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Imagine Cup 2010 IT Challenge Final Competition Blog

Following the 24-hour Head to Head International Competition

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

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

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

The students who advanced to the finals and competed in this 24-hour competition are as follows (in alphabetical order of the country they represented):

Miklos Cari (Bolivia)

WeiQiu Wen (China)

Sherif Talaat (Egypt)

Bastien Sivera (France)

Dominik Trojnar (Poland)

Hu Zhengbin (Singapore)

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

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

A bit about the competition...

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

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

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

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

A little about the judges...

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

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

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

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

We look forward to having a GREAT competition this year!

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

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

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

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

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

More blog postings to follow...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to finalizing details...

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

Intro Meeting Complete - Meet the Competitors!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine Cup 2010 Final Competition BEGINS!!!

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

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

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

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

More to follow...

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

Hour in, All is Chugging Along...

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

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

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