In 2017 ESnet, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, created a series of bi-weekly talks on network engineering and research engagement topics. These “Cyberinfrastructure (CI) Engineering Lunch & Learn” presentations, held every other Friday afternoon at 2:00pm ET, have become an important way for engineers from the research and education community to share technical best practices for deploying and operating laboratory and campus networks. It has also served as a social event for a common community of interest especially during the pandemic.
On March 12th, ESnet’s Jason Zurawski – who developed and still leads the events – will convene the 100th CI Engineering Lunch and Learn. A complete set of recordings of past sessions is available on the EPOC YouTube Channel located here. An anniversary is always a chance to look back on what has been accomplished; here are 5 Questions with Jason to get his thoughts on the Lunch and Learn series.
Thinking back over the past 100 talks, which have particularly stuck in your mind?
The best turn-out and feedback that I receive from the participants comes from either “hot topics” or engaging speakers.
For instance, we have had a number of popular, well attended talks on the development of the BBR protocol (going as far back as 2017). . Other sessions that were well attended focused on topics like perfSONAR, Science DMZ, and Data Transfer; all of these are critical to building an effective and high performing cyberinfrastructure that supports data transfers in service of global science collaborations.
Other critical talks come from innovative and important voices from the R&E community. Hyojoon Kim from Princeton talking about P4 and how it is used on their campus to facilitate network research (https://youtu.be/R2UQH4Y8Uec), and the perfSONAR project’s use of new measurement protocols such as TWAMP (https://youtu.be/7wRZbmKmtAY) are great examples of these kind of talks. As of last year, many of these folks would have given a talk ‘in person’ at a conference, but have not been able to do so due to the pandemic. We have also done a number of tutorials and project updates that remain popular. For example, tutorials by Fatema Bannat Wala on Zeek Use Cases and by Alan Whinery with University of Hawaii on IPv6 Deployment, have been especially notable.
Have you seen a change in attendance or role for these CI events from before the pandemic and now?
We have seen moderate (10-15%) increases for both the live and recorded sessions during the week of a talk. We have also seen a similar increase in subscription to our membership list since its inception in 2017. . Some of the “tutorial” content has increased viewership over time – perhaps as the pandemic lets our audience review content from home, that they were not able to previously study due to a lack of time. This is a net positive, as it points to a general trend that it is easier/more desirable to watch a video on a topic (e.g. deploying software) versus reading documentation/following instructions.
What makes for a successful CI talk?
Passion from the speaker is very important. We want to hear from community members that are excited about what they are presenting: a research project, a new operational component, or a problem they want to solve (or have solved). Speaking from experience is also valuable, as the audience wants to know deep technical details for most of the talks.
What do you think has been the biggest challenge keeping this series going?
We’ve always had willing presenters, and to date, we are always able to schedule between 20 and 30 talks over the course of the year. The primary challenge is making sure we can continue to find fresh perspectives that hit on some core values:
- Supporting the diversity of voices (gender, ethnicity, institutional background). When reflecting on the prior 100 talks, we unfortunately skewed strongly away from these diverse categories; this is a trend that must be reversed. Recruitment to address this is already underway for 2021 and beyond.
- Focusing on talks that address the needs of modern CI: operational best practices, policy choices, translation of research to production, etc.
- Ensuring our audience is growing. These talks assist in bringing new contributors up to speed vis a vis retirements and other attrition where knowledge may not be passed down to newcomers.
What do you think will be major themes in the next 100 hundred CI sessions?
A theme we have encouraged from the start is to share what we know, and acknowledge what we don’t know. We want to see the major institutions and facilities pass on the lessons they have fought hard to learn and implement so that campuses of smaller size with limited CI knowledge level can benefit. Similarly, we want those individuals that are not as experienced to be vocal and ask (potentially hard) questions to the community to drive what needs to be presented and discussed.
I believe that policy (e.g. long term care, maintenance, upgrades, sustainability) of CI will be an ongoing concern as we approach 10 or more years of operations for some facilities. Security is always a hot area, as the threats continue and adapt over time. Technology continues to evolve and upgrade rapidly, so hearing about the ‘latest and greatest’ will also drive content and speakers for the talks.
Jason, thank you for running the CI series, and all the hard work associated with keeping a regular technical exchange going like clockwork during a pandemic. I look forward to the next 100 CI Lunch & Learn!