Imagine Cup 2010 IT Challenge Final Competition Blog

Following the 24-hour Head to Head International Competition

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

All quiet on the frontline...'


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Bit about the qualifying rounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Kim was interviewed last Fall and a transcript of that interview is posted up on our Facebook page up on

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


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

Milestone #1 In and Done - Email Working (well, kind of...)

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

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

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


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

Warning, Hacker Attack!!! - Milestone #2

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


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

WOW, Hacker Attack THWARTED!

So for 32 minutes, the competitors were bombarded with security attacks to their network systems, with over 4000 port scans against each IP address looking for vulnerabilities.  For the FIRST TIME in Imagine Cup IT Challenge history, our security attack was COMPLETELY thwarted!  Not a single major vulnerability, and only 8 mi

nor vulnerabilities detected that amounted to nothing.

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

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

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

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


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

Milestone #3 OCS 2007 DONE!

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

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

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

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


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

Judging an Online Head to Head Challenge...One of the interesting things in the back of all of the judges mind was what it would be like to judge an "online" competition.  For the past 5-years, the final compeition has been a face to face competition.  We arrive into a foreign city, we make sure the servers arrive (which has been quite challenge in years past, like when we arrived in India and the servers weren't there nor was there adequate electrical power or even Internet connectivity to run the competition).After getting all of the systems together in a room, we'd normally gather all the competitors, shake hands, talk about the competition, see them cart in boxes of drinks and candies, and build camaraderie among one another...But this year, the final competition is "online", meaning that instead of all of us being in a single room, we're working from our homes or offices...  Would it be the same?  Would the experience be that much different?The feedback from the competitors has been that the online competition lacks the personal touch and the friendships that are built from participating in a shared experience, so it'll be something we'll look to in future years whether we can go back to a face to face final competition.Technologically though, I'm actually very pleased that despite the lack of a face to face contact, through the use of online cloud-based tools, we've been able to make the most out of the experience!  By collecting photographs of each of the competitors in front of their workstation, we have been able to "see" who we are talking with and working with.

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