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Humans of SCinet: Q&A with SC20 Technical Director Matthew Zekauskas

humans of scinet

matthew zekauskasMatthew Zekauskas, senior researcher at Internet2, is SCinet volunteer of legendary status with a total of 21 years participating on the team. Matthew is the technical director on SCinet’s management team for SC20. Due to the virtual nature of SC20, we will not be building the cutting-edge SCinet infrastructure that our attendees have to come to expect as part of their SC experience. This feature aims to spotlight the dedicated volunteers and generous contributors whose tireless efforts and enthusiasm have helped shape the SC experience over the last 30 years.

  • Years as a SCinet Volunteer: 21
  • SCinet Teams: Measurement, Wide Area Network (WAN) Transport, DevOps, and Management
  • If you could be a superhero, what power would you possess? Being in two places at once.

What was your path to start volunteering with SCinet?

My first SC experience was in 1999 in Portland, OR. I was there to support the Internet2 booth on the SC exhibit floor, as well as attend tutorials and participate in the general SC Conference. Back then, I was a new employee at a company called Advanced Network and Services, and my role involved supporting the Internet2 engineering group, specializing in network measurement. Martin Swany, now a professor of computer science at Indiana University, introduced me to SCinet. He talked me into helping a little that year with what was then known as the SCinet measurement team, now integrated into the DevOps team.

I became a full-fledged member of the SCinet team in 2000, where my main role was to take the network traffic map in place for the backbone of Internet2’s first-generation network, known as the Abilene Network, and apply it to model traffic across SCinet’s wide area connections into the convention center. The goal was to visualize traffic in and out of the exhibit show floor, and communicate how demonstrations and experiments at the SC Conference were utilizing the research circuits provided by SCinet.

How would you explain SCinet and what you do as a SCinet volunteer to a family member or friend?

SCinet is a fully volunteer crew that comes together each year to build a temporary computer network to support research demonstrations at the SC Conference. That’s a short and simple explanation of a highly complex, year-long process that involves many moving parts.

SCinet’s technical director is part of the management team and helps to facilitate interactions among technical teams to create the network architecture needed to support each year’s SC Conference. The technical director also helps to guide the tools used by SCinet throughout the year as the team prepares to set up prior to the start of the conference. I have a fairly long history with SCinet and appreciate opportunities to bring some institutional knowledge to helping teams solve problems during the planning stages of SCinet.

The SCinet team has been working hard since January in preparation for SC20. What is one accomplishment that you are proud of?

I am especially proud of the work done by the DevOps, routing, WAN and architecture teams to automate the configuration of SCinet. Automation will allow us to stand up the network faster, with fewer errors, and deploy network changes more quickly. We can avoid the straightforward and repetitive work done every year, and instead concentrate on the interesting aspects of the advanced network for the SC show floor. Because network automation is the general industry trend, our volunteers also gain more experience automating a heterogeneous network, which they can bring back to their home institutions. The collaborative successes of this year’s teams to automate SCinet will carry forward even if we are not physically building a network this year.

What keeps you coming back as a SCinet volunteer each year?

During my years as a SCinet volunteer, I’ve learned a lot about other areas of networking and amassed a sizable number of professional contacts. At least three things keep me coming back to volunteer:

  1. The people. It’s great to be part of a very talented and motivated team. We are all learning from each other and sharing expertise.
  2. Exposure to cutting-edge technologies. In particular, I appreciate getting the hands-on experience and having opportunities to work with the latest networking equipment. SCinet is a unique environment where industry and researchers work together to ensure that the equipment interoperates, so the scope of that exposure is unmatched.
  3. New and challenging problems. I enjoy solving problems, and there are often challenging problems to solve on the path to creating SCinet and helping others use the network to effectively demonstrate their systems.

In addition to volunteering with SCinet, what do you do for fun?

Hiking, traveling, and high-performance driving are some of my favorites—but I’ve also been known to just binge-watch movies.

For hiking, I mostly enjoy day hikes or less. There are several parks and nature preserves with trails near my home that I frequent. I also like to hike in combination with my travels, particularly exploring national parks within and outside the U.S. When I travel to a new place, whether for work or vacation, I make sure to carve out time to simply explore. My most recent vacation included exploring southern Australia and Tasmania.

My high-performance driving experience includes competing alongside my brother in the One Lap of America rally for the last 19 years. Unfortunately, it was canceled due to COVID this year, but in typical years it involves time trials at race tracks around the country, starting at The Tire Rack in Indiana. Participants must drive between race venues, covering 5,000 miles without trailering their cars or any support vehicles. My brother and I usually end up mid-pack, but we enjoy the friendly competition with other teams nonetheless, including a number of them who are repeat offenders like us.

Learn more about SCinet.

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.

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