Celebrating 30 Years of SCinet at SC20: Q&A with Former SCinet Chair Linda Winkler
Linda Winkler, senior network engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, is a fixture in the SC community. She has 21 years of SC volunteer experience, and all but two of those years were dedicated to planning, building and operating the conference’s high-performance network—SCinet. Linda served as SCinet chair for SC12 in Salt Lake City, UT.
During the past 30 years, SCinet has become the most powerful and advanced network on Earth for each week we’ve held the SC Conference, connecting the SC community to the world. This feature celebrates the dedicated volunteers whose leadership, tireless efforts, and enthusiasm have helped shape the SC experience over the last three decades.
When you first started volunteering with SCinet, what did the network and volunteer team look like at the time?
My first year volunteering with SCinet was for SC95 in San Diego, CA. SC95 included a project called I-WAY, or Information Wide Area Year, which brought a huge amount of wide-area bandwidth into the conference center and involved working with application developers to utilize remote resources in unprecedented ways. The scope of the experiment involved interconnecting 11 wide-area testbed and agency networks involving multiple carriers (Ameritech, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, MCI, PacBell, Sprint), 17 supercomputing centers, five virtual reality research sites, and more than 60 application groups. The entire SCinet team at the time was roughly a dozen volunteers.
Linda Winkler in the captain’s chair, surrounded by SCinet colleagues in a far-out exhibit at SC12.
From the origin stories you’ve heard, what spurred the introduction of SCinet into the SC Conference and sealed its place as an integral part of SC?
Research exhibitors at the SC Conference wanted a way to demonstrate their work, but dragging their expensive and fragile hardware around the country to support those demonstrations was problematic. What they needed was a dedicated network infrastructure to connect to remote resources. While building that network was challenging at the time, some very talented and industrious folks saw it as a challenge worth pursuing. It took the commitment and cooperation of a number of vendors as well, because some of the early technology such as HIPPI, or high performance parallel interface, was not really ready for use in a wide-area network environment.
The SCinet infrastructure built each year for SC provides an opportunity for researchers to push the envelope with large-scale experiments. This presents a huge risk/reward opportunity for researchers and exhibitors. Many key technologies (10G, 100G, 400G) were introduced, trialed, and stressed at SC over the years, while others were introduced and then disappeared quietly (HIPPI, Asynchronous Transfer Mode, and Infiniband).
Since its beginning, SCinet has always strived to support a microcosm for high performance computing and networking as the landscape continues to dramatically evolve. It pushes the boundaries of what is possible through demonstration of multi-vendor interoperability of new technologies, while bridging the gap between theory and practice. SCinet is able to provide advanced capabilities to exhibitors and, at the same time, adapt to learn how to manage new infrastructure and services.
Linda Winkler served as the SCinet vice chair when SC returned to Salt Lake City in 2016. Here she is helping to coordinate SCinet teardown, a massive undertaking that must be completed in less than 24 hours at the end of the conference.
What was your path to becoming SCinet Chair?
After several years leading the SCinet routing team, I wanted to explore a different challenge. Being SCinet chair involves orchestrating a large, complex, all-volunteer organization and facilitating a multi-vendor collaboration among SCinet’s contributors. All of this presents a number of interesting challenges. Despite those and the huge time commitment, the experience was very rewarding. My objectives were to expand the scope of my responsibilities and learn more about the larger SC Committee. I ultimately found that serving as SCinet chair offered incredible exposure to the HPC community. I was able to connect with new peers in the field and develop key contacts within industry-leading networking and computing companies.
What advice do you have for early career professionals in the fields of network engineering and high performance computing that are learning about SCinet for the first time and are considering volunteering?
Just do it! Learning from top talent in these fields—in a challenging, but supportive environment—is an incredible opportunity. The breadth and scope of SCinet’s efforts are expansive, and the volunteer team is immensely resourceful and willing to share insights. As a result, you may experience more in a short time with SCinet than across years in your day job. Everyone works extremely hard, and the payoff is tremendous.
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?
Dedicated, resourceful, and creative. All volunteers want the entire team to be successful, and they work hard to make SCinet the best it can be each year. There are any number of things that may go wrong. The team is always up for the challenge.
Participants in the NSF-funded Women in IT Networking at SC (WINS) program pause for a photo with the WINS management team and selection committee. WINS was developed as a means for addressing the prevalent gender gap that exists in network engineering and HPC. Linda Winkler has volunteered with the WINS selection committee since the program’s pilot year in 2015.
Read Linda Winkler’s Paper
SCinet: 25 Years of Extreme Networking (2018) (PDF)
Amber Rasche, SC20 Communications, SCinet Liaison
Amber Rasche is a technical writer with N-Wave, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s enterprise network. In 2016 she had her first SCinet volunteer experience as a participant in the NSF-funded Women in IT Networking at SC (WINS) program. SC20 marks her fourth year volunteering with the SCinet communications team.