Three questions with a new staff member –James Kafader with Software Engineering.

Please welcome James Kafader to ESnet! James comes to us from Internet Archive (IA), where he worked on the Archive-It team, which develops and maintains a turnkey archiving platform. Archive-It partners with external institutions and national libraries to capture data on their behalf. It is essentially the project incubator at IA and focused on high-quality and large-scale archiving. The data collected by Archive-It represents about 30% of the available captures in the global wayback machine.

Question 1: What brought you to ESnet?

In 2020, I spent a lot of time thinking about the interconnectedness of natural systems, and how they relate to the earth’s climate. It strikes me that it’s imperative, as a planet and nation, to focus on reducing the impact of climate change in short order. This line of thinking led me to dedicate my time to science, which could have a positive impact on the global climate.

Question 2: What is the most exciting thing going on in your field right now?

This is a good question. I consider myself very much a generalist in terms of how I approach software development, as well as in my overall view of reality. My view of computational systems is very conservative as well — I like to understand the algorithms involved with any new technology as intimately as possible before selecting it for use. I’d say in many ways that the most exciting thing going on in my field is renewed interest in how large-scale systems affect equitability for their participants; that is, how the networks, systems, and structures that we build affect outcomes for each of us.

Question 3: What book would you recommend?

I recently read Breath by James Nestor. It was an engaging read and helped a lot with my mood and stability, if not the most scientifically accurate thing I’ve ever read. Another favorite is Difficult Conversations by Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone, and Bruce Patton.

Creating the Tokamak Superfacility: Fusion with the ScienceDMZ

5.5 Questions with Eli Dart (ESnet), C.S. Chang, and Michael Churchill (PPPL)

In 2025, when the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) generates “first plasma”, it will be the culmination of almost 40 years of effort.  First started in 1985, the project has grown to include the scientific talents of seven members (China, EU, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the US, with EU membership bringing the total to 35 countries) and if successful, will mark the first time that a large scale fusion reactor generates more thermal power than is used to heat isotopes of hydrogen gas to a plasma state.

ESnet is supporting this international scientific community as this dream of limitless, clean energy is pursued. When operational at full capacity, ITER will generate approximately a petabyte-per-day of data, much of which will need to be analyzed and fed back in near real-time to optimize the fusion reaction and manage distribution of data to a federated framework of geographically distributed “remote control rooms” or RCR.  To prepare for this demanding ability to distribute both data and analytics, recently ESnet’s Eli Dart and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s (PPPL) Michael Churchill and  C.S. Chang were co-authors on a test exercise performed with collaborators at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), PPPL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and with the Korean KREONET, KSTAR, National Fusion Research Institute, and the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology. This study (https://doi.org/10.1080/15361055.2020.1851073) successfully demonstrated the use of ESnet and the ScienceDMZ architecture as part of trans-Pacific large data transfer, and near real-time movie creation and analysis of the KSTAR electron cyclotron emission images, via links between multiple paths at high sustained speeds.


Q 1: This was a complex test, involving several sites and analytic workflows.  Can you walk our readers through the end-to-end workflow? 

End-to-end workflow of the demonstration comparing real-time streaming data from the KSTAR ECEI diagnostic to side-by-side movie from XGC1 gyrokinetic turbulence code.
End-to-end workflow of the demonstration comparing real-time streaming data from the KSTAR ECEI diagnostic to side-by-side movie from XGC1 gyrokinetic turbulence code.

Eli Dart: The data were streamed from a system at KSTAR, encoded into ADIOS format, streamed to PPPL, rendered into movie frames, and visualized at PPPL. One of the key attributes of this workflow is that it is a streaming workflow. Specifically, this means that the data passes through the workflow steps (encoding in ADIOS format, transfer, rendering movie frames, showing the movie) without being written to non-volatile storage. This allows for performance improvements, because no time is spent on storage I/O. It also removes the restriction of storage allocations from the operation of the workflow – only the final data products need to be stored (if desired). 

Q 2: A big portion of this research supports the idea of federated, near real-time analysis of data.  In order to make these data transfers performant, flexible, and adaptable enough to meet the requirements for a future ITER RCR, you had to carefully engineer and coordinate with many parties.  What was the hardest part of this experiment, and what lessons does it offer ITER?

Eli Dart: It is really important to ensure that the network path is clean. By “clean” I mean that the network needs to provide loss-free IP service for the experiment traffic. Because the fusion research community is globally distributed, the data transfers cover long distances, which greatly magnifies the negative impact of packet loss on transfer performance. Test and measurement (using perfSONAR) is very important to ensure that the network is clean, as is operational excellence to ensure that problems are fixed quickly if they arise. KREONET is an example of a well-run production network – their operational excellence contributed significantly to the success of this effort.

Q 3: One of the issues you had to work around was a firewall at one institution.  What was involved in working with their site security, and how should those working with Science DMZ work through these issues?

Eli Dart: Building and operating a Science DMZ involves a combination of technical and organizational work. Different institutions have different policies, and the need for different levels of assurance depending on the nature of the work being done on the Science DMZ. The key is to understand that security policy is there for a reason, and to work with the parties involved in the context that makes sense from their perspective. Then, it’s just a matter of working together to find a workable solution that preserves safety from a cybersecurity perspective and also allows the science mission to succeed. 

Q 4: How did you build this collaboration and how did you keep everyone on the same page, any advice you can offer other experiments facing the same need to coordinate multi-national efforts?

Eli Dart: From my perspective, this result demonstrates the value of multi-institution, multi-disciplinary collaborations for achieving important scientific outcomes. Modern science is complex, and we are increasingly in a place where only teams can bring all the necessary expertise to bear on a complex problem. The members of this team have worked together in smaller groups on a variety of projects over the years – those relationships were very valuable in achieving this result.

Q 5: In the paper you present a model for a federated remote framework workflow. Looking beyond ITER, are there other applications you can see for the lessons learned from this experiment?

C.S. Chang: Lessons learned from this experiment can be applied to many other distributed scientific, industrial, and commercial applications which require collaborative data analysis and decision making.  We do not need to look too far.  Expensive scientific studies on exascale computers will most likely be collaborative efforts among geographically distributed scientists who want to analyze the simulation data and share/combine the findings in near-real-time for speedy scientific discovery and for steering of ongoing or next simulations.  The lessons learned here can influence the remote collaboration workflow used in high energy physics, climate science, space physics, and others.

Q 5.5: What’s next? You mention quite a number of possible follow on activities in the paper? Which of these most interest you, and what might follow?

Michael Churchill: Continued work by this group has led to the recently developed  open-source Python framework, DELTA, for streaming data from experiments to remote compute centers, using ADIOS for streaming over wide-area networks, and on the receiver side using asynchronous Message Passing Interface to do parallel processing of the data streams. We’ve used this for streaming data from KSTAR to the NERSC Cori supercomputer and completing a spectral analysis in parallel in less than 10 minutes, which normally in serial would take 12 hours. Frameworks such as this, enabling connecting experiments to remote high-performance computers, will open up the quality and quantity of analysis workflows that experimental scientists can run. It’s exciting to see how this can help accelerate the progress of science around the world.

Congratulations on your success! This is a significant step forward in building the data management capability that ITER will need.  

Three Questions with Joseph Nasal

Three questions with a new staff member!  Today, Joseph (Joe) Nasal, who has joined our Business Office as a Project Manager.

After graduating from Temple University, Joe began his career designing broadband Radio Frequency-hybrid fiber networks and management software for some of the first residential cable modem deployments in the country.  Early on, he also worked in defense and designed and operated private secure communications networks for federal contractors.  He spent the past two decades supporting higher education through roles in engineering, technical architecture, project management, and leadership. His work helped transform data communication at Pennsylvania State University, preparing the campus for tremendous growth in teaching and research. 

What brought you to ESnet?

I’ve been architecting and managing very large communication network design and implementation projects for most of my career.  After nearly 20 years at Penn State, it was time for a career change.  One of my close colleagues recently came to ESnet in support of Science Engagement, and when I learned through him of an opportunity to help with such exciting and important growth on a national scale I was very happy to find a place in the organization.  I’ll be operating out of my home office in State College, PA.

What is the most exciting thing going on in your field right now?

In data communications, it’s about getting more for less—more throughput, more distance, more fidelity, for less cost.  Cost is measured in units like dollars, or time, or energy, or human effort, and those of us who work in this space are always trying to optimize these resources. This is an exciting time because it seems like we’re on the cusp of training machines to give us a magnitude leap forward in efficiencies via automated processes and learning algorithms. But it’s going to take clear human vision to get us to where we want to be, which means as engineers, we will continue to have fun solving big problems. 

What book would you recommend?

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdős.  Paul was one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century whose work has implications for both computer science and information theory.  He was an eccentric genius and his personal story is a fascinating one to follow. As engineers, I think it’s important to be aware of and appreciate the great thinkers who exist at the very base level of abstraction with respect to the technologies we use and build upon. 

Three Questions with John Hess

John comes to ESnet’s Network Engineering team from the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC), operator of the State of California Research and Education Network (CALREN).  At CENIC, John was involved in a number of projects, including the Pacific Wave, the Pacific Research Platform, and participation in Global Network Advancement Group (GNA-G) teams exploring AutoGOLE/NSI and Data Intensive Science, as well as other collaborative efforts.  

Prior to CENIC, John worked as a network engineer for UC, as well as a systems engineer during a brief stint with Cisco.  Among his interests are interconnection protocols, network performance, and data movement.

What brought you to ESnet? 

Through my activities with CENIC and Pacific Wave, I had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues at ESnet on a variety of projects. The ESnet folks with whom I have worked consistently impressed me with their depth of expertise, willingness to share their knowledge, and their commitment to advancing the interests of researchers and multidisciplinary, data-intensive initiatives involving the national labs and institutions across the broader R&E community.  I wanted to join and contribute as part of that team.      

What is the most exciting thing going on in your field right now?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a more general realization and sense of urgency of the need to close the digital divide. I am excited about (further) democratizing access to technology — to under-served communities, to a more diverse set of potential researchers and contributors.  As much as the advances in basic research with HEP (high energy physics), Astro-Physics, Genomics, Earth Sciences, and other domains, I am excited about advancing pervasive access to technology. 

What book would you recommend?

Burch, David. Celestial Navigation, A Complete Home Study Course, Second Edition. Seattle, Starpath Publications, 2019. 

I began sailing as a kid with our family’s 13’ SunFish on a lake near our home in NJ.  This began what has become a life-long passion for sailing and the realization of a childhood dream of someday owning and living on a sailboat.   Though my boat is equipped with a state-of-the-art  navigation system, among my current dreams is to become conversant with celestial navigation and to complete ocean passages relying exclusively on this centuries-old  technology. 

Cyber Infrastructure Engineering Lunch & Learn Series Hits 100!

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. 

A representative slide from Jason’s 4 May 2020 CI Lunch & Learn Talk on “TCP Basics and Science DMZ” — networking science with a healthy dose of LoLcats.

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!

Three Questions with Karim Benbourenane

Three questions with a new staff member on our Software Engineering – Orchestration and Core Data Team!

Karim comes to us from Carnegie Mellon University, where he served as a Software Engineer in the Network Services group. In that role, he designed, implemented, deployed, and maintained numerous applications to provide support to the campus network infrastructure. He has worked on a diverse set of network computing problems with a focus on automation and self-service utilities. Karim is proficient in a multitude of application development stacks but has a special place in his heart for those that put Python in the mix.

Karim Benbourenane in the “Pre-Pandemic-Mask” era

What brought you to ESnet?

I’ve always had a profound curiosity for the intersection of mathematics, science, and technology. Starting with a strong foundation in mathematics, I learned how to better apply my problem-solving  skills by pursuing graduate work in computational biology. It was there that I discovered how next-generation computing technologies could radically transform and elevate entire scientific fields. I’ve been seeking to utilize the skills I’ve built up over my 15 years of industry experience to help build tools for scientists, to empower them, and help them achieve discoveries in a world that is becoming ever increasingly more complex. The work being done at ESnet lines up perfectly with this goal in mind.

What is the most exciting thing going on in software engineering right now?

I would say the rapid proliferation of containerization technologies and the use of cloud infrastructure for distributed computing problems, as well as advancements in machine learning libraries and toolkits that let scientists more easily simplify the manipulation and analysis of large datasets. Many of these concepts were in their infancy or early stages only a decade ago, and now they’re everywhere and I’m happy to see how fast they’ve been adopted.

What book would you recommend?

Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe by J. Richard Gott. An accessible read for laymen like me, about how one would — given some ridiculous assumptions — go about creating various time machines.

Three Questions with Shawn Brown

Three questions with a new staff member!  

Shawn comes to us from Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he most recently held the role of a Senior Research Network Engineer. One of his major research projects was to develop and implement a Precision Timing Protocol (PTP) timing network, to keep data from the nation’s power grid substations synchronized and improve security by removing the dependency on GPS timing signals. Another fun project, for the United States Forestry Service involved developing low-cost (sub $100) durable, yet “disposable” fixed-wing drones, able to detect airborne asbestos fibers released during wildfires. 

When did you first become interested in networking and what brought you to ESnet?

My first introduction to networking occurred while enlisted in the US Army. I will forever remember learning subnetting while attending a voluntary class on a rather hot summer Saturday morning held inside of a windowless trailer, without air conditioning, located in the Southern AZ desert. From that point on, I was hooked.

The desire to work with some of the brightest minds on one of the fastest networks around brought me to ESnet. As a network engineer working at another DOE Lab, I had a few chances to work with ESnet engineers as well as being a customer of ESnet. Over the years, I was exposed to the team, their wonderful attitudes, and their first-class customer service. Transitioning to ESnet feels like a natural fit. 

What is the most exciting thing going on right now? 

Software Defined Networking and 400 Gbps transport speeds are perhaps two of the most exciting things in networking right now, and ESnet is in the middle of both of those. PTP synchronization providing nanosecond timestamping and accuracy is also something that I find exciting. Equally exciting was working on Quantum Key Distribution over WAN networks.

What book would you recommend?

For me, it is a toss-up between “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard or the “One Second After” trilogy by William R. Forstchen.

Three questions with Minori Telang

Three questions with a new staff member!  

Please meet Minori Telang. Minori Telang comes to us from a variety of network engineering activities. She has worked for a telecom, in the health sector, and at a SAAS based company.

Outside work, she enjoys travel, hiking, and exploring new coffee shops with her husband. She is very keen on photography and loves to capture nature.

What brought you to ESnet?

During my interview process, I was told that ESnet’s main focus is to build networks for Scientific research and development. Hearing that I felt excited because I could be part of such a big community and can help support various researches across the world. I also think that this will help me grow professionally. 

What is the most exciting thing going on right now?

SDN and Cloud Networking is the most exciting technology right now.

What book would you recommend?

Instead of a book, I can recommend a spectacular hike, the Pipiwai trail in Hawaii  🙂 

Three Questions with Asma Aldaghar

Three questions with a new staff member on our Networking Engineering Team!

Asma earned her Bachelors in Computer Science from Higher Colleges of Technology in Dubai, where she majored in Network Sciences and Engineering. In Dubai, she was a member of IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE), one of the first organizations to recognize women’s presence in Engineering in the UAE, and participated in many WIE summits. Asma left Dubai, immigrating to California where she has worked as a Network Engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area for multinational corporations such as Google and Amazon, in Los Angeles for AT&T, and in the Central Valley as a Technical Infrastructure Lead for the Turlock Irrigation District. Beyond network engineering, Asma is also keenly interested in scripting, virtualization, automation, building databases, and working with open-source operating systems.

In her personal time, Asma enjoys reading, traveling, hiking and baking vegan goods.

Question 1: What brought you to ESnet?

I was introduced to ESnet and LBNL through my professor who also happens to work at LLNL. After hours of research on the ESnet public website, I was impressed by the lab’s accomplishments and future projects, specifically the ones that are focused on providing network services for national labs and some international research facilities. At this stage of my career, I wanted to be part of an organization which has an impactful mission that is beyond the bottom line. ESnet seems to satisfy both my professional and personal interests, and I am thrilled about this opportunity!

Question 2: What is the most exciting thing going on right now?

Automation! The vast majority of networking tasks are still executed manually, which can be time and effort taxing for network engineers. Incorporating automation into network services will assist in managing repetitive tasks and consequently improve network availability.

Question 3: What book do you recommend?

Big Farms make Big Flu by Rob Wallace. Looking at our current situation with this deadly pandemic, it’s very important to educate ourselves of how we got here. Apart from the fact that I learned a lot from Rob Wallace’s extraordinary analysis of our current agricultural practices, I also incorporated significant changes in my daily life (plant-based diet, awareness of ethical trades and supporting sustainable energy).

Three Questions with Mark Körner

Three questions with a new staff member!  

Marc Körner is the most recent addition to the ESnet Software Engineering – Orchestration and Core Data team (OCD).  He comes to us from Join Digital in San Jose where he was Lead Engineer in their Network Services team.  

Marc has a PhD in Computer Science from the Technical University of Berlin, and has spent a number of years working as a researcher in both the Berlin and Berkeley areas. He’ll be working on the automation side of OCD getting familiar with the network services orchestrator platform and helping us achieve our ESnet6 deliverables. Marc is onboarding virtually this week but resides full time in the San Jose area.

What brought you to ESnet?

I was always very passionate about computer networks. The idea of having a global technology for the data and knowledge exchange was always very fascinating for me. It started with the LAN sessions I had with my friends and ended up with the tremendous opportunity to build the first SDN research network in Europe. After my time as a research fellow at the UC Berkeley Netsys lab group and my startup experiences in the access network provider business, the open position for the network automation at ESnet was the ultimate opportunity to take it to the next level.

What is the most exciting thing going on in your field right now?

This question is not easy to answer, there are so many things going on in computer networks. I think one of the biggest innovations in the last decade is the virtualization in general and the centralization of network management and control. However, one of the more recent trends which correlates with this particular network development is edge computing, or the slightly more generalized concept of fog computing and its seamless orchestration. It’s basically a fine granular fusion of the compute and network control plan, which we also observed in cloud computing.

What book would you recommend?

It has been a while since I read a book. As an EECS guy people are probably expecting something to hear like: “The programming language C by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie”. However, if you are interested in science in general I would probably recommend: “The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking”. The book provides some interesting insights about modern physics and has the potential to open up interesting views on the world around us.