Thursday, December 14, 2017

Is your IT ready for the attacks to come?

There is something very bothering about Mecklenburg County's LockCrypt issues. Many people, like myself, believe we take significant action to prevent and stop attacks. I bet if we talked to the folks at Mecklenburg, pre-attack, they might even say they were taking action. Here are two big issues that need to be dealt with.

1 - Lone Rangers in IT - This is incredibly dangerous. I've seen it over and over. One, or maybe two, people are almost solely responsible for the inner-sanctum of their IT Departments (speaking mainly for small businesses and education). These people take the brunt of the weight of their server performance, network issues, firewall rules, budgeting, and are often interrupted by those that back-door the ticketing process. The ticketing-process is one of the few things they have that can help protect their time... and it gets abused when someone thinks their problem is bigger than someone else's and that they don't need to put in a ticket.

These Lone Rangers don't have the time and resources necessary to improve themselves, their teams, or attend proper training. They are great people that really know how to do their jobs on a budget, so finance and business admins will keep the pressure on.

When you talk to Lone Rangers, you know they are whipped. They look tired and they hop from issue to issue. Everything is an emergency. If they are in a meeting and get a phone call, they need to walk out. I've seen this even happen at various IT training sessions. Training is one place where they can level up their skills, but they can hardly get time for that.

I'm convinced that departments being run by Lone Rangers are one crisis away from a complete disaster.
When getting hit with an attack, your IT Department should not feel like they need to fix it by themselves. There are others that know more about attacks. But, when a Lone Ranger gets hit with an attack, it could be a catastrophe. They have probably worked so long by themselves, that they have missed a great window of opportunity.

2 - Lack of Measurement - This drives the problem right to the customer. Most people in IT realize that attacks are happening. They just don't understand to what scale. Sometimes attacks are discussed with abstraction, like they are some sort of mythical creature. They don't pull statistics from their firewalls, either due to lack of training, laziness, or they simply don't possess decent tools that can give them the measurements they need.

We cannot discuss the degree that attacks happen to our network without measure. Last week, I had an DDoS issue. Had I not been checking some things on my firewall, I wouldn't have even known it was happening. There were IP addresses from all over the globe hitting one of our firewalls on port 389 (LDAP). Once I knew that these packets were not coming into my network, I began measuring. I pulled many packet captures in an attempt to understand the scale of what was happening. We were getting hit with what equated to approximately 15 million packets per day on port 389 (which was closed on my firewalls).

After changing some rules that were blocking the traffic, I was able to gradually get that number reduced to about 2 million hits per day. Yes, scans will continue to happen. The bad guys are always looking for ports. But you cannot compare attacks without understanding how to measure them.

Two take away questions you should ask...

1 - How well does my organization support IT personnel?

2 - Are they equipped with the tools to help them measure rather than guess?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

I love it when a Sprint comes together!

This is officially our first burn-down chart. We achieved 40.4 points of work in 1 week and 3 days. However, it was really only 5 days of work (well, 6 if you include us writing up some summary documentation today and doing a bit of video-based training).
One of the coolest things is that we had 5 big take-aways (ideas that were born and developed out of the Sprint):
  1. We were able to develop a better process for video-recording tutorials (including the setup and teardown of gear)
  2. Our team had the realization that we already had tools available to better deliver the video content in a way that would track usage/progress
  3. We developed a tool for mass conversion of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote documents into Work, Excel, and PowerPoint - this was a BIGGIE!
  4. A new VM server was fired up, tested, and put online for a software package that helps manage students on their devices
  5. A better way for us to SCRUM across campuses was hammered out using Skype to solve the problem of cross-campus meetings
What have I learned?
  1. It is way easier to underestimate a team's capability than it is to accurately predict Sprint workload
  2. We have lots of constraints that we need to overcome. But, we need to focus on them one at a time if we are really going to affect change.
  3. It was reinforced to me that teams create a special environment and success can both phenomenal and recurring.
To my Team: You all are very good at what you do! Your hard work doesn't go unnoticed!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sprint Burn-down Chart Exceeding Expectations

Chart notes: Blue is work that is being complete, red is the target burn-down.

Though we did one other Sprint a few weeks ago, we are now doing much closer tracking of Sprint work. Our Sprint goal is 40.4 points of work in a two week period (with work effort being pulled from 7 large tasks that were based on the Fibonacci Sequence - thank you Jeff Sutherland for noting that in the book on SCRUM!).

After day 1 of the Sprint, and just completing 1 effort point of work, I was a little nervous. Then, on day 2 we blew away 8.6 points. Today, day 3, we are already down to about 25 points before work began and will likely blow another 8 to 10 points away by the day's end.

The biggest portion of the Sprint will be spent in developing some training for teachers, but we I think we will have plenty of room and our team can easily see the progress we are making. One of the biggest factors I attribute to the success of work being completed is that we have dropped our weekly meeting and do 15-minute morning SCRUMS instead.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Building a better SPRINT

We did our first sprint a couple weeks ago.  It was successful, but a little disorganized.  For our first sprint we were addressing the challenge of offering better support to a particular set of customers (which needed better access to resetting passwords and some basic support for system access).

As I got deeper into Jeff Sutherland's book about SCRUM, I quickly realized why our first sprint, though successful, was disorganized.  There is part of me that hesitates writing this article, as I know we are very early in the improvement cycle and many that read this have probably far surpassed us.  However, I also know that there are probably many that haven't even tried a sprint.  So, this is written for those that need the encouragement to give it a try!

The following are some key takeaways for me.  Both Sutherland's book about SCRUM and the LAPM (Lean Agile Project Management) training from ITPro.TV have helped me come to the following realizations:

1 - A sprint needs clearly to have the problem clearly DEFINED.  This can easily be developed using the DMAIC model.  Defining the problem, measuring the data,  analyzing the data, and figuring out how to improve all needs to happen in sprint planning, not during the sprint.

2 - Sprints MUST include daily SCRUMS.  Regular and ongoing communicate is the heartbeat of getting work done.

3 - Identify breakdowns.  Sprints are an awesome place to discover process breakdowns.    When the team is getting into work mode, it becomes obvious if things haven't changed from one day to another.  Use this as an advantage.  Leverage the constraints, put these obstacles out where everyone can easily see them.

4 - Is there a measurement for success?  If you can't measure success, then the sprint, or at least the tasks, haven't been planned properly.  If you don't have measurements, you may have to add them on-the-fly, but it certainly would have been better to bake them into the tasks and discuss them prior to starting the sprint.

5 - Is the work really done?  Half done isn't done.  If there is still cleanup that needs to happen, then the task really isn't done.  You must have clearly defined goals for tasks that can be clear indicators that the work is complete.

6 - Make the next sprint better!  You must make the improvements for the following sprint.  Take time to discuss failure, success, and everything in between.  Use debriefings to get the whole team's perspective.

Changes won't come without good effort.  We are currently in between sprints.  Though there are many more observations I could share about of our first sprint (like letting the team be the team and looking for the characteristics of leadership within the team), this is probably enough for now.

Now is the time for improvement.  We must do better on the next sprint. We need to aim higher and perform faster.  But, the team cannot simply perform faster without changes.  Just like a poorly performing engine, better fuel needs to be put in and water needs to be removed.  Once the engine is running, we can more easily identify the parts that are still giving us problems.

image attribution:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

GRACE Open House Goes Digital

This year for the first time GRACE has decided to showcase our technology during our Open House.  We have implemented QR codes during Open House for visitors to be able to see videos of actual class lessons, activities, field trips, sports, etc.   This new feature allows visitors to see actual footage of classes/events that they can't see during the swift walk through during Open House.

How does this work?
They start with a teacher-led tour of the school with iPads.  As the tour guides are leading them through the school to various grade level classrooms and discussing the different activities with each grade level, visitors are able to use the iPad to scan the QR code next to the classroom and see a video of the activity.   It is one thing to hear about all the great things happening at GRACE, it is another to actually see it taking place.

What is the goal?
The goal is to allow visitors to see all the great activities at GRACE in various grade levels that are not captured during Open House.  I think by highlighting these engaging and fun activities while learning is what separates us from other private Christian schools.  Technology is a huge piece of the GRACE community, with this being said why not get the visitors engaged in our technology verses just talking about it?

How does this look in the future?
Hopefully, our next step is to take our open house virtual/augmented.  As we think ahead, it would be great if we could augment our Open House and visitors can actual be a part of our school activities and classrooms through augmented reality.  How cool is that???

Monday, October 30, 2017


Published by Anthony Moreland

There have been a lot of changes in the IT dept. 
But NOC is the most change so far this school year.
I never heard of NOC before until now. 
Its a network operating center, which now located at our upper campus in the IT office also known as a "network management center", is one or more locations from which network monitoring and control, or network management, is exercised over a computer, telecommunication or satellite network. 
As IT, we monior networks, camera, skype, look at tickets in scrums, or use for working on projects that need to be done. This seems great for the team, especially for what goes on around us. 
But also being cohesive as a group. 
Still getting used to learning more about it, but excited at the same time. 
It gives a more professional look to the IT office,but also something to look at for guest and potential grace parents when they are on tour of the campus. 
So far I like the results of this new atmosphere. 
I look forward to seeing more that can be done with NOC in the future.😁

Friday, October 27, 2017

Looking Back . . . on the 1st Quarter (Technology)

Carol Gehringer, Media Coordinator

We just finished our first quarter in school, and report cards are distributed. It's hard to believe that almost 10 weeks have passed since school started -- and so much has happened!

Macbooks distributed to our 7th-12th graders
NEW Chromebooks unboxed and distributed to our 4th-6th graders
      **567 students received their devices in 2 days!
NEW Chromebooks loaded into the 2nd & 3rd grade shared cart
NEW iPad cart prepared for our TK-1st graders

NEW Girls Who Code club kicks off (6th grade girls)
Eagles Tech Club (6th grade boys & girls) starts

Maker & Tech Activities in Kindergarten, 3rd grade, 2nd grade, 1st grade, and 4th grade -- all within the first 3 weeks of school!
Internet Safety Seminar held for parents (Offered by Hope Community Church)

6th graders made paper airplanes to learn about algorithms, and built structures out of marshmallows and toothpicks to teach them persistence. 

Book Club: Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, led by Head of School Eric Bradley and Academic Dean Julia Taylor
Bee-Bot and Mac-N-Cheese (Robot Mouse) regularly being used in Spanish elementary classes
QR Codes and iPads used for Lower Campus Open House tours
_ _ _ _

These are just a few of the technology (hi tech and low tech) activities and achievements we have had during the first quarter.

In just over a month, we will observe HOUR OF CODE again on our Lower Campus. Our Upper Campus will observe it later in the spring.