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IT Work Night

So tonight my staff and I are having one of our twice per month work nights.

The agenda:
Reboot the Phone system
Grow The SAN to over 7tb
Continue Tesing the EClass Firewalls

check it out on the webcam ustream.tv/channel/j_lee



Central Illinois Church IT RoundTable

For all you in central Illinois this may be the moment you have been waiting for, this is the official announcement of the first ever (to my knowledge) Central Illinois Church IT Round Table.

Here are the details of the event:

Central Illinois Church “Computer Guy” RoundTable

(Computer gals welcome, too!)

June 12

Dinner at 5:30pm

Roundtable Discussion at 6:30pm

(until the Mountain Dew runs out)

Hosted at

Northwoods Community Church

10700 N. Allen Rd., Peoria

Cost

$5 includes dinner

RSVP, Online Payment

Register Online

Questions, etc., to

Jason Lee (j.lee at nwoods dot org)

What’s a Roundtable Discussion?

A roundtable is a peer-learning event where the participants are both teachers and learners. A roundtable is small enough to emphasize interactive learning, led by a facilitator and peer, includes participants who have an affinity with each other, and does not include a strong agenda beyond sharing knowledge. The participants set the agenda, and interaction among participants takes precedent over presentation by “experts.” In fact, in one-way or another, most of the roundtable participants are already experts. In this group, we intend to learn from each other about how to better resource, equip, and train ministries in the areas of computer hardware, networking, server support, web services/sites, telecom services, etc. It will be geeky and fun. 


Wishing for MORE

At Northwoods, we use products from ACS Technologies for our ChMS. Northwoods has used ACS products for many years, and for over two years now, we have been ‘ministry partners’ at a level beyond merely customer-vendor. Our relationship has produced products that not only benefit us as a ministry but also ACS as a company. (This relationship has been solid enough that we’ve even been directed to 3rd party products to solve immediate needs that ACS wasn’t ready to address yet.) You can see the fruit of these efforts in the recent public release of Facility Scheduler. For months we described a user friendly and intuitive product built “under the hood” to be ready for future integration with other systems such as our website and digital signage. Darci Shelly and her team delivered something that simply knocked our socks off! The process wasn’t fast or painless … but our team and ACS’ team have been committed to the goal. The results are proving worth the effort. The ACS team has done an impressive thing beyond the coding or developing: they have sought to really digest and understand the needs of the our ministry. No small task given we often share foggy dreams that change from day to day.

In short, we love our relationship with ACS.

Our common problems

Having attended multiple Church IT RoundTables, it’s obvious to me that Northwoods’ technology challenges aren’t exclusive to our ministry. We church IT guys/gals often think we are dealing with unique issues, but in reality the same problems surface again and again across the country.

ChMS vendors as a whole do a decent job of creating tools to manage and  store data within their systems, but do a fairly poor job of extending that data to “real world tools.”  No church staffer or volunteer functions exclusively within the interface of the ChMS. Vendors must help ministries extend the data housed within their systems to other tools such as digital signage, public websites, intranets, even Microsoft Office.  I will admit this isn’t a small demand—every ministry in the world has its own special list of integration wishes. Nonetheless, smart vendors will find ways to make their products talk to the big players.

For example, almost all of our staff are very comfortable in Microsoft Outlook. That high comfort level leads to a problem: contact information kept in Outlook address books but not updated in ACS. Most of us IT types would rank this among the seven deadly sins. Here are reasons:

1. Multiple staff/volunteer people are doing the same work

2. They’re not equally good at it

3. They make up their own rules about how to do it

4. People in the congregation think their information is current because they told one person

5. It’s not

6. In times of crisis, this could be disastrous

7. In times of accountability, this could make us look foolish

8. As the “computer guys” it’s always going to be our fault

It really boils down to a stewardship issue. If we’re inefficient with our resources, if we work really hard but not really smart, then we’re not honoring God’s provision as well as we could. In fact, our misuse of the tools will create even bigger hurdles to overcome when we turn our attention to other functions such as online giving, event registration, small group management, volunteering, etc., that are dependent upon up-to-date contact profiles. Yes, we could “decree” that all users will use the tools in ACS for communicating. But wouldn’t it be better to let them use the tools with which they’re proficient, comfortable, and effective? Let the technology do the work of syncing Outlook and ACS. That’s what it’s for!

Potential path to a solution?

If we had a system to synchronize our ChMS database and our Exchange Global Address List, we could eliminate the contact information problem as it relates to Outlook (and perhaps other oddball GAL clients like Entourage, gasp). Should this connectivity be built in to the ChMS or at least available as an option? Is the GAL the most appropriate place for this? Will this be two-way with the ability to make change requests from within Outlook?

Do any of the ChMS products out there already offer this level of sophistication? ACS, will you be the first and best? What about other ACS client customers, How can we team up to help ACS help us do ministry better?


Leopard OS 10.5 and ISCSI?

What to do when you have 100s of gb of data on a local drive and no where to put it while you reload the OS drive?

We have some extra space on the SAN and the Mac Pros have a second Ethernet port so it got me thinking.  Could we make an iSCSI connection to the SAN from the Mac Pro and use our SAN for this project?

First we had to figure out if there is even a MAC OSX iSCSI  initiator.  Ed Buford pointed me to Studio Solutions.  They offer a free globalSAN iSCSI initiator that works with their hardware, but also offer a fully functioning download for use with other SANs.

We moved my Mac mini to a VLan that could access the SAN switches after we installed the software and gave it an IP in the appropriate range.  A couple mouse clicks later my Mac was asking if it should use this new huge volume as the backup for TimeMachine.  We said no to time machine and created a partition.

In our test the transfer speed was ok considering we only have a 100mb nic in the mini. This quick proof of concept has opened some new doors for how we might use our SAN in production.  For now it gives us a place to dump some needed data during a recovery.

This new development makes me wonder how bad an idea would it be to store what we are defining as level two data for our Creative arts team.  We are working thru what data needs to be immediatly and locally accessible and what data is at that second tier that needs to be online but not stored locally.  Has anyone already gone down this road to define these types of data?  I would sure be interested in learning from someone else’s experience :).


Still Learning to Blog

I guess its my learning to blog, I don’t always think to blog about everything I write.  I continue to learn there is more of an audience for my content than I think.

I recently have been attempting to connect with Central Illinois Church IT Professionals to plan a CI RoundTable on June 12th.  After sending out several emails to area churches, Tony Dye mentioned to me that Bobby Stewart is also trying to make those connections in the Brentwood, Tennessee area.  Tony  asked if Bobby could see the content of my email.  Of course I said anyone could use the content… and then its became blog post on Tony’s Blog… I just don’t think about anyone using this type of content but Tony is the wiser Patriarch of CITRT he thinks of these things… I think its cool that someone can reuse my content…

If you too are trying to connect with your peers in your area and you would like to share how you have done so, please post your thoughts in the comments.

How do you filter what is blog worthy and what isn’t?


Skype Desk Phone

Several of our ministry leaders have requested the use of Skype… No problems here on  using a free technology for ministry… but implementing it had a few issues:
1. Skype for conference calls isn’t great no matter how you try to setup the computer speakers and mic. 
2. Skype software is just one more application to manage.

So enter the IPEVO Solo Desk Phone. 

 We did some research into Skype handsets that don’t require a computer connection (there aren’t many that don’t connect to a computer and use the software and USB port).  We read the reviews and focused in on the IPEVO Solo Desk phone. 

It runs as a DHCP client, you enter your Skype account and password and start connecting with your contacts.  We have used the phone for several test calls and even a call to Germany.  The call quality is good (for a Skype call the expected clicks etc were occasional).  The speaker phone works great and several people can meet around a table an participate on a call.

The phone is actually a little smaller than we expected, and could fit nicely in a suite case.  IPEVO must have thought people would travel with it too… they include 4 different power adapter plugs to power up the phone in places where you might need a International Power adapter.  Nice added bonus IPEVO!


Hello Final Cut Server, Goodbye XRaid

I got a ping tonight from our media director, Dave Marks, to mention the Final Cut Server is now shipping… albeit it is almost 9 months later than apple had promised originally.. it is shipping.

One thing that caught my eye when I was reading the Apple site, they are now pushing/directly selling a new fiber channel san that doesn’t have the apple logo, but rather a Promise Raid that is ‘Apple Xsan 2 and Final Cut Studio 2 Qualified’.  I guess I have been under a rock since I found reports as early as Feb 19th that Apple has decided to get out of the storage hardware business. Apple has released XSan2 which now is proud to tout that they are able to utilize 3rd party storage solutions.


Site Seeing

After the Church IT RoundTable Jeremie, Jason Powell and I did a little site seeing on Sunday.

We first attended the 1 pm Experience at LifeChurch.TV.  All I can say is 1 pm service NICE!

Here are some photos from the Oklahoma City National Memorial

“The Gates of Time: Monumental twin bronze gates frame the moment of destruction – 9:02 – and mark the formal entrances to the Outdoor Memorial. 9:01, found on the eastern gate, represents the last moments of peace, while its opposite on the western gate, 9:03, represents the first moments of recovery. Both time stamps are inscribed on the interior of the monument, facing each other and the Reflecting Pool. The outside of each gate bears this inscription:
‘We come here to remember those who were killed, Those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity’. ”
OKC Memorial  IMAG0015 (Small) 

The Survivor Tree: An American elm on the north side of the Memorial, this tree was the only shade tree in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah Building, and commuters came in to work early to get one of the shady parking spots provided by its branches. The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree, glass and debris were embedded in its trunk and fire from the cars parked beneath it blackened what was left of the tree. Most thought the tree could not survive. However, almost a year after the bombing, family members, survivors and rescue workers gathered for a memorial ceremony under the tree noticed it was beginning to bloom again. In that instant the tree became a symbol of what the city had come through.”
IMAG0023 (Small)  IMAG0013 (Small) 

“Reflecting Pool: A thin layer of water flowing over polished black granite, the Reflecting Pool runs east to west down the center of the Memorial (also see reflecting pool) on what was once Fifth Street. Visitors who see their reflection in the reflecting pool are supposed to see “a face of a person changed by domestic terrorism”.”
OKC Memorial  OKC Memorial 

OKC Memorial OKC Memorial 

It was nice to have the ‘extra’ day in OKC and not rush out of town after the RoundTable.  A great trip and alot learned.


Spring Church IT RoundTable

We are finishing the setup setup for for the round table.

We will be attempting to stream the roundtable with a new cool tool called mogulus.com


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