Hardware and Networking

Now it’s time to start talking about the fun stuff, hardware.

Depending on how you want to handle it, you’ve got a few different options to grade the code submitted by teams.

First, you can walk around to each team and run their code when requested. This take a lot of workers, and doesn’t scale well. Honestly, if this was the only option, I wouldn’t run a contest.

Second you can have teams submit their code on USB. You take the USB, run the code, and then send it back with the results.  This is our backup system. Never had to use it, but usually are setup for it if needed.

The best option is to use a network grading system. We use PC^2 from Cal State, Sacramento, but there are others.

The downside to a networked system is you’ll probably need to setup a network. The schools I’ve been at haven’t let us use the school network, so I’ve always had to setup a separate local network.

An upside to that is that when connected to that network the competitors won’t have access to the internet unless you specifically set it up to allow internet access.

Electricty

Setting up for the first time, this is the one that caught me off guard.

Depending on how many teams show up you’ll probably not be able to just plug into the outlets in the cafeteria without risking blowing out circuits. Just guessing here, but that’s probably not something you want to do.

Since school cafeterias often serve double duty, they usually have some type of breaker box nearby. A school I used to work at had a power line that dropped out of the ceiling that was connected to a breaker box. We have a power box on wheels where I am now. We just roll it off the stage and plug everything into it and don’t worry about power.

We’ve got boxes of extension cords. Some are the normal orange, commercially available types. Some were built by district electricians with heavier wiring and four outlet boxes on the end.

And we’ve got boxes of power strips. The first couple of years at my current school we raided our computer labs for power strips. They never all made it back which made Monday morning interesting as I had to plug everything back in.

Over the last couple of years I’ve bought almost 40 power strips just for contests. This year we didn’t have to pull any out of either of our labs and had power to spare.

The goal is to have at least two outlets for every team.

Safety

This is a big one…

You’re going to have power lines running all over the place. Make sure that they’re not something people will trip over.

At a previous school we had electricians that came out and did this for us, and they did an amazing job. Cables were all run cleanly side by side and taped down. We didn’t worry about a thing.

I’m not so lucky where I am now and we have to run the cables. We try our best, but it never looks quite as good. We’re not electricians.

We run the lines as out of the way as possible in a single line, side by side. And we use a lot of duct tape to keep it from being a tripping hazard.

Wireless only

The first few contests I helped run were a mix of wired and wireless networks. We would put up a wireless network, but also run ethernet to every team so they could use either.

It started switching a few years ago where a majority of teams would bring notebooks and connect wirelessly.  When this happened I stopped running cables to every station and only ran cables to a few stations at the front of the room. These were reserved for teams that needed wired connections.

Fast forward a couple more years and nobody was using the wired connections.

The last two years I haven’t run any wired connections and require that teams bring a wireless device. No one has complained.

Network Gear

I was spoiled the first few contests I helped out with. We had a school in our district that taught Cisco CCNA classes and the students would setup our contest network as a project. They’d bring in enterprise routers and switches. All we had to do was watch.

We then started teaching the smaller Cisco CCENT course on our campus. And when I say we, I mean I started teaching it. I did the same thing and it was a project for my students. And we way over engineered the network. Same enterprise gear. Multiple access points running on both 2.4gHz and 5gHz bands.

Not quite as lucky where I am now. When I came in it was just consumer level gear, and not quite enough. I’ve added a bit of gear and feel pretty confident in it now. Here’s what we’re using.

Linksys e2500 wireless router 

This handles the DHCP addressing.  It’s consumer level, but I’ve never had a problem with it running out of addresses. We also set it up to handle 5gHz wireless connections for those teams that only have 5gHz cards. There usually aren’t many, but it’s a backup.

Linksys WAP300N wireless access point 

These are used for 2.4gHz wireless connections, and we use 3 set on channels 1, 6, and 11.

What I’ve found is that when larger contests have problems getting teams connected to their wireless network it’s usually a lack of wireless access points. Last year we tried to run an 80 team contest with just the e2500 and one wap300N and not everyone was able to get online. Fortunately we had an extra wap300N. With it connected, everyone was able to connect. This year we added a third for insurance.

Network switch

Wired contests will need a bunch. We just use a couple. And it’s similar to this one. 6 of them were here when I started at my current job.

Network Cabling

Enough to connect your devices. We put one switch in my classroom for the judging machines and another switch in the cafeteria that hooks up to the router and access points. There’s about a 200 foot cable between the switches.

Computers

You’re also going to need some computers.

If you’re using PC^2 you’ll need one computer to act as a PC^2 server and at least a couple that can act as judges. For smaller contests two judges may be enough. We typically plan for 6 to 8. You also really don’t want to judge from the contest server.

You might also consider setting up a web server on the local network. We use one as a place where teams can download sample data files before the contest starts.

 

In this series

Why go through the trouble of hosting your own computer science contest?
What do you need to get ready to host a contest?
What gear do you need to run a computer science contest?
Setting up PC^2
If you've got it setup correctly, PC^2 makes contest grading easy.
During the Contest
What do you do while the contest is running?
After the contest
Contest over? Now what do you do?

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