SCinet at SC’18: Inspirations and Experiences of a Volunteer

Tuesday Keynote at SC’18 in Dallas: It is the welcome session for every attendee and SC’18 General Chair Ralph McEldowney is on stage. He talks about passion in this inspired research field. His general message is to be successful and happy in what you are doing, you need passion. Ralph has been a volunteer since SC’99 and started his SCinet career in the fiber team. He led the team of volunteers who built SCinet for SC’09 in Portland and has worked his way up to become the SC General Chair.

Everyone in the audience can see a picture behind him showing the SCinet student volunteers of SC’17 in Denver which included me. That was the first time I had volunteered for SCinet.

The orientation sets the scene for students to participate in a major conference. Jason Zurawski, SCinet SC’18 Chair, told us in our SCinet orientation session, that you can go far if you are reliable and have fun with your work. Beginning in 2004, while Jason was a computer science graduate student, he has volunteered to plan, build and operate SCinet, the SC Conference’s dedicated high-capacity network. He served on the SCinet executive team in 2016 and 2017, leading up to his selection as SCinet chair for SC’18. This year was special as SC’18 marked the 30th anniversary of the annual international conference of high-performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis.

SC’18 in Dallas gave me an opportunity again to be a SCinet Student with the fiber team. This was an exciting role and has helped me to develop my technical skills building on from what I learned last year.

I have had a huge learning curve from the very first day. I decided to be more responsible for my Distribute Network Operating Center (DNOC) from the very first moment because I could work on my experience at SCinet from the previous year.
This year I understand the dependencies and the decisions made, which fiber spool belongs to which DNOC, how to set fibers under a masonite hardboard, how a NOC is organized in general and how the NOC is connected to the DNOCs. The power of the NOC is the collaboration of extraordinary people collaborating with generous contributors to achieve record-breaking results with state-of-the-art technology. And I am a proud volunteer and happy to contribute my time.

Again, involved with fiber team as a student at SCinet I was responsible for a DNOC; one of 5 DNOCs on the exhibition hall, which all of them are connected to the NOC, where  9 racks solve important tasks during the show. Fiber from the NOC ascends into the ceiling and drops into 5 DNOCs. The NOC connected more than 65 miles of fiber running up and through the ceiling, into smaller Distributed NOCs and under the carpet providing more than a 4.02 terabits of bandwidth.

A fiber student had the following tasks:
Before going to the assigned DNOC area, one has to pick up the respective DNOC’s fiber spools. A pallet with a bunch of fiber spools belongs to each of the 5 DNOCs. The first task was to sort the fiber spools by their assigned number and to mark them. Following which, the fiber spools are sorted by the booth number and the order in which they would be laid. After sorting the fiber spools in a specific order, we have to prepare each spool so that they are ready to be laid on the floor. First, the cable needs to be rolled 20 times which is then put on the spool. This rolling up of the spool is done so that it can put under the DNOC for future connections and we need not worry about it during the laying down of fiber. To protect the fiber from traffic a threshold has to be built. A threshold consists of 2 masonite boards adhered to the floor roughly 3” apart with the fiber laid in between and another masonite laid on top at the center. The first step is using gaffers tape, the ends of the two-floor thresholds are taped before laying the fiber inside, this will prevent the fiber from sliding under the masonite and getting crushed. The fiber is then laid down in the middle of the two boards. The threshold with the third piece of masonite is laid in the center over the fiber and is taped down on both sides. Finally, the threshold is taping down the baseboards at the joints of the masonite. It is made sure that the threshold feels firm and there is no wiggle room or movement. All this will be covered by carpet later in the week and therefore the aesthetic sense of laying down the fiber is not important. Creating a service loop on each side of the threshold is important. This slack is used by the fiber repair technician in case of a cut or crushed fiber. The designated fiber spool is dropped off in each booth for their own connections according to the specific booth maps of a DNOC.

A base is made out of wood where the DNOC will be set up like a stage on which the DNOC would be built and mounted. First, the fiber coils are all kept on the wooden base after which they are sorted and then the fiber is laid. The fiber which was laid under the base is now pulled up the base where they have to be sorted and arranged using the list. The DNOC area is then enclosed while the setting up the DNOC still continues within. Aerial fibers are connected from the NOC to the DNOCs. All the cables need to be cleaned and then put in appropriate slots in the rack. The slot numbers are found in the list.

The list was created by the routing team, there you can find the ports number, cable numbers for the front and back as well as the port ID for the front and back. And finally, all the cables need to go to the appropriate switches. While putting in the cables, they are neatly arranged, shown in the picture below.

At the end of the show, there was a SCinet 2018 Rack Organization Award … and again my team and I won the contest. Last year the SCinet organization team made me proud when I won the DNOC contest for SC17 in Denver. This year, I wanted to compete against myself too and wanted to prepare the DNOC for the show as well as last year. For the next year, I could improve my knowledge in the fiber team again. There are still so many things I can learn from them, for example how to fix fibers. Of course, it will be great to be in another team to learn something new, as there are a lot of areas to discover. It was a great experience for me and it was a surprise to see myself on the Tuesday keynote session. The reactions I have seen from several people shown me, that I am doing a good job. Thank You to the ISC organization team, in special Tanja Grünter, she said proudly: “That’s our Anja!” Thank you to Bernd Mohr, SC17 Conference Chair, that he came afterward to me and said: “You have a great career ahead of you.” I am keeping myself engaged and motivated always.

About the author: Anja Gerbes

  • Anja is employed at the Center for Scientific Computing in Frankfurt and is doing her Ph.D. in Hamburg at the German Climate Computing Center. In Frankfurt, she is responsible for the GOETHE-HLR and FUCHS cluster at Goethe University. As a member at the Hessian Competence Center for High-Performance Computing (HKHLR) for the location of Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, her task is to help scientists for the Universities of Hessen with their programs, to optimize and improve them. She is giving lectures in different HPC topics to introduce users to the cluster environment.

    Performance optimization was very exciting, which in turn drew her closer to HPC after her bachelor in computer science. She did her master in HPC and her master thesis was about performance analysis with hardware performance counters on C++ code. She organized during her study different events like IT-Girls Night and Night of Science. As a student, she was volunteering in university politics.

    After finishing her study in computer science she started studying physics, where she got a member of the Equalization Council of Physics. As a physic student, she is now responsible for the organization of Girls’ Day in Physics and is planning to organize a Physics-Girls Night, to inspire girls for physics.