HMH Access 21st Century, DEP and You!

Alright, if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Access 21st Century yet – and most of you never will – then here’s a quick rundown.

First here’s the FAQ / Tech Notes page – you’re going to need it.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is the developer/publisher. Long story short with this application, is it provides a learning environment (computer based) for at risk kids. And that’s about the extent of my knowledge for what the product actually does. Sorry – I’m a systems administrator, not a teacher so going hands on in depth with the learning environment just isn’t part of the role.

Anyway, there’s a couple important things to know that may very well trip you up if you end up installing this platform for your district.

First: DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT trust the built in database backup utility in the application. I’m not sure what the story is with it – but 90% of the time it fails to provide a backup at all. When it does – you can bet that you’re going to try 9 or 10 times to get it to restore. So, by all means use the utility but have a backup plan! My personal method (after a nightmare of problems with the application today) is to stop the Access 21st Century service and take a copy of the data directory in program files. Yes, its a manual process, but I see no other option. I’ll continue backing up the VM, but these other two methods of app DB backup and data directory backup might be the only way to get the data restored. Speaking of – when you can’t restore the database properly – try this:

1. Uninstall the service and the application.

2. Reboot.

3. Re-install the application, then the service. But don’t start it yet.

4. Replace the files in the newly installed data directory with your old ones.

5. Reboot. When the system comes back you should be back to functional.

DEP and 21st Century:
For some reason Access 21st Century (or JAVA) triggers DEP (Data Execution Prevention) issues and when it does you can pretty much plan on the entire installation getting corrupted. (I speak from experience). So, save yourself the headache. The FAQ/support team from HMH will tell you to disable DEP in the BIOS – problem is Hyper-V requires it to be on. So… Opt-out or setup exclusions for Access 21st and Java as you see below. The top option is basically an Opt-Out. The bottom is and Opt-In with exclusions.

Finally – if you’re running Access 21st Century in a VM environment – it appears to be a CPU hog. By hog I mean it wanted to peg out a pair of virtual CPUs. So I gave it 4 and it’s perfectly happy. Keep in mind if you run into the v-CPUs chewing away at 99-100% non-stop it’s only going to be a matter of time before something in the JAVA/21st Century world gets hosed up and you’re restoring from backup. It only took about 2 hours without enough CPU resources before the system flat out stopped letting people logon and wouldn’t work no matter how many times I tried to reboot/restart the services. Reinstall it I did. Restore it (AGAIN!) I did.

I’m going home. Today has been fun (because I love this kind of stuff) but it sucked.