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Monday, February 23, 2009

Notes from Connectathon

View from the Connectathon Floor

Today starts the week-long event known as the IHE Connectathon. This year, I thought I'd keep a little diary of how the event goes, and post it in my blog (which I've been ignoring as I prepare for this event, and run to various standards meetings).

The Connectathon is held in downtown Chicago these days. Gone are the days that we fit into the basement of the RSNA garage. Usually the connectathon occurs in Janaury in the middle of Chicago winter. We got a slight reprieve this year because of show schedules. There are more than 120 systems here, and about 350 engineers testing, many of them new to the event. Tens of thousands of transactions will be tested and verified by the end of the week.

You can tell the new people from the old by how well they know their way around. There's a lot of new people here this week. I also see a lot of old faces this week, and get some time to catch up.

After I register and get my nametag, I dig out the "Troublemaker" badge I've now recycled for four standards meetings and apply it. I immediately get rebuked by the lead security testing monitor for the event, who has more of these badges she intended to use to identify the security folks. Don't impersonate a security person I'm told. I tell her to read the badge, she laughs and we move on.

My first real step of the day:
Unload the laptop, plug it in to power and network, and log into KUDU to download the HOSTS table.

Second step:
Read the tests I'm signed up to do (I should have done this earlier, but I'm taking a few liberties due to HITSP meetings last week).

Step three:
run net time /setsntp:time-a.nist.gov and fill out details for completing my first test. The monitor came by in record time and I passed that test. One down, twenty to go.

Now it is time to reboot and actually connect to the Connectathon network using my assigned IP Address.

After an hour into testing, I've already verified connectivity with two systems, spotted some code I forgot to write to enable TLS (it's the client side, which I wasn't planning on being critical, but am now the only client for this profile). Fifteen minutes later, after reading the ATNA FAQ (which I wrote about four years ago because I have a lousy memory), TLS is enabled and working. I've verified that I can query one of the two systems I need to talk to, but still have some things to do because I didn't catch everything I should have testing with an internally developed system.

I've already seen and/or participated in the vendor-A engineer sits down to help debug vendor-B's system twice before lunch, and know it's going on elsewhere while I'm doing my own testing.

During a brief lunch break, I impersonate a security monitor (at the table where they are all sitting).

After lunch, working on a profile with someone else, we discover a need to create a change proposal to the profile we are testing to help clarify something that is obvious to the profile editor (me), but not to the reader (my testing partner). Rereading it now, it's pretty clear reading it needed to be better specified, but that's part of why we are here.

This will NEVER happen at a customer site, but after lunch I overheard a discussion between two vendors: "I talked to the guys back home, and we've identified the problem. The fact that we're sending you a (undecipherable techno-babble) is definately our fault. We'll be fixing that shortly."

I made a bunch of notes for myself before lunch. I'm going through my system to verify that I've done everything in those notes.

Later I sit down at a different system and help someone work through a problem.

While headed out to check on something, I ran into one of the two CCHIT folk who are here this week. They are acting as monitors to get an idea what real-world testing looks like at the IHE Connectathon. They'll also get a pretty good idea about how "shovel-ready" these profiles are for EHR interoperability, and for placement on the CCHIT roadmap.

The head guy in charge comes by and asks if anyone around knows anything about VMware. I speak up and head over to another system to help someone connect to the network. It's fairly common here to run applications in VMWare for testing purposes, since development and deployment environments are very different. Sometimes the configuration can get tricky.

By the end of the day, we've figured out all of our problems on the one profile amongst the three of us that are testing it, verified that we are sending the right values back, and are ready to run the test. Unfortunately for us, this test is live proctored, and the monitors have just been released. That's not a huge problem. We'll be done with this profile tomorrow, and I might even get to take on some stretch goals this week.

Tommorow is day two. Time to pass a bunch of tests. On the way out, I check in with the fellow that was having VMWare issues, and he's on to the next stage, having gotten past those.

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