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Planning the World’s Most Powerful Network: A Q&A with SC20 SCinet Chair Kevin Hayden

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Kevin HaydenDuring the week of SC, SCinet becomes the most powerful and advanced network on Earth, connecting the SC community to the world. Kevin Hayden, Senior Network Engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, is this year’s SCinet Chair. He is tasked with leading a team of expert volunteers from across the HPC community with designing, building, and administering the cutting-edge SCinet infrastructure in Atlanta, GA.


We are all witnessing how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our world as we know it. How has managing the team of volunteers and planning for SCinet been during this unprecedented time?


SC20 will be a year to remember. When I attended my first SC20 planning meeting back in November 2018, we had no idea a pandemic would change the course of history.

The general committee and sponsoring societies have been planning SC20 for several years, while SCinet’s planning efforts span one year. During that time, we visit the conference location twice to survey and plan where equipment will be placed, how it will be delivered and moved on site, and design details you just can’t see on a 2-dimensional drawing of the physical space.

Most convention centers aren’t equipped with enough external fiber optic connectivity to allow us to bring in as many wide area network connections needed to deliver over 4 terabits per second of network connectivity. With this type of bandwidth, it would take roughly 42 seconds to download the entire Netflix HD movie library! This high-speed connectivity is needed to support both the attendees with their wifi experience, as well as the researchers and technologists who partake in HPC demonstrations on the SC exhibit hall floor.

One challenge we are currently navigating is how to survey the pathway from the Georgia World Congress Center to the local telco hotel where our connectivity will come from. That said, I have been impressed with the team’s resilience and continued dedication. We are doubling our planning and design work to accommodate for variations, but we have a great team that’s willing to go to great lengths to make sure SC20 is successful, no matter what the final conference looks like.


Tell us how you got involved with SCinet and your path to becoming SCinet Chair.


In 2005, Linda Winkler, a senior network engineer and work colleague, was hosting the SC05 planning meeting at Argonne National Laboratory. At that time I was in charge of a team of structured cabling installers at Argonne and I was a certified fiber optics installer.

Linda asked me if I would be interested in going to Seattle to install and repair fiber optic cables on the exhibit floor. I had no real idea what SC was or what I was expected to do.

I also had no idea just how much work and planning went into SCinet, and that my first time at the SC Conference would be both challenging and exciting. I had initially thought I would only be there to install the fiber, so I planned my travel for Sunday through Friday, because that’s when the fiber was supposed to be installed by.

On Monday morning, I made my way to the convention center with no real plan other than to help install fiber. Two hours later I was in a boom lift (because I was certified to use one) 35 feet above the exhibit hall floor, hanging fiber cables from the ceiling to support the exhibitor booths. During the day we would put in long hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., then go out to local venues with the volunteers on our team. The days were long, but the time flew by. It was amazing how many great friendships I made and maintained over the years just because of those five days in Seattle 15 years ago.

Over the years, I became more and more involved with the fiber team. I took on additional responsibilities such as creating the fiber design using AutoCAD, ordering equipment, and asking companies to donate equipment and tools that would be used in helping us install the network.

I was asked to co-chair the fiber team at SC10 with Annette Kitajima from Sandia National Laboratory. I remained fiber co-chair until SC15, when I was asked to take on the edge/commodity networks team chair role and fill in for Jeff Schwab from Purdue University, who would later become SCinet chair.

By 2015, commodity networking was more in alignment with my work at Argonne, so it was a very good fit and added great value to further validate my participation with SCinet. I remained in that position until 2018, when I was selected by former SCinet chairs and the SC20 general chair to lead the SCinet team at SC20.


SCinet is as much about the human network as it is about the physical SC network. What three words would you use to describe the SCinet team and why?


Incredible. I always say I am not the smartest person in the room (not even close) when at a SCinet meeting. These brilliant engineers can troubleshoot and fix anything thrown at them, document how they did it, and then share that information with anyone having similar problems. Many of the systems they work on at SC are still in the prototype phase of production, and they can still get in there with their colleagues and solve issues.

Family. I thought I was just going to work at some computer conference and met the most wonderful people.They say you can’t choose your family, but I say SCinet has become my family. They have cried with me and gotten me through some very tough times, and can always be counted on for a good hearty laugh. Most are willing to do absolutely anything for another team member, both personally and professionally. I have made such amazing friendships in my 15 years at SC.

Dedicated. There is no challenge too big for this team, whether it’s COVID-19 this year, federal budget cuts back in 2012, or equipment shortages in most years. SCinet will always come through and make the conference a great success. Our team leads include some of the most sought after engineers in the world, but did you know that we also have a veterinarian, a French language school owner, and a molecular geneticist and microbiologist on the SCinet team this year? While many of our volunteers are funded by their home institution to support their participation at SCinet, some of our volunteers self-fund their participation.


What is your most memorable SCinet moment and why?


My first wife passed away from a long battle with breast cancer just four days before SCinet staging was set to begin for SC14. My then mother-in-law was helping me out at the house and was watching my children. She suggested I go to the conference for a few days to decompress. I booked a ticket and headed to New Orleans. I was so happy to see my SCinet family and had the opportunity to have some joy when it was most needed. I will never forget the hugs and words of support from my closest friends.

Over the years, the moments are starting to blur together into one amazing moment. It would be hard to narrow it down to just one. I love working with the people of SC, learning about bleeding edge technologies, and challenging myself with the issues that arise while working to ensure the SC Conference is successful. Every year there is such excitement around getting the network up and running, usually with just moments to spare, and then the planning for teardown begins.

Learn more about SCinet at SC.

Sara Aly, SC20 Communications, SCinet Liaison

Sara Aly is a communications manager at Internet2. This is her third year volunteering with the SCinet communications team.

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