Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Imagine Cup 2012 Final Competition

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

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

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

Great job!!!


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

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

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

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

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

A couple very nice notes from past competitors!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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