the world. There are 9 disciplines in the competition that the students can participate in (software development, short film, information technology, digital photography, etc). I'm the head judge of the Information Technology (IT) competition. We started off with over 16,000 students representing 84-countries and we now have the top 6 in the world here to compete in a hands-on head to head competition to prove their knowledge and expertise in IT (effectively, can they design and build a full blown computer network (email, document management, remote access, firewall security, file sharing, etc).

Round 1 of the IT competition was a multiple choice online competition. During a series of 4 online quizzes, the 16,000 competitors demonstrated their basic knowledge in everything from email, databases, system management, file system development, and the like. For those in the Microsoft world of things, it's command of basic architecture, implementation, and support of technologies like Windows 2008, Exchange 2007, SharePoint 2007, Operations Mgr 2007, Configuration Mgr 2007, SQL 2005, Windows Vista, Office 2007, ISA 2006, etc. Six hundred and fifty (650) students advanced to Round 2.

Round 2 of the IT competition was a case study. The students were given a business scenario and were asked to write up a plan, proposal, and design of a complete networking environment. The competitors submitted essay responses in the form of formal design documents for a network system, most being 20-30 pages long with diagrams and design documents. Sixty five (65) competitors submitted their design proposals with the top 15 scores all being within a handful of points of one another. An amazing year with some of the best submissions to date!

The top 6 competitors that have advanced to the final competition include 2 students from China (Jiahui Wang and Yan Liu), 2 students from Romania (Andrei Alexandroni and Cosmin-Viorel Ilie), 1 student from France (Jean-Benoit Paux), and 1 student from Brazil (Cabral Valverde). More on the finalists in a future blog posting.

My Participation in the Imagine Cup: This is my 4th year as head judge of the IT Competition for the Imagine Cup, each year with the finals competition in a different country. In 2005 the finals were in Yokohama Japan, in 2006 the finals were in Agra / Delhi India, last year (2007) the finals were in Seoul Korea, and this year the finals are in Paris France. My blogs for 2006 and 2007 have been linked to the location names above...

I was asked to participate as the IT competition captain and head judge in 2005 because I had written several books on the technologies covered in the competition. Each year since I've continued to write books on the various technologies covered in the competition, I've been asked back to lead the IT competition. A fun intersection between the professional work I do in running an IT consulting firm, the work I do in writing technology and security books in my free time, and my interest in supporting academics and career development for future experts in the field of information technology...

*** Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2008 4:10pm Paris, France local time (7:10am Wednesday, California time) ***
Shaping Up!: T minus 24-hours before the students arrive and the IT Competition room is shaping up! There's electrical power in the room, partitions are setup for the competitor workspaces, and the computer equipment has arrived! All of the IT Competition judges are now on the ground here in Paris that include my co-Head judge Chris Amaris, and judges Jeff Guillet and Valy Greavu. Chris has participated in all of the Imagine Cup competitions with me since 2005, Valy was a finalist / competitor in 2005 and 2006 (and joined us as a judge in 2007 in Korea), and this is Jeff's first year as an assistant Captain and judge for the IT competition...

*** Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2008 8:01pm Paris, France local time (10:01am Wednesday, California time) ***
Our First Competition Challenge: The competitors start arriving in less than 18-hours and we've already run into our first challenge. After getting all the servers setup for the competition, the room got so hot that the hotel air conditioning system plus a portable air conditioner couldn't keep the room less than 90-degrees (plus the noise of 6 blade chassis each running 6 blade servers made one heck of a lot of noise). So, a decision was made to move the servers out of the competition room and into a different room. The picture on the right side here is Chris cleaning up the area where the servers "used to be". I'll snap off a picture of the other room shortly once they get the power pulled to that new area and the proper Parisian authorities sign off on the new wiring...

*** Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2008 9:18pm Paris, France local time (11:18am Wednesday, California time) ***
Cooler Competition Room!: With the 6 blade chassis boxes removed from the room, the temperature is now down in the room to a much more comfortable 75-degrees, we switched off the portable air conditioner, and we can now hear ourselves think again... Competitors arrive in just over 16-hours and we need to test out the blade servers, setup Internet connectivity for each of the systems, and confirm that the competitors can actually achieve the goals and objectives of the competition on the equipment they will be provided in the timeframe they will be tested...

*** Posted Wednesday, July 3, 2008 12:05am Paris, France local time (3:05pm Wednesday, California time) ***
Cooler Room / Lots of Work Ahead of Us...: It's past midnight here and the 4 of us (pictured to the right: Rand, Jeff, Chris, and Valy) are just scratching the surface of the work that needs to be done to prep for the competition... According to our countdown clock, the competition begins in 1-day, 13-hours, and 55-minutes. At least the competition room has cooled off without the servers in here, however I just stepped into the server room, and that room is cooking now (easily a good 15-20 degrees hotter now with our servers in there). Came to realize that we're housing our competition servers in the Novotel Paris hotel's server room, hopefully our systems don't overheat the hotel server room and bring the entire hotel offline...

*** Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 1:34am Paris, France local time (4:34pm Wednesday, California time) ***
What's our Carbon Credit Bill???: Okay, well we moved the servers out of the competition room into the hotel's data center earlier today because the heat generated by the servers was overheating the competition room. We've now increased the ambient temperature in the hotel server room from 68-degrees to 94-degrees (and rising) and at 1:30am here, the hotel IT folks are home asleep, so we now have the door to the computer room open, a hotel security guard posted at the door (to prevent anyone from going in/out of the data center) and a fan blowing the hot air from the back of the servers out into the hotel atrium... We were imagining our servers overheating the hotel application servers and bringing down the hotel registration system, restaurant point of sale system, and the electronic door locks system. Well, we've managed to move the problem from one place to another, what next???

*** Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 11:14am Paris, France local time (2:14am Thursday, California time) ***
Students are Arriving: It's mid-day here in Paris and the first wave of students are beginning to arrive, many have been on planes for 20 or more hours, or even 30+ hours in transit from the time they left their village, traveled by car or train to the nearest city, regional flights and then international flights in to Paris, so a lot of weary students wandering around, but a huge edge of excitement as the Welcoming Ceremony this evening will get the competition officially rolling!

We got our start just past 7am this morning getting the competition server equipment ready. The hotel IT people came in this morning and freaked out that the door to their data center was open all evening (despite our having a security guard posted there preventing ANYONE from entering), so the door to the Data Center will remain closed, and we are using the HP Insight Mgr to monitor the temperature of the room and servers and have been instructed to go to the room when the temperature heats up, temporarily open the door, and turn on a fan to blow out the hot air. This will be a lot of fun to do...

I popped out of the hotel for 30 seconds to snap off a picture of the Novotel hotel with the Eiffel Tower in the background. I'll use a real camera at some point and get a better picture, right now using the "fancy" camera on my mobile phone, doesn't do much good, but decent enough for this Weblog...

*** Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 4:47pm Paris, France local time (7:47am Thursday, California time) ***
Hey, it's Thursday!: I just realized today is THURSDAY, July 3rd, I've been posting that it is Wednesday, so I changed all the days of the week in my blog below to get the right date...

So we finally blew the circuit breakers for the hotel, at about 10am this morning with all of our servers (36 blades) going full blast, we pulled enough power to bring down power for the entire 2nd and 3rd floor of the building. Unfortunately the servers all went down when we were about 87% complete with the installation so we had to start the 6-hour rebuild process all over from scratch (for you Windows techies, think about 36 servers with Windows 2008 installing and showing 80-90% "complete" and then the power goes down, ouch...)

Just had the head of the hotel operations explain to us that they will be putting our servers on an isolated circuit so that we won't be impacted by power problems in other parts of the hotel... (hmm, we were told when we plugged the servers in 24-hours ago that the servers were on a dedicated circuit, must have been a different "kind" of dedicated circuit then than what they plan to do now (or maybe they are finally doing what they were supposed to do yesterday...))

The competitors are all going to a dinner reception in a little while with the Mayor of Paris and the head of UNESCO, we'll be in the competition room and hotel data center moving over circuits and hopefully creating a stable power environment for our servers...

Oh, and the picture above of the Eiffel Tower is the "better picture" I snapped off this afternoon from outside the hotel, slightly cloudy out, but overall pretty nice out. According to our countdown clock, the hands-on head to head competition starts in 21-hours, 17-mins, and 29-secs, stay tuned...

*** Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 6:20pm Paris, France local time (9:20am Thursday, California time) ***
Made Joe's Video Blog: So the isolation of power is happening in the Data Center of the hotel, so we are waiting for "15-minutes" while they do the cutover (we're anticipating it'll take a bit longer than 15-minutes...). Anyway, to see a video posted by Microsoft Channel 8 of what we have going on here, Joe Wilson, Microsoft's Senior Director of Academic Initiatives (the head honcho of the Imagine Cup) swang by yesterday with his film crew and filmed us as we were moving the servers out of the competition room and into the data center. Here's a link to Joe Wilson's Video

*** Posted Thursday, July 3, 2008 10:30pm Paris, France local time (1:30pm Thursday, California time) ***
Hardware is Ready: So we think we're ready... The power has been redone and isolated in the data center so that we should eliminate problems with power failures caused by a power overload. We have also gotten all of the servers configured and tested. Each of the competitors will get an HP Blade Chassis with a blade full of application images (Exchange 2007, SharePoint 2007, ISA 2006, Hyper-V, etc) and 5 additional blades that the competitors will turn the blades into fully working application servers. Because the OS install takes 1-2 hours for each blade, rather than having a 10th of the competition time spent installing basic Windows 2008 on a blade, we went ahead and installed the server operating system on each of the blades, tested IP connectivity between each blade and the DMZ network, ran sysprep to clean up the configuration and made each blade "out of the box" basic configured so that the competitors have to get the servers configured to work tomorrow, and in a manner we know the hardware is working properly.

About the Competitors: Take a little downtime on the technical side to introduce to you our finalists:
  • Andrei Alexandrouni (Romania): From Hunedoara Romania, a graduating senior at the University of Timisoara Politechnica who competed as a finalist in 2007 in Korea
  • Cabral Valverde (Brazil): From Sao Paulo, our first finalist from South America in over 4-years, a student from Colegio Abaco with an interest in Windows 2008 and server virutalization
  • Cosmin-Viorel Ilie (Romania): From the city of Tecuci in the Galati county of Romania, returning this year as a finalist who competed in 2007 in Seoul Korea
  • Jean-Benoit Paux (France): From Villeurbanne in France, a student at INSA Lyon, a graduating senior with an interest in Unified Communications and also a finalist from 2007
  • Jiahui Wang (China): From Beijing China, a student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, looking forward to both the final competition at the Imagine Cup, and to go home and watch the Olympics in his home town
  • Yan Liu (China): A finalist from Wuhan with an interest in Unified Communications and a life long learner of new ideas and experiences

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 10:50am Paris, France local time (2:50am Friday, California time) ***
The Competition is about to Begin!!!: The atmosphere is tense as the competition will begin in just over 3 hours. We did a briefing with the competitors this morning at 9:30am going over the rules of the IT Competition and the "general" timeline and expectations of the competition (more details will be provided to the competitors at 2pm when we are ready to start). The competitors have smiles on their faces and a bit of nervousness, but some of the sharpest IT folks around are ready to roll...

In the picture from left to right: Kneeling (judges Jeff Guillet and Chris Amaris). Standing (Jean-Benoit Paux, Jiahui Wang, Yan Liu, Cosmin-Viorel Ilie, Judge Valy Greavu, Andrei Alexandroni, Judge Rand Morimoto, Cabral Valverde)

I'll post more once we kick this baby off!

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 12:45pm Paris, France local time (3:45am Friday, California time) ***
Pictures from Last Nights Opening Ceremony: While we were still working to get the whole IT competition setup last night, the competitors all attended an Opening Ceremony at the Paris City Hall. A few pictures (Joe Wilson addressing the competitors / All of the competitors in the City Hall venue / Jean-Louis Missika - Deputy Mayor of Paris) from last nights venue...

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 2:50pm Paris, France local time (5:50am Friday, California time) ***
The Competition Has Begun!!!: The 2pm mark has passed and we have officially kicked off the Imagine Cup 2008 IT Competition!!! The competitors were briefed on the details of the competition and have begun building computer network systems. As a brief background, the competitors have been given a scenario, in line with the "Sustainable Environment" theme of the entire competition, to build a secure, high performance network with email communications, secured document sharing, data collection and information analysis capabilities, and remote access capabilities all based on a blade and virtualized Hyper-V environment.

All of the competitors are chugging along, moving VERY quickly through the first series of tasks, the media (170 of them here today) are coming in and filming the competitors and broadcasting the events of the Imagine Cup around the world!

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 4:41pm Paris, France local time (7:41am Friday, California time) ***
What's in a Date, and Parlez vous Francais???: So for all you techies, so if you build 36 blade servers and install Windows Server on all of the blades, chose to NOT activate Windows (because you have a good 90-days to run Windows without activating, so just "bypass" the license key area when installing the operating system because this competition will be over before you'll be required to activate the Windows license), BUT you didn't realize that the date on the blade servers were set in European format, so when we built the servers yesterday (7/3/2008), in European format that is actually March 7, 2008 (not July 3, 2008), so when the competitors setup timesync and/or changed the time to the proper date, all of their temporary server licenses immediately expired and activation was required... And, images that do not have internet connectivity in place yet, the systems cannot be activated over the Internet, so we've had to dial in by telephone to get activation codes... But, if you are in France and you call the toll free license activation line, guess what language the activation system uses??? I can count up to about 4 in French, and definitely not fast enough or clear enough to do it through an automated phone system. Teach me to not pay better attention in French class, or maybe we should have checked whether the date entry format was in mm/dd/yyyy or dd/mm/yyyy format... We did manage to work through getting all the network connections setup before changing the date so we could easily activate over the Internet instead of one by one over the phone...

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 5:55pm Paris, France local time (8:55am Friday, California time) ***
Flashback to India: Okay, moments after I pushed up the last blog entry, we lost power in the entire hotel (actually a 4 city block area here). Everything came down, servers, workstations, internet connections as well as lights, elevators, etc... When I noted "flashback to India," in the Imagine Cup 2006 competition in India, we lost power every 60-90 minutes throughout the 24-hours competition, that was a lot of fun trying to install software and build out a computer network without electricity... Hey, maybe we'll refocus the Imagine Cup theme from "Imagine a world where technology enables a sustainable environment" to "Imagine a world without electricity..." and see what our IT competitors come up with for their end project solution...

Anyway, electrical power came back up so we're back up and running... One of the notes I made to the competitors before we started the competition was that since we've lost power a couple times yesterday during our prep, to expect the power to go off during our competition, so to save their work frequently, and keep track of what they were doing and where they were in their configurations. At 18-24 years old coming from countries or locations where local power goes on and off on a regular basis, this little outage hasn't phased any of the competitors one bit. They're all back and plugging away...

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 7:30pm Paris, France local time (10:30am Friday, California time) ***
Crawling the World Wide Web: And when I use the word "crawling," I'm not using the tech term of indexing the WWW for content, but rather the Internet connection here is going REALLY slowly... Between 400 competitors all on the Web downloading software, uploading projects, and searching content plus 170 people from the media also pulling down and pushing up stories, hi-res pictures, and videos, to even get the Google splash page is taking a count of 4 (seconds) and I tried to get to the Amazon page and that took a count of 54 (seconds) to get the page up... But, the www is equally slow for all of the competitors, so no one has an advantage or disadvantage, everyone just "waits" while their Webpages are displayed...

The competitors are getting "care packages" from country-mates delivering M&Ms, Red Bull, and dried cuttlefish... Dinner will be served in the next few minutes and available for the next couple hours, so we're expecting the competitors to get out of their seats soon to grab a bite to eat, but likely will bring their food back to their work areas and continue to work while they eat... See, this competition will get these students acclimated to the real world of IT where they snack on junk food and eat in their cubicles all through the night...

Power has remained on, no major emergencies, so far, things are rolling along! Haven't fielded a question from a competitor in the past hour+, they all seem to be making great progress!

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 8:35pm Paris, France local time (11:35am Friday, California time) ***
A Visit from an Imagine Cup IT Competition Legend...: During the 6th hour of the 24-hour competition we were visited by Stefan Plizga, the very first Imagine Cup IT Competition 1st Place winner! After finishing as the "best of the best in the world" in Yokohama in 2005, Stefan took on a full time job working for Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) here in France. Stefan is still an MCS consultant specializing in the field of Unified Communications (email, voicemail, telephony). Pictured here is Stefan and Valy Greavu, who in 2005, Valy placed 4th as a competitor, then 2nd in 2006 in India, now an Imagine Cup IT Competition judge and Professor in Romania.

A wonderful opportunity to have legacies of the Imagine Cup continue to visit and participate in the continued success of the competition!

*** Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 11:17pm Paris, France local time (2:17pm Friday, California time) ***
First Milestone Challenge!!!: We just had our FIRST milestone challenge... There are several points within the 24-hour competition where we'll be stopping the competition and checking in with the competitors to pass a specific milestone. Some of the milestones will be in direct response to ensuring their systems are protected from viruses, their networks are resilient to power outages, or they have proper backup systems in place in case of a disaster. In this first challenge, it was simple... Simply demonstrate that you (the competitor) can successfully send an email message to a centralized common host. This milestone was to just make sure that everyone was on track to have a basic working network, that they are still alive and awake, and a "simple" task that hopefully could boost their morale as we edge into the wee hours of the evening... (oh, and by the way, 3 out of the 6 successfully completed the milestone, and a couple are close but not quite there, and one of the competitors is still working on the milestone...)

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 1:03am Paris, France local time (4:03pm Friday, California time) ***
Quiet... Short Films Anyone???: Okay, so this is the quietest group of IT competitors to date, they're all just chugging along, look like they're doing pretty well, but no one is getting up, smoking a pack of cigarettes every hour, and I only see at most 2 Red Bulls on a couple of the desks. So quiet here, I've been aimlessly surfing, Amazon's deals, and YouTube... So on YouTube, I found a couple videos I thought worth sharing...

So while I'm running the IT Competition for the Imagine Cup testing folks on their ability to build computer network systems, there are 8 other categories. One of my favorites is the Short Film category which is a 36-hour challenge where the competitors are given a video camera and digital editing equipment, and they are given a theme/topic. They then have 36-hours to storyboard their thoughts, recruit "actors", roam the streets of Paris, stage and film their content, edit the content, and come up with a 12-minute video. It's amazing what these students produce.

While on YouTube, I found the #1 short film videos of previous years:

They're fun to watch, and something a bit different than watching 6 competitors tap away at keyboards as we roll into the 1am hour here... Although Chris just announced the next Milestone Challenge will occur in 1-hour, so stay tuned...

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 2:14am Paris, France local time (5:14pm Friday, California time) ***
50% of the way through, and Milestone 2!!!: So we've crossed the 50% barrier now into the 2am hour here in Paris, the competitors have been at it now for 12 solid hours, although no sign of anyone "breaking" under stress or pressure yet, they all seem focused and working hard!

We also just had our 2nd milestone, which in a networking environment is to prove high availability and communications sustainability beyond just providing environmental sustainability. So this milestone challenge was to prove that the competitors email systems were redundant, so we performed a forced shutdown of their primary email system and asked each of the competitors to demonstrate they were still able to send email messages despite their primary mail system was disabled...

Only 1 of the competitors was able to get partial credit on this milestone, the rest were not successful demonstrating the functionality, although this was a very tough task and they know what needs to be done, they just need time to make it all work... The competitors have just over 11-hours and 45-minutes to go...

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 5:52am Paris, France local time (8:52pm Friday, California time) ***
Sunrise in Paris...: For those joining the blog from the Pacific Timezone and about to see 4th of July fireworks, the sun is rising here in Paris and the "day" is about to begin. The competitors are now crossing the 16-hour mark on the competition, 8-hours left to go... One of the competitors who was struggling to get email working throughout the entire competition had a MAJOR breakthru in the past hour where he finally has successfully sent and received an email message out and in to his network!!!

All of the competitors are still clicking away at their mice and tapping their way across their keyboards. A couple of the competitors are zipping back and forth between window session screens so quickly that I'm amazed they can even keep up with what they are doing, but they seem to know what they are trying to accomplish, and every time they toggle back and forth, it seems like they're getting things done... One of the competitors has their monitor screen set to like 1660x1280 or maybe even 2048x1660, not sure how he can even see or read what's on his screen, but instead of toggling between screens, he easily has 3-4 windows open simultaneously, to each their own...

Still no more than 1 or 2 cans of empty Red Bulls on the desks, and one competitor brought in an entire pot of coffee, but no sleepers (yet). One of the competitors cubicle is an advertisement for junk food, let's see, can of Pringles, 3 empty M&M wrappers, family pack of KitKat bars (half the bag eaten)...

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 7:08am Paris, France local time (10:08pm Friday, California time) ***
Got our first sleeper...: 17-hours of non-stop competition and "finally" we have our first sleeper, although poor guy, he feel asleep 6 minutes before we announced the next Milestone challenge, so he woke up to get the instructions for the challenge, so much for a "good nights rest"... We just distributed the 4th challenge to the competitors. In the next hour, they need to be able to demonstrate the ability to securely check-in and check-out documents from the remote Internet cafe. Gave the competitors a tip that this will likely be best served by using SharePoint 2007, although they all shook their head and knew that. For those who have been struggling with basic email, this might be a competition challenge they can be successful accomplishing as the check-in and check-out has nothing to do with any other products as pre-req's. It'll be great to be at the 3/4 mark and have all of the competitors with a few points to their name, they can probably all use the boost right about now... Will be back within the hour to post an update on Milestone #4...

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 8:15am Paris, France local time (11:15pm Friday, California time) ***
18 hours down, 6 to go...: Can't believe we've been rolling along for 18 straight hours, although the keyboards and mice are clicking a little slower around here than before, or you get the switch back/forth between screens without changes being made (switch, switch, switch, switch), it's about now that we start seeing fatigue set in where the competitors second guess themselves and the work they've done to date and start un-doing things, start un-installing or re-installing, and making steps backwards... However, everyone is still 100% in the game here. No clear cut leader...

After this recent milestone challenge, everyone has points on the board, so all of the students are in the game! Within the next hour or two, things will pick up again as the daylight will be brighter, and the light at the end of the tunnel will be very near, so they'll all get a boost of last minute energy... More to come...

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 9:19am Paris, France local time (12:19am Saturday, California time) ***
Update on some of the competitors...: It's still pretty quiet here, competitors are working away, however now that it's past 8am here, the media have been by every few moments to see if the competitors were still alive... Just finished a filming and interview with the Brazilian media covering the Brazil competitor, Thiago-Cabral Valverde... I didn't know it, but Thiago-Cabral is only 17 years old, likely the youngest competitor we've ever had in the IT finals... This is the first time he's traveled outside of Brazil, something his country-mates are routing for him as the pride of Viva Brasil!

Jean-Benoit Paux, the sole French finalist here in the IT competition is visited regularly and cheered on by his countrymates. Important looking folks dressed up in suits and ties, to other competitors in other categories from France regularly stop in to visit with words of encouragement!

Both China and Romania have very strong country team leads that visit their competitors every couple hours, even in the wee hours of the morning today, their country leads would bring in snacks, coffee, drinks, and encouraging tidbits. The competitors always get a smile when they have a visitor for them, a pleasant distraction from the intense atmosphere of the competition...

It would be interesting to compare video footage of interviews of me from the start of the competition some 19-hours ago to now as I'm sure I'm a bit more sluggish and blurry eyed than when we all started. Valy, one of our co-judges and a former two time competitor commented earlier this morning that it's better to be a competitor than to be a judge for these long hours as the competitor is actively working to do something, whereas as a judge, it's a lot of idle time and waiting for things to occur...

Oh, and one of the reporters asked me a question, "...has any of the competitors given up and quit?", my response "...absolutely not! After battling from 16,000 competitors at the start of this competition 9-months ago to the 6 in this room right now, these students aren't quitters. They're in it for the long run, and despite being up for 19+ hours, jet lagged, and close to running out of steam, they'll get their second wind shortly as this is what they've studied for and prepared for, and they only have 4-hours and 45-minutes left to strive to be the best of the best in the world!!!

Oh, and just had the Egyptian contingency in here for an interview (the 2009 Imagine Cup will be hosted in Cairo Egypt next year), and the head of the contingency asked me why we were forcing the students to work 24-hours around the clock, why wouldn't we allow the competitors to go back to their rooms and get 3-4 hours of sleep and extend the competition by another 3-4 hours... My response " the real world of IT, if a network is down or there is an emergency event in their company and the network HAS to be up by 8am the next morning, the implied "job" of the IT person is to work through the night and have everything up and running before the next work day. It takes discipline, focus, concentration, and dedication to make tough decisions while protecting organizational data and electronic records with due care. This will not be the last time these soon to be IT professionals will work under difficult situations, and hopefully the experience they gain from the Imagine Cup will make them better and more effective professionals needed to properly care for the network resources organization's entrust into their care..."

Great time for the media to interview me, I can get all philosophical and stuff and blame it on my being up for the past 24+ hours...

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 11:49am Paris, France local time (2:49am Saturday, California time) ***
Winding down...: The IT Challenge goes for another 2-hours and 11-minutes and then we do the judging. So far we've gone through 5 separate milestone challenges where we've tested the competitors on incremental steps in their setup and configuration of technologies, and they have all made incredible strides to meeting these milestones. However the scores for these milestones account for less than 20% of the total score of the competition, so this is still anyone's ballgame.

We have seen in years past, individual who were doing extremely well throughout the competition milestones and then in the last 2 hours of the competition try to "improve" on their progress and completely screw things up to the point where nothing worked in the final judging, so we will only know who will have met the end goals of the competition when we walk through their final configurations this afternoon...

At our 11am milestone challenge, the room was filled with media and press taking photos, videos, and then conducting interviews with the competitors. Everyone is excited about the competition as it nears its end...

*** Posted Saturday, July 5, 2008 6:13pm Paris, France local time (9:13am Saturday, California time) ***
And the winner is...: The 24-hour period is over and the IT challenge is complete! Over the past 4-hours since the 24-hour competition was complete we did one on one 30-minute reviews with each of the competitors. Unfortunately, I cannot say who the winner is as that will be announced at the final awards ceremony on Tuesday... So, everyone will have to wait for the names of the winners...

Before I wrap up this blog and crawl in to bed, I wanted to congratulate ALL of the competitors of the IT competition. Regardless who takes 1st, 2nd, or 3rd prize being awarded, just the shear fact that the competitors have worked their way from 16,000 competitors from 84-countries down to the best 6 in the world is a HUGE HUGE accomplishment, something that is an amazing feat! None of the competitors gave up, quit, cut corners, or were defeated by the competition, rather each competitor did their very best in a VERY tough competition!

It's been a grueling 24-hours plus 3-hours of judging... Just submitted the official results in to the competition leads, powered down and bundled up the cables and everything for all of the servers, and will make a few rounds of visits to folks in the competition, then will call it a night...

Come back on Tuesday morning around noonish California time, I will post the winners and info from the awards celebration!!! Thank you for ALL of you for following the competition over the past few days. It has once again been a wonderful competition to be a part of, and look forward to seeing the competitors up on stage on Tuesday!

*** Posted Tuesday, July 8, 2008 4:40pm Paris, France local time (7:40am Tuesday, California time) ***
We have the Winners!!!: Hello all, we have the winners formally announced here in Paris for the 2008 Imagine Cup IT Competition! Set in the Louvre Museum, the Imagine Cup final awards ceremony was joined by over 370 competitors plus ambassadors, dignitaries, judges, college mentors, family, and friends. The winners of the 2008 Imagine Cup IT Competition are as follows:
1st Place: Jean-Benoit Paux (France)
2nd Place: Cosmin-Voirel Ilie (Romania)
3rd Place: Yan Liu (China)

It's hard to call out specific winners in this competition as ALL of the competitors have worked extremely hard and overcome many personal obstacles to make it to the final competition. As I started off the IT competition this past week in Paris, I reminded the 6 finalists that each of them already were winners. Starting from over 16,000 competitors to be in the final 6 is an amazing feat in itself!

A long journey it has been over the past 9 months to get to the final awards here in Paris. Congratulations to all of the IT competitors for a GREAT job done!!!

A final farewell to our 2008 competition with a photo here of ALL of the 9 category winners of the Imagines Cup 2008! Some $260,000 was given away this afternoon in prize money, but most importantly is that the competition has brought together the best IT minds in the world from colleges and universities spanning over 100 countries. It is our hope that these individuals will help lead us into a safe, secure, an innovative world of tomorrow!

*** Posted Tuesday, July 8, 2008 6:34pm Paris, France local time (9:34am Tuesday, California time) ***
Ready for Egypt???: The ink isn't even dry on the award certificates of the 2008 competitors and we're already taking registrations for the Imagine Cup 2009 competition. For the past several weeks we have been working to improve, expand, and develop new challenges for the next year. It was announced that the Imagine Cup 2009 competition final will be held in Egypt!

The first round of competition will start as early as this October (2008), so we're encouraging competitors to sign up and start being ready for this upcoming year!!! For any of you who have been following my blog, THANK YOU very much for your interest in this competition! If you know of ANY college students (family, friends, relatives, etc) that have an interest in technology (they don't have to be majoring in computers, they just have to "be in college" right now and have an interest in competition in IT categories), send them to to sign up for any of the 9+ categories for next year! That's it, I'll catch you all next summer when I blog from Egypt... Rand

Imagine Cup 2007 (Seoul Korea) Blog

Welcome to my Imagine Cup 2007 blog! This year's worldwide finals are being held in Seoul Korea! During the period from August 3rd thru August 10th, the Imagine Cup will spin up, challenge, and award recognition to the best of the best in the world in a handful of IT categories. Join me as I blog this event, starting from my departure from San Francisco on August 2nd thru the worldwide finals on August 10th!

And the Winner is...
*** Posted Friday, Aug 10, 2007 11:58pm Seoul, Korea local time ***
Alright, the moment you've all been waiting for, the posting with who the winner is for the Imagine Cup 2007 IT Competition! Well, the politically correct thing to say is that all 6 of the competitors are winners, blah, blah, blah... Okay, so the net of it all is that this was a competition, and someone was going to be crowned "the" best of the best, and that's what you are all expecting to read about.

Here's a video that tee'd up the award recognition for the IT Competition...
So, to get on with the answer of the ranking, the top 3 go to the following:

  • First Place: Zhifend Chen, China
  • Second Place: Romain Larmet, France
  • Third Place: Ilie Cosmin Viorel, Romania
During the awards ceremony this afternoon, First Place winner, Zhifend Chen invited ALL of the IT competition competitors up to stage for recognition, a tradition that has been a part of the IT awards (all other awards only have the winners up on stage, but for all 3 years I've been a judge and captain for the IT Competition, the first place winner has invited all competitors to be recognized, which is an amazing recognition that all of the competitors fought it out equally, and they shared a comradery that extended beyond just the winners trophy!

So, a HUGE congratulations to all of the competitors in the IT Competition!

When the awards were all handed out, ALL of the individuals from all 9 categories were invited up to the stage. The individuals on the state were recognized for their accomplishment after 8-9 months of qualifying arounds and extremely challenging head to head competitions!

Lastly, it was formally announced that the Imagine Cup 2008 competition will be held in Paris France! The Deputy Mayor of Paris along with a member of the French Senate joined in accepting the Imagine Cup flag as the next City sponsor of the Imagine Cup competition!!!

So, this entry is now complete! I thank everyone for joining me on this blog, and I look forward to blogging the 2008 Imagine Cup competition from Paris next year!!!


Judging is DONE!!!
*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 4:14pm Seoul, Korea local time ***
We completed the competition at 2pm and just completed the last of the individual judging. I'm not at liberty right now to comment on the individuals and their success or progress on the components of the competition, however I must say that overall, ALL of the competitors did an INCREDIBLE job given the 24-hour time period, no sleep, and a whole lot of tasks! I truly believe we had the best of the best in the world competing this week, and that this competition will identify the individuals who were able to meet more of goals and requirements of the competition.

The final announcement of the first, second, and third place competitors will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Friday afternoon, of which I will post the details at that time.

Again, thank you to all of you for joining us remotely for the competition. Check back on this site on Friday morning (Aug 10, 2007) California time, we'll have the results posted then...

And the Winners of the Online Competition are...
*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 1:18pm Seoul, Korea local time ***
So on one of my earlier postings, I setup an online competition that encouraged you folks coming in remotely to participate along with our competitors here in Seoul. I wanted to thank ALL of those who submitted your competition entry, and for those of you who just sent in an email or two of words of encouragement!

The three individuals who the IT Competition Judges felt addressed the requirements of the case study the best are:
* Sharif T from Egypt
* Marco V from Brazil
* Wu C from Taiwan

The 3 of you will receive a gift from me that I have purchased here in Korea as well as a signed copy of one of the latest books I've written.

Congratulations and thank you to all of you for your participation!

59 Minutes to Go!*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 12:50pm Seoul, Korea local time ***
So the final minutes here will be very busy, so I'm going to throw out this posting and maybe there will be one or two more in the next hour, kind of give you the logistics here... As we sit less than an hour away from the completion of a VERY long "day" here in Seoul, I'd have to say I am EXTREMELY proud of each and every one of the competitors. We have asked them to design, build, configure, optimize, and tune a full blown network in a 24-hour period with no sleep and after most of these students have traveled halfway around the world for many of them their first time out of their home country. Not a single one of them have given up, and even the person who had gotten 0 on the three milestones ended up with a perfect 10 on the final two milestone challenges, so preseverence seems to be paying off!

In my final pep talk to the finalists just a couple hours ago, I relayed to the 6 finalists that we started off this IT competition at the end of last year with 10,133 competitors representing over 138 countries. These 6 finalists have worked VERY hard to advance through the qualifying arounds to end up here in Seoul, and at worst, they'll end up #6 in the entire world! There is NOTHING wrong with coming in #6 here today, and quite frankly, just to make it to the finish line with head up high knowing they can overcome a lot of challenges is being a winner as it is! I am very proud of their accomplishments, and like with the previous year's competitors, many of whom I am still in contact with, I look forward to seeing these individuals advance in the world of IT or whatever profession they choose, and to give their 100% as they've done here today!

We will be wrapping up and announcing the winners of the Online Competition in the next few minutes, and then at 2pm local time (about an hour from now) we will conclude the IT competition. Each competitor will draw a number, and that will be the individual judging sequence where the judges will spend 15-minutes each to go through the competitor's network solution. Each of the 3 judges will write down scores (1 thru 10) across 20 different tasks we are looking for that demonstrate the competitor met the requirements of the competition. We will hand in our scorecards to the competition management and the announcement will be made on Friday of this week (August 10th) at the Worldwide Final Ceremonies here in Seoul. I will post the results of the final ceremony on Friday afternoon Seoul Korea time (which will be around 1am on Friday morning California time)

I will have a handful of additional postings this afternoon, so stay tuned... And for all of you following the competition, THANK YOU for being a part of the Imagine Cup 2007 IT Competition!!!


Last Milestone Done, T-Minus 2-hrs 15-min to go!!!
*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 11:45am Seoul, Korea local time ***
We're down to the final wire, we completed the 5th and final Milestone Challenge and heading to the finish line! There are definitely smiles on the faces of the competitors as they see the light at the end of the tunnel, although when one of the competitors said "I wish I had another 12 hours so I could finish up the scenario", I asked him "do you really want to be here another 12-hours?" He just smiled (I'm not sure to take that he's in for another 12-hours or whether it was a sigh of relief that he'll only be here for another 2...).

Anyway, the 5th milestone challenge was on network and server monitoring. In IT, we don't just build network servers and keep them running, but we want to monitor them to make sure we know they are failing before the systems crash so we can proactively fix and maintain them. So this challenge was to have the competitors install a monitoring tool (in the Microsoft world, that's System Center Operations Manager 2007) to monitor the network. We pulled the plug on their WAN connection, and we wanted to see their systems create alerts that in the real world would page the IT person that there's a problem.

Four of the six competitors successfully completed this challenge, there's a lot of confidence now that things they were struggling on early on, they have control of now and taking care of things!
So, with the 5 milestones done, it's just 2-hours and 7 minutes left before the final bell where the competitors are to demonstrate the network they have built in the previous 24-hours meets the business requirements of the scenario.

Best of luck to the competitors as they head to the finish line!!!

Sunrise, Milestone#4, and T-Minus 6 Hours to Go!!!
*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 8:05am Seoul, Korea local time ***
So it is officially morning here in Korea, the sun is up (I went outside to go see the sun, actually one of the first times I've been outside in the middle of the day to see sunlight since I arrived here in Korea 4-days ago), and with 6-hours to go, we had Milestone #4 (of 5) and nearing the end.

Milestone Challenge #4 was one where the competitors were asked to record a video (similar to a school lecture) and make the video lecture available to students to watch. At the end of Milestone #3, we gave the competitors some hints. There are MANY ways of accomplishing this task, could be as simple as using the Webcam they were provided, capture a short 30-second video, and copy the WMV video file up on their SharePoint or Exchange or Web server then make that content available for a remote browser user to access the file. Pretty crude, but meets the basic requirements of the milestone challenge, and something I told the students they'll get partial credit for probably less than 5-10 minutes of effort.

To get more credit, I told them they would install Windows Media Server, a Windows 2003 free add-in that'll allow them to "publish" the video on a Webpage. This would get them likely 3/4 credit for this solution as it required installing Windows Media Server, but in the real world, WMS provides the ability of throttling streaming content, logs and tracks access, and better manages the flow of high quality video over the Internet. For someone not familiar with Windows Media Server, this might take 1-2 hours to install and get working.

For the maximum amount of credit, the student would demonstrate full stream "live" video where the content would stream live. This also uses Windows Media Server, but requires a streaming session to provide managed, throttled, and logged activity in a highly controllable configuration. This would take someone the full 3-hours from the last milestone to figure this out correctly.

When we shared with the competitors at the close of the last milestone 3-hours ago what this 4th milestone was about and the options, I suggested to them that if they were already finished with most of the other competition requirements, go for the max of doing the live video streaming. But being that many of them appeared to be a little behind, I suggested they take the short cut, get partial credit with 5-10 minutes of effort, and focus their time on tightening up the core infrastructure of their network in the extra time they had since the last milestone.

All but one of the competitors were successful at demonstrating at least partial functionality, a HUGE win for the competitors to get momentum on success toward the end here, and I think the added time gave them the chance to clean up their existing setups in anticipation of the 5th and final challenge milestone, and to be ready to demonstrate full functionality of their setup when the competition ends in under 6-hours...

Zombie International...
*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 6:02am Seoul, Korea local time (7-hrs, 58-mins left to go) ***

So I took a bathroom break (way too many Coca-Cola's for me too) and like about a dozen and a half other students from other competitions, we also wanted to step outside for a breath of fresh air. Now of course, despite a staircase right next to the elevator, we all waited for the elevator to go down 1 level to get outside...

As we were waiting for the elevator, we introduce ourselves to one another. In this small little grouping, there was a student from Sri Lanka, one from Bosnia, another from Ecuador, one from China, a student from Sweden, a couple students from Brazil, along with students from the US, South Africa, Russia, India, Australia, the Czech Republic, and Singapore. While everyone was clearly exhausted and walking international zombies, they all shared the same goal of shaking off the sleepiness, get re-energized, and head to the home stretch of the competition!

What WERE those mysterious green sprinkles in the cookies???
*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 5:26am Seoul, Korea local time (8-hrs, 34-mins left to go) ***
Okay, well we're well past 15-hours into the 24-hour competition period and the competitors are holding up amazingly well! Forunately one of the sponsors of this event is Coca-Cola Korea, and the hotel staff has been kind enough to keep restocking our Coke, Coke Light, and Coke ZERO supply here in the room as more and more cans of soda are consumed, which there have been more and more bathroom breaks for the competitors, that's getting their blood circulating at least and keeping them awake!

The hotel delivered these box lunches a little while ago that had a very interesting pickle sandwich with a slice of roast beef down the middle. There were definitely more pickles than beef in this sandwich, reminds me of an old Wendy's burger commerical, which of course in this idle state of doing nothing, I downloaded off YouTube to bide the time.

Now, the sandwich was only part of the "interesting factor" of the box snack. Now I got to the cookies, and I should have just stopped with eating the chocolate cookie that wasn't chocolate but rather, hmm, actually I don't know what it tasted like. Well have you ever bitten into something thinking you were going to get a specific taste, but it wasn't what you expected? But see, I didn't learn and there was this white cookie with green speckles in it. So I ate this mystery green speckled cookie, and you know what, it too didn't taste like what I expected. I expected a cookie to be, maybe sweet? This cookie was like eating a slice of melba toast with peppermint crystals in it, VERY interesting...

Oh, by the way, have you ever read the ingredients listed on the side of a can of Pringles potato chips???

Can you guess there's a bit of idle time here for the judges while the competitors are sweating it out trying to make their systems work???

Okay, well I did survive eating the pickle sandwich and green speckled cookie enough to help judge the 3rd milestone round at 5am in the morning here. The 5am challenge was for the competitors to demonstrate they could remotely access their network to retrieve data in a secure manner as I noted in the posting below. One competitor was able to get it working perfectly, his first challenge he was successful completing, so a HUGE smile went on his face as he's finally on the board with a score! Three of the competitors didn't quite use SharePoint for the solution as we had expected, instead they re-used their Exchange 2007 Outlook Web Access to demonstrate secured access to data, which that earned them half credit for the challenge, still better than nothing. So at the 15-hour mark (with 9 hours to go), the score is pretty much even.
We gave the competitors the milestone challenge data for the next challenge that'll occur at 8am local time here, and I gave them all a pep talk as they are ALL very much in this competition, to stay focused, and to keep on at it! I actually got a couple smiles out of the competitors, which either they are sleepy/goofy, or there's some sense of accomplishment or satisfaction that in 9 hours, they will have everything all figured out and working!

Milestone 2 Complete!
*** Posted Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007 2:43am Seoul, Korea local time (11-hrs, 17-mins left to go) ***
So we crossed over into Tuesday here, and we also passed the halfway point on the competition and the competitors are quick amazingly still going strong. The second milestone just came and went. The challenge was for the competitors to make sure that in their networking environment that their main school campus location and their remote branch campus location had the ability of sharing information between the two locations, and remain fully operational even in the event that the Internet connection they share to link the schools together went down. This is a common scenario where data is frequently stored only in one location and if the internet connection fails, anyone on the "other side" of the internet connection have no access to information.

However, Windows 2003 has a built-in technology called Distributed File System Replication (DFS-R) that replicates information to secondary, tertiary, and other locations. That way, in the event of an internet failure, the users on both side of the connection still have access to a local replica of the information, thus they can read, write, and store information just as if the network was still operational. The only thing they wouldn't be able to do is share the exact same information simulatenously across the connection until the Internet is back up and running.

So there was a 6-way tie in meeting this milestone challenge, none of the competitors got this right and able to demonstrate the functionality of DFS-R between locations. A couple of the competitors didn't even know this technology existed, and a couple of the competitors tried to set it up, but they only had ONE global catalog server, so without a global catalog server on both sides of the WAN, they could not access the directory to look up information once the Internet connection was down. So a good try, but a failed solution.

The next challenge, due up in 2-hours and 10-minutes is to be able to ensure that when a scenario student is working at an Internet Cafe is accessing school information remotely, that their connection between the Internet kiosk and their school is secure. Normally we give the competitors the summary of the challenge just 1 hour before we expect to see their results. In this 3rd scenario, we provided them the materials 2-1/2 hours before the milestone timing, and we gave them very big hints that they should be storing student information on SharePoint 2007, and to ensure remote access security of the data, that they should have a Certificate Server on their network, issue a Web SSL certificate to their SharePoint server, and require encryption (ie: https) access to the server. By providing them this information, our hope is that at the next milestone, we'll have a 6-way tie again, this time hopefully with all 6 competitors meeting this challenge. By then, it'll be 15-hours into the competition, they could use a bit of a morale boost!

We'll see how they all do in just over 2-hours...

Milestone 1 Complete!
*** Posted Monday, Aug 6, 2007 11pm Seoul, Korea local time (16-hrs, 0-mins left to go) ***
It has been nine hours from the start of the competition, 16-hours left to go and we had our first milestone. The milestones are key tests to determine whether the competitors have successfully completed specific tasks that they should have completed by the milestone timeframe. In this particular case, the competitors were to have the ability to successfully send an email from their network to the central judges messaging system. For those techies out there, basically they had to have Windows Active Directory implemented, extended the schmea and installed Exchange 2007, setup SMTP connectors, and have requested to the ISP (which is the judges system) to have DNS MX and A records added to our master DNS here onsite. For this challenge, only 2 of the 6 competitors successfully completed the challenge earning them 10 points out of 200 for the competition. Although all is not lost for the 4 who didn't complete this milestone as there are a LOT of future milestones (another 19) that can swing the score either way very quickly and easily.

By the way, the right light thing that the cameraman is filming to the left is a buzzer that signifies the start of a milestone check. When the predetermined milestone time is reached, the buzzer and flashing red light go off noting the competitors should step away from their systems and let the judges inspect whether they have successfully completed their milestone task.
The next milestone is in 3-hours, at 2am local time which will be the halfway point for the competition...

We Have Our First Sleeper!!!
*** Posted Monday, Aug 6, 2007 7:45pm Seoul, Korea local time (18-hrs, 15-mins left to go) ***
Okay, just 6 hours into the competition and we had our first sleeper, although it wasn't one of the competitors, it was me. I was outlining a chapter for my upcoming book Windows 2008 Unleashed, and next thing I know, I woke up to a screen full of jjjj jj jjjjj jjjjjjjj jjjjjjjjjjj jjjjjjjj. Either this new book I'm writing is a real sleeper, or maybe I didn't get as much sleep last night as I thought I did. Although only more than an hour from my last posting, I don't think I missed much. The competitors, however, are still zipping through the competition and the scenarios. They're asking all the right questions like getting license keys for SharePoint 2007, license keys for Visio 2007, a 64-bit ISO mounting software to access the application software images on their USB drives, so that leads me to believe they're doing pretty well. Although I think I might peek in on the competitor from Romania at the end of the room, come to think of it, I haven't seem him emerge from his cube in a while (maybe he did, but I was just asleep...)

20-hours, 50-minutes, 45-seconds to go...
*** Posted Monday, Aug 6, 2007 afternoon ***
So we're 3-hours into the competition and all is still quiet (well, other than those server fans creating an intense white noise...). We had one competitor not know how to assign a drive letter to his USB drive that had all of the software images on it, so he formatted the drive (which in the real world he would then have to figure out how to go find replacement discs for all of his software, but we just reimaged his USB drive for him). We had another competitor not set the time on his server before installing Windows, so when he finally got around to updating the time on his systems, ALL of his software immediately expired, so he's sitting on the phone right now trying to activate his software with Microsoft (something that is KEY in IT is to make sure the time and date of the server systems are set properly before installing software on them).

We've had 1 bad network cable and a missing DVD driver, but so far, external infrastructure has been solid, knock on wood...

Okay, so the guy whose software all expired couldn't get an outside line from within the data center here (very typical in the real world that the "phone" is nowhere near where the servers are, and cell phones don't work in the data center because it's deep in a basement or something), so the guy is going to reformat his hard drive and start all over again (this time making sure the time and date are set properly on his system before installing the software, I hope...)

The Competition BEGINS!!!
*** Posted Monday, Aug 6, 2007 2:49pm Seoul, Korea local time (10:49pm Sunday California time) ***
Okay, the moment we've all been waiting for, the Imagine Cup 2007 IT Finals have begun! Just 49 minutes ago, we gave the competitors the booklet that has the final scenario and they have 24-hours to build a network to meet the needs of this scenario. The will have to load up 5 servers with Windows Server 2003 base operating system, and then load on application software like Exchange 2007, SQL 2005, ISA 2006, Virtual Server 2005, SharePoint 2007, and the like to meet the requirements of the scenario.

Pictured here are the judges and competitors (left to right): Valy Greavu, Judge; Chris Amaris, Judge; Ilie Cosmin Viorel, Romania; Andrei Alexandroni, Romania; Jean-Benoit Paux, France; Paul Wojcicki Jarocki, Poland; Zhifend Chen, China; Romain Larmet, France; Rand Morimoto, Judge

Other than the "quiet hum" of 39 server systems (for those of you who know the lovely sound of HP Proliant and IBM Server systems, the room is deafning), the competitors are heads down loading on software, re-reading the instructions, writing down their plan, and busily working away here. The energy and adrenaline is intense. Compare/contrast this posting with one I'll put out in about 16-hours from now, see how much energy the competitors (and I) have at that time...

********************Anyone for a Little ONLINE Competition???
*** Posted Monday, Aug 6, 2007 2:00pm Seoul, Korea local time ***
Okay, I know I have a lot of TechHeads following this blog for the competition, and I was thinking that it might be fun for those of you following the competition from home to actually participate! So, I'm going to run a little online competition here for anyone who wants to participate along with the competitors here in Korea. Top 3 competitors of this online competition will win a momento from Korea (I'll find some authenticate Korean trinket to give away!). I'll arrange to ship the prizes to the 3 winners when I'm back in the States!

So, here's the online competition... Basically the scenario is the EXACT same scenario provided to the 6 finalists. Now, while the finalists have been given 5 pieces of server hardware and a stack of DVDs and CDs, that's not possible for the online competition, so for you folks, looking for just a 1-pager written solution explaining how you'd setup the hardware, what software you would use, etc to meet the requirements of the challenge. ONE MS-Word document page ONLY, single spaced (or less!). I know you won't have enough space to get too detailed, so part of your challenge is to relay to us judges that if you were sitting here in the competition room with 5 server systems and 1 laptop, what you would do to get this going.

Submit your solution by EMAIL to as a Word attachment by 1pm, Tuesday, August 7, 2007 Seoul Korea time (which is 9pm on Monday evening, August 6, 2007 California time). This is 1-hour before the real competition finishes, and I'll have the judges in our final moments of the competition review the online submissions and score them. No late submissions will be accepted. If you have any questions, POST THEM on Network World blog so we can answer the questions publicly so that everyone has the benefit of reading answers to questions.

This is ONLY for fun, decision of the judges are final, blah, blah, blah. Remember, this is just a 1-page submission, make your response brief, just trying to get the techies of you to semi-experience the challenge that the finalists are going through "live" here in Seoul with real pieces of hardware and discs in their efforts to actually take the theory and BUILD a fully operational network environment to meet the requirements of this challenge...

Post your questions, and let's have some fun with this!


*** T-Minus 2-1/2 hours before we begin!!!
***Posted Monday, Aug 6, 2007 11:14am Seoul, Korea local time (7:14pm Sunday California time)
Okay, the competitors have been briefed and are to join us back in the competition room in just under 2-1/2 hours to begin their 24-hour head to head competition. Jetlag is already a challenge for many of the competitors as 3 of the 6 were late to the briefing because they overslept, although they know we start in 2-1/2 hours, so, we'll see if they make it there on time...

*** The IT Competition Finalists!
***Posted Monday, Aug 6, 2007 6:05am Seoul, Korea local time
So we have fewer than 8-hours before the head to head competition begins, and I made sure I got a good nights rest because it'll be a good 38-hours before I see the topside of a pillow again as we embark on the morning competition announcements, rules and code of conduct briefing, press and media interviews, and finally the kick-off to the competition at 2pm this afternoon (10pm on Sunday night California time for those of you coming in state side), so it'll be a LONG day ahead of us here!

One thing that I didn't mention in my posting last night was the competitors. I actually now know the names of the competitors (something we've only known them by their Imagine Cup logon "handle" until now as all of the qualifying rounds were online). The six finalists that'll be competing today in the IT competition are:

* Zhifend Chen, China: student at the Hua Zhong University of Science and Technology
* Jean-Benoit Paux, France: student at INSA de Lyon
* Romain Larmet, France: student at INSA de Lyon
* Paul Wojcicki Jarocki, Poland: student at Wyzsza Szkola Zarzadzania i Bankowosci w Krakowie (School of Banking and Management in Krakow)
* Andrei Alexandroni, Romania: student at Politehnica Timisoara
* Ilie Cosmin Viorel, Romania: student at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Lasi

Off to meetings, I'll post more as the day rolls along!

*** Let the Games Begin!!!
***Posted Sunday, Aug 5, 2007 9:35pm Seoul, Korea local time
So it's Sunday night here and I JUST got back to my room after participating in the Opening Ceremony here for the Imagine Cup. At 7:43pm, Joe Wilson, Microsoft Director of Academic Initiatives declared the Imagine Cup Competition offically started to the roar of cheers from the competitors!

Here's a shotty home video I took of the opening multimedia video...

The energy and excitement is more intense than can be described in writing in a blog as the best of the best college students from around the world are about to conclude an 8 month journey over the next couple of days here...

*** Posted Sunday, Aug 5, 2007 1:10pm Seoul, Korea local time (9:10pm Saturday, California time) ***
Okay, been offline for the past dozens hours for a combination of getting some sleep, and being heads down with T-minus 24-hours left to go before the start of the competition (and T-minus 6 hours before the Opening Ceremony!). So we called it a night yesterday at about 8:30pm, was a long day since arriving to Seoul, we were beat. Good night sleep and back at it this morning. So what we've done today is to test out the competitor systems. Each competitor gets 5 servers and a laptop, and we have a combo of LAN and WAN connected hubs, switches, routers, and gateways. We wanted to make sure all of the systems worked, all the cables and connections worked so that way when the competition begins, one competitor wouldn't have a disadvantage against another by having a system with a bad hard drive, or bad cable or something. And we did find a system that just refused to boot up, we found a couple faulty power cables that when wiggled caused the systems to shutdown, and a bad network cable. We also had to move around systems so that each competitor's layout in their competition area was identical to others. So, a picture of what the competition area for each competitor.

Now, as much as we tested everything, stuff will come up in the competition that won't work just like in the real world, and the competitors will have to debug the problem, fix the problem, work around the problem, or ask for a replacement. But at least we want to make sure everyone starts off with an identical slate. So, we're loading up Windows on 39 systems and pinging all systems and testing all subnets. We're about 3/4 of the way done with testing and we're in good shape!

The rest of the afternoon is to continue the testing as well as build up the judges systems, test printers, and sometime in the next couple hours grab lunch. The Opening Ceremony starts in under 6 hours...

*** Posted Saturday, Aug 4, 2007 5:10pm Seoul, Korea local time (1:10am Saturday, California time) ***
Compared to last year, the prep for this year's competition has been a piece of cake (knock on wood!) In the past half-day, we have received all of the CD-R discs we needed to burn boot discs for our competitors, and we received in the 6 240gb USB drives we requested to copy the application images for the competition. The room is now setup (albeit we're having to shift around some hardware in a more logical manner), but definitely very well organized this year! The pictures below are of the 3 IT Competition judges, Valy Gravu of Romania, Chris Amaris of the USA, and me. and the big room is the main convention hall all setup to host the opening ceremony tomorrow!

*** Posted Saturday, Aug 4, 2007 11:35am Seoul, Korea local time (7:35pm Friday California time) ***

Okay, so much for going sightseeing with the families, the morning briefing dictated we needed to jump in and finalize details, so the families are off to visit the sights of Seoul, and Chris and I are heads down working on a few details. So far we have computers (actually really good systems, each competitor has 5 HP DL/360 servers plus a laptop, which those of you in the IT industry know that's pretty darn decent). We have reliable electrical power, and we have Internet connectivity now. Chris and I have spent the past 3 hours burning ISOs and DVDs to create images for the applications (Exchange 2007, SharePoint 2007, ISA 2006, Ops Mgr 2007, etc) and the conference runner is getting us 60 CD-R discs that we'll be burning boot CDs for each of the competitors as well as they are getting us USB drives to copy on the application images. Our expectation is after lunch today, Chris and I will be able to start loading up software on all of the systems to make sure the systems have enough memory, we have all of the basic network and system drivers, and that we can effectively create working environments so that when the students jump in on the competition, that hardware and software won't be a problem for them, that it'll be all up to their knowledge and skill to make good working systems work to meet the needs of the competition...

So, we're moving along really well here, FAR ahead of schedule over last year when this time last time we were sitting in a completely empty room with no computers, no software, AND no electricity. Of course, I'm knocking on wood here, there's easily 50 hours before the competition starts, plenty of time for things to crop up...

More to follow!

*** Posted Saturday, Aug 4, 2007 8:05am Seoul, Korea local time (4:05pm Friday California time) ***
So Chris and I have scoped out the scene here, and good news is we have electrical power (a huge plus over India last year) and the computers are here (a plus over the competition in Japan the year before), but the systems are not connected together nor have Internet connectivity (plus no software CDs), so we have the makings of the "most secure network" competition where the students don't load up software nor connect them together or to the Internet, that'll keep the viruses off of the systems, eh?

Anyway, the conference people expect the connectivity to be addressed today, and all else fails we'll burn soft copies of the CDs and DVDs we need for software onto USB drives (as we have had to do every year (why is it that we thought we'd actually have CDs and DVDs all ready this year when we've never had that in past years...). We're going to go take our families off to a nearby temple and park, run the kids around for a while, explore the Seoul subway system, maybe get a KimChee Mac at McDonalds and then check back in to the conference room later this afternoon. Stay tuned...

*** Posted Friday, Aug 3, 2007 10:00pm Seoul, Korea local time (6am California time) ***
Okay, so I arrived safely to Seoul, got to the hotel/conference center, and about to jump in to scope out the scene here for the competition. While on the flight though, I wrote up the following to give you a background, so here's a post on the competition...

The Imagine Cup is a competition sponsored by Microsoft to bring together the best of the best college students from around the world in a competition of knowledge, teamwork, and skill. This year's competition started in December/2006 with over 42,298 college students representing 173 countries (yeah, go ahead, start naming me 173 countries, of course you'll start off strong with US, Canada, England, France, Japan, Italy, Brazil, Egypt, but I had to do a web search on the name of some of the countries these students were representing as I had never heard of countries like Reunion or St. Pierre and Miquelon, and couldn't point out on a map where Vanuatu or Anguilla are)

Anyway, for this competition there are 9 categories that the competitions can choose to compete in including Embedded Development, Algorithm, Interface Design, Photography, Information Technology, Project Hoshimi Programming Battle, Short Film, Software Design, and Web Development. For the 3rd year in a row, I am the global Head Judge for the Information Technology competition (while this year's competition is in Seoul Korea, last year we had the finals in Agra India at the foot of the Taj Mahal, the year before the finals were in Yokohama, Japan, and the year before that was Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

So for the IT competition, we had 10,133 individual competitions start off the competition and we had to whittle the field down. Round 1 was an online multiple choice quiz of 50 questions spanning the gammut of Microsoft technologies specific to Windows 2003, Exchange 2007, SharePoint 2007, System Center Operations Mgr 2007, SMS 2003, SQL 2005, Virtual Server 2005, ISA 2006, Windows Vista, Office 2007, and the like. The competitors were given 1-hour to complete the online exam, and the scores were tallied up, and effectively 660 students moved on to Round 2. As an example of a couple of the questions on the exam, here's a few:

**********You are the networking administrator for your company. Your servers run Windows 2003. You are tasked with troubleshooting system performance on one of your Domain Controllers. You suspect bad or inadequate memory but, first you want to check that the page file size and location are configured properly.

Where would you look to find the current configuration of page file?
A. The Performance section in the Advanced tab of System Properties
B. Security Center in the Control Panel
C. Task Manager
D. Administrative Tools

*** Correct Answer is A ***

**********Which DNS Zone resolves IP address to a fully qualified host names?
A. Forward Lookup Zone
B. Reverse Lookup Zone
C. Stub Zone
D. DNS Zone

*** Correct Answer is B ***

**********You are the administrator of an Exchange 2003 environment. Your manager has asked you to pick an architecture for Exchange 2007 that will give you automatic redundancy in the case of a server or storage failure. Which option is best:
A. Implement Continuous Local Backup on the Exchange 2007 mailbox server.
B. Implement Exchange 2007 in a virtual server and copy the virtual server to another host each night.
C. Implement Clustered Continuous Replication on the Exchange 2007 mailbox server.
D. Implement a Single Copy Cluster on the Exchange 2007 mailbox server.

*** Correct Answer is C ***

For those who work with this stuff on a regular basis, these types of questions are relatively simple, although to cover over a dozen different disciplines (newtorking, messaging, security, document management, applications, servers, desktop, etc) this competition really does vette out the best of the best in the world...

So, at the end of Rond 1 in March/2007 we had 660 Round 2 competitors. The Round 2 competitors were given a case study that they had to read and then submit a computer networking design and implemention plan on how they would meet the goals of the case study.

The case study was a scenario where a College wanted to setup an online access and communications system for its students and faculty. The system needed to provide the students access to coursework materials and to communicate with their instructors, and for the faculty a system to track grades and communicate with their students, but in a manner where the faculty personal information is secure.

The students had a month to work independently on the case studies, and the submissions we received were VERY impressive, 10-30 page Word doc submissions! The primary language of the competition is English, so for many of the competitors, just submitting a round 2 case study to address the needs of the case study scenrio was very impressive. Thanks to a panel of expert judges (Chris Amaris, Sarah Holden, Tyson Kopczynski, Jeff Guillet, and Alex Lewis), the finalists were selected. Our 6 finalists come from 4 countries: China, France, Romania, and Poland

For the past 45-days we have been working extremely hard to prepare for the finals, and here we are now in Seoul Korea completing the final onsite details.

I'll post more about the competition shortly. Keep visiting this blog page, refresh your browser to see the updates, and I'll provide more as the competition progresses!

In the mean time, for those of you who didn't follow my blog from last year, you can see how the competition last year unfolded... Imagine cup 2006 Blog

*** Posted Thursday, Aug 2, 2007 2:00pm San Francisco, USA local time ***
Welcome to my blog posting for the Imagine Cup 2007 competition! I'm sitting at SFO waiting for the flight to take off and taking this moment to kick off the blog posting for my travels to the Imagine Cup 2007 competition in Seoul Korea.It's a 12-hour flight to Seoul, then an hour from the airport into the City, so I'll be back online in about 15 hours with my next post...

I will be updating this blog page a couple times on Friday (the 3rd) and Saturday (the 4th) California time, and then will be adding content every hour or two between 10pm Sunday the 5th thru 10pm Monday the 6th (California time) during the midst of the head to head competition. Click on "refresh" on your browser to see the changes on your page.

Come back and visit as I add more content as the extended weekend progresses!