April 28, 2007

Church IT Blogroll

Today I realized I had never posted a roll of the church IT blogs I read. So I went through and cleaned up the subscription list in my feed reader (IE 7), exported the list as OPML, and then imported it into blogrolling.com in order to quickly create the new blogroll you see on the right.

Then I realized, this could be a really cool way to link church IT blogs, using the same approach as the Methodist Blogroll. So, here goes ...

Church IT Blogroll Instructions
  • We will maintain the blogroll and update it regularly
  • As links are added, updated, and deleted, it will update on your blog automatically
  • A great way to keep track of the church IT blogging world and build the fledgling Church IT Roundtable/Church IT Association

  • Your blog is focused on church IT and/or church web sites
  • You update it regularly (if we see no posts for a few months, we'll take you off)
  • You provide an RSS feed of your posts (because the feed is what we'll actually put on the blogroll)
To get on the blogroll:

  • E-mail me (clif.guy at cor.org)
  • We'll check out your blog and add you if you meet the requirements
To add the blogroll to your own site, paste the following code in your blog template:

<script language="javascript" type="text/javascript" src="http://rpc.blogrolling.com/display.php

April 27, 2007

FBI update

In my wee-hours haze last night I linked something totally unrelated to Andrew's video. It's here.

April 26, 2007

The FBI pays us a visit

The Annex is going away. It's worth less than it would cost to move, so what to do? I know! Blow it up, real good! Our Facilities folks invited the local FBI SWAT team to use it for practicing a hostage situation. Andrew took a bit of video showing the guys in full battle gear assaulting the Annex. And here are some pictures of the damage they left in their wake.

Annex main entrance with shattered glass everywhere:

Glass from the back door lays shattered on the floor:

A spent shotgun shell (they used shotguns to shoot open locked doors):

Smashed door hinge:

This door latch was blown off by a shotgun blast. It threw the door knob into the sheetrock wall, making a nice hole:

The black spot on the floor is from a "flashbang" - a non-lethal grenade that makes a big flash and a loud bang to stun anyone in the vicinity. You can see damage on the adjacent partition. The white powder on the floor is fire extinguisher residue:

Somehow they knocked a hole in the outside wall. Yes, that's daylight you can see through there!

Lesson: don't be in the way when your friendly, local FBI SWAT team storms the building!

The Leawood Police are coming in tomorrow for more training exercises. There's nothing left to smash. ;-)

April 22, 2007

Seth's "Memo to the very small"

Those of you who subscribe to Seth Godin's blog have already seen his post a week ago titled "Memo to the very small." Interesting that he mentioned churches in the opening paragraph as possible users of his method for small organizations to use the web.

People from small or technically-unsophisticated churches frequently ask us for advice about how to build or rebuild their church web site. Seth describes these people perfectly when he says:

These are businesses that have trouble dealing with the Yellow Pages. Too much trouble, too much time, way too expensive. So, should local micro-businesses just ignore the web? Or should they become experts in the art of building and maintaining a website?

His suggestion is to use Typepad with a standard template, a Squidoo lens, and a set of pictures on Flickr. Those of you who work with small churches as a volunteer or consultant, does this sound like a good recommendation?

April 21, 2007

Neat Patch?

We don't need no stinking Neat Patch. (Sorry, Jason, couldn't resist.)

This is one of the racks for our new office at Southcreek. It has two 48-port HP switches and fewer than 10 ports are free since we completed our moves yesterday.

On the shelf below the patch panel is our SonicWall firewall and DSL modem. These provide a backup (a VERY slow backup) for our wireless LAN bridge.

Moving Day 2

Yesterday was the last big moving day in a sequence of moves we've been doing for more than a week.

Below is the humble Annex, a temporary building obtained for our rapidly-expanding Children's Ministry back in the mid 1990s. For the last several years it has been the central church office, housing our receptionists, mail room, main copy/work room, most of our executive management, and numerous other staff. It's hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and frequently smells of animals that have crawled underneath to die! Next week it will be used by local law enforcement for training exercises before it is finally dismantled and hauled off.

Front door to the Annex with the East Bldg reflected in the glass. The sign directs visitors to the new reception desk in the East Bldg.
"We are moving! Please pardon our mess while we pack"

Load 'em up!

And move 'em out!

April 16, 2007

Spring Church IT Roundtable

I neglected to mention in my first post that today we are being hosted by Sugar Creek Baptist Church, http://www.sugarcreek.net/, at the LYF youth center. Our hosts were very gracious, and I want to thank them for opening up their facility and catering to us. (Image to right is an X-Box array for youth.)

Today we heard from many Vendors and consultants ranging from VMWare, ScriptLogic, DataCore, Service-U and Web Empowered Church.

I was familiar with VMWare and Service-U, and obviously Web Empowered Church, but the other two I'd never heard of before. DataCore is a mind expanding virtualization software that virtualizes your SAN or slack disk space across multiple servers, and synchronizing between virtual storage. I'd have to think about that more, but one thing that is potentially big for churches is synchronizing virtual storage between geographically distributed locations. What we were told was that you can synchronize between 8 different locations. So if multiple churches are using DataCore and have unused disk space, they can use each other as back up locations. Potentially pretty cool.

ScriptLogic produces a toolset of automation and management applications that makes nearly everything in Windows system administration easier. Active Directory users, GPOs auditing and alerting, patching, spyware, file permissions and ACLs, USB port security, MSI packaging, system imaging and software distribution, and file system level auditing. I'm excited about the potential of using ScriptLogic apps in our environment because it is easily powerful enough to make up for a half time network admin guy or more, and our network guy would salivate all over his shirt to have these tools at his disposal. The tools are not only cool, but can replace other tools like Symantec Ghost and MS SMS, saving you some money nad giving you one software manufacturer to yell at when things go wrong. :)

All in all, a very cool pre-roundtable day and I enjoyed meeting the vendors, including Tim Whitehorn, CEO and original creator of Service-U. Resurrection is a long time user of Service-U, and I have always suggested it to churches looking for a resource management and calendaring solution.

Looking forward to tomorrow, but first - a good nights sleep. Aaaaah.

And Here We Go!

I'm here at the church IT event organized by Tony Dye and friends. Our first day is vendor presentations - but first we started off with a short worship service. It was amazingly high energy for a ~30 minute service. In short, they rocked, we worshiped, and when they finished everyone simply stood in awe and silence for many seconds until someone started that quiet "is it ok yet?" clapping.

Thus far I've been thrilled to meet some of the guys I know only by blogs and e-mail addresses. I expect shock and awe over the next few days. Geekfest. :)

April 14, 2007

Moving Day 1

We're working closely with our Facilities Department to move 50 staff people, starting yesterday through the end of next week. Yesterday was Move Day 1 when we moved 21 people from Central Campus to the leased office at Southcreek. Next Wednesday and Thursday we'll be moving 11 people from one place to another within campus (including Andrew). And then Friday we'll move another 18 people from campus to Southcreek. Whew!

Philip (foreground), Jeremy, and Brian working among the cubicles:
Movers from Fry-Wagner:

Dick Cooper, our Director of Facilities, holding forth:

Jeremy prepping phone cords:

Ian, concentrating on settting up phone extensions, amid the chaos:

Kelly Williams (center) and some of her staff from the Finance Department surprised us with lunch (what a blessing!). Uber voluteer Doug Blackwood, retired from management of the help desk at HP, is on the far right.

Outfitting the new office space

Here's some of the work we've been doing over the last three weeks to prepare for 40 staff moving into the 9000 sq. ft. of office space we leased to replace our 13 year-old temporary building.

In the process of installing data and phone cables:
Ian and Jeremy begin installing equipment in the phone/network room:

Jerry and Kevin from WKT (our phone vendor) installing the phone system:

Ian installing a repurposed Dell 2650 for use as a file/print server (it does DFS replication with a server in our data center on Central Campus):

Should we say "no"?

Another answer to Tony's question comes from Joel Dehlin:
I.T. should not be saying no. You should give the customer(s) information about what resources you have available, and they should (collectively) make decisions about what to do with the resource. You can cajole, influence, or merely suggest, but the customers should be making these calls.

April 11, 2007

Rain fade update

I posted previously about the wireless LAN bridge we installed from our Central Campus to our new leased office space, and I mentioned the problems we've had with rain fade.

Since my last post I learned that the radios nominally use the 80 GHz band, but since it's a full-duplex link, there are two diffferent frequencies in use: around 80 GHz in one direction and around 72 GHz in the other direction. Consequently, the signal strength in one direction isn't the same as the signal strength in the other direction. The graph I posted previously was for the stronger of the two.

Since my last post our vendor has repositioned the radios again and wrung out another 3 dB, which is great. Unfortunately, the link is dropping at -66 dBm, whereas the spec says it won't drop until somewhere in the -69 to -72 range. And according to Bridgewave, our radios tested to -69 in the factory before they were shipped. So we still have a problem.

Here is the signal strength graph from yesterday when in rained starting around noon and continued at varying intensities for the next 24 hours:

In all of that we had only one drop lasting around 30 seconds at 3:39 pm. You can't see the excursion below -65 because the monitoring system is on the other end of the link. (The monitor needs the link to be up to grab the signal strength from the other end.)

Now, one 30 second drop doesn't sound to bad considering it's been raining for 24 hours. But the problem is, if we had staff working here yesterday, every phone call in progress at 3:39 pm would have been dropped. Most likely every Shelby session would also have been dropped. That doesn't seem good enough to me. What do you think?

April 09, 2007

Three values

In reponse to Tony's post about how much to serve users ...

This is good stuff, Tony, but twelve values is probably too many. I try to simplify things down to three if at all possible.

1. Our default answer is "yes". We always hope to find a way to meet the user's need, even if it isn't in quite the way the user expressed the need or quite the solution the user proposed. See: http://appianway.blogspot.com/2006/01/our-default-answer-is-yes.html

2. Our mission is our user's mission. That is, when we're working with Children's Ministry, our mission is to teach kids about Jesus; when we're working with Congregational Care, our mission is to visit people in the hospital; etc. Rather than focusing on our own mission, we're focused on the mission of those we serve.

3. The one mission that is uniquely our own is information security. If we don't look after information security, no one will. We define information security as providing or denying information access as appropriate and ensuring that critical information can't be lost. If #1 or #2 above conflict with security, then we make a tradeoff.

We don't always achieve our internal IT Department goals (roll out the software update by Feb. 1, upgrade environmental monitoring in the data center by the end of the month, etc.), but we always get high marks from our user community. As far as I'm concerned that's the correct priority. And of course, we have to work very hard behind the scenes to make sure we don't work exclusively on short-term or user-visible things. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our user community is to work on something that takes a lot of resources and users never know about. But that's nothing fancy, it's just good, disciplined execution.

April 06, 2007

Fall Roundtable update

From the number of comments on my Fall IT Roundtable Invitation, it seems like we'll have a great group here in Kansas City for the Fall Roundtable. For now I just wanted to acknowledge all the responses. There will be a lot more information and discussion about the Fall event during the Spring Roundtable in Houston. We want to get feedback from the Spring Roundtable before we start posting more specifics.

Have a blessed Good Friday and Easter.

April 04, 2007

Rain fade

I posted earlier about the wireless LAN bridge we installed from our campus to our new leased office a couple of miles away.

These radios operate at such a high frequency (80 GHz) that nearly everything -- a tree, a dense flock of birds, an errant golf ball (okay, I just made that one up) -- is opaque to the signal. Consequently, they suffer from signal attenuation due to rain. This is a well-known phenomenon called "rain fade" that the RF engineers have to take into account in their designs.

We're having some trouble getting sufficient path clearance (getting the base signal high enough) to avoid a link drop during periods of intense rain. Right now the base level is approx. -44 dBm. We were expecting rain fade of approx. 16 dBm, which should make it bottom out around -63 dBm. According to Bridgewave, these radios are supposed to be able to maintain the 100 Mb/s link down to -72 dBm. Therefore, we should have approximately 9 dBm of safety margin.

But we have two problems. First, we're seeing rain fade of 22 dBm. Second, we're seeing the link drop when the signal goes below -65 dBm. With 6 dBm more rain fade than expected and the link dropping 7 dBm before it should, our 9 dBm of safety margin is shattered.

Here is a graph showing two times when we had brief periods of intense rain. Each time the link dropped for a few minutes and then came back up after the intense rain passed:

After the the second drop you can see other periods of rain fade that weren't intense enough to cause a drop. (The graph shows signal level in 100ths of a dBm. i.e. -4400 is -44 dBm.)

I gave a requirement of four 9s of availability (99.99% up time). Clearly, with the current base signal level, the amount of fade we're experiencing, and the link drop level, we're not going to be close to four 9s. Thankfully, we're installing this well ahead of staff moving into the office so we have time to improve the situation. Also, I'm grateful that we're installing in the Spring when we have rain every couple of days. Each time we make a change, we don't have to wait too long before a real-world test presents itself.

We're out there on the bleeding edge with this one! Please pray with us that this wireless LAN bridge story has a happy ending.