3Qs with Measurement & Analysis Intern Felix Renken

Felix Renken sitting in chair in front of monitor displaying project
Felix Renken at his desk in ESnet’s Building 59

ESnet Measurement & Analysis Intern Felix Renken is a senior student from Technische Universität Berlin, majoring in Computer Science with a focus on Media Technologies and Signal Processing. Originally from a rural area near Hamburg in northern Germany, he moved to Berlin to pursue his college education. He arrived in Berkeley in March and will be going home in early July.

During his internship, Felix worked on developing an open-source Grafana plugin for visualizing network data that can be used in ESnet’s Stardust system, which collects precise network measurement data and allows users to retrieve information about specific equipment over a given time range. (Learn more about Stardust via this talk by Ed Balas and Andy Lake.) Felix’s plugin enables users to visualize various data collected by Stardust, revealing the relationship between pairs of data from different destinations for a single source and showcasing common attributes in nodes and links along with the option to visualize AS paths. The plugin is currently undergoing the Grafana community plugin review process; the source code is available on GitHub. It is installed on Stardust too, for anyone who wants to check it out.

Want to know more? On June 30, Felix gave an ESnet Policy, Innovation, Practices, and Engineering (PIPE) talk about the Arc Diagram Plugin and his internship experience.

Diagram of the Arc plugin
Arc Diagram: Click to enlarge

What brought you to ESnet?

During my search for interesting internship opportunities, I came across ESnet’s student program and contacted Marc Körner and Katrina Turner to get more information on the projects they supervise. I eventually applied for the “Data Visualization of Network Measurement Data” project. It encompasses the development of an open-source tool that visualizes network data in an exciting way. The opportunity of getting work experience in a research environment greatly appealed to me. And, of course, the chance to spend time in California!

What is the most exciting aspect of your field right now?

The cross-disciplinary nature of visualizing data is particularly interesting to me. It utilizes principles from design, statistics, and computer science, offering opportunities to learn from diverse perspectives.

How was Berkeley different from Berlin? What fun things did you do here?

Berkeley and Berlin are distinct in so many aspects. Berkeley is, of course, much smaller in size than Berlin, and I really enjoyed being in a city that is less hectic. People here seem more relaxed. And the fact that Berkeley is somewhat shaped by its university was also something that I’m not used to from Berlin or any other German city. Cycling here was scarier than in Berlin though. Another thing is the accessibility to the fantastic nature around Berkeley. I went hiking a lot and will definitely miss being in close proximity to beautiful trails when going back to Germany. Other fun things I did were camping and eating a lot of burritos.

3Q with Alex Withers, ESnet’s New Deputy Chief Information Security Officer

Alex Withers in a blue t-shirt in front of green bushes
Alex Withers at home in Urbana, Illinois.

Network cybersecurity must strike a delicate balance between openness and safety. ESnet has long focused more on the first, in order to facilitate scientific communication, data sharing, and collaboration. But in today’s Wild West of ransomware, phishing, and other threats, safeguarding this vital network is equally critical. 

Deputy Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Alex Withers oversees a reorganized, two-part structure for security at ESnet: the Security Engineering group, which he heads, and a new Threat & Vulnerability Management group, which Chief Security Officer Adam Slagell is leading during the search for a senior threat hunter/DOE community coordinator. For Security Engineering, among Alex’s responsibilities are overseeing ESnet’s effort to comply with the federal Zero Trust requirements — an approach to cybersecurity that goes beyond “trust but verify” and treats all networks and traffic as potential threats. Alex will be making sure that any new security policies, procedures, and architecture do not impede ESnet’s vision of enabling scientific progress that is completely unconstrained by the physical location of instruments, people, computational resources, or data.

Alex has deep experience in threat intelligence sharing, policy and compliance, and security architecture. Most recently he was the CISO and cybersecurity division manager at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. While at NCSA, Alex oversaw groups responsible for security operations, applied cybersecurity research, cybersecurity engagement, and scientific computing in the HIPAA and Controlled Unclassified Information [CUI] space. He was a PI or co-PI on several National Science Foundation awards for projects focused on intrusion detection, threat intelligence dissemination, and capabilities-based authorization for access to scientific computing resources. Before NCSA, Alex worked for Brookhaven National Laboratory as a security and systems engineer for over 10 years. 

Alex grew up in Alaska and now lives in Urbana, Illinois, where he works out of ESnet’s Champaign office with Adam and Security Engineering team members Kapil Agrawal, Michael Dophelde, and Sam Oehlert, as well as about a dozen other ESnetters. He’s an avid long-distance runner – as are his wife and two of his four children. In the last few years, Alex has completed around a dozen ultra-marathons, or “ultras,” ranging from 50 km to 100 miles – something he’s “always reluctant to tell people about because it sounds crazy.”   

What brought you to ESnet?

Really it was the opportunity for growth — both to tackle new challenges in cybersecurity architecture and for me professionally, to try something new. ESnet is responsible for connecting a massive portion of the scientific computing infrastructure that supports not just this country’s scientific investments but also international collaborations. It’s growing extremely rapidly, and it’s a giant target for all sorts of reasons, whether from state-sponsored attacks or cyber criminals or anything in between. And so it looks like an immense challenge, and that’s very attractive to me.

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

There’s been a shift in how people view cybersecurity that’s making it easier for us to collaborate and innovate with users. 

Traditionally, cybersecurity has had a bad reputation as being the people who say “No, you can’t do this; no, you can’t do that.” And in the research and education sector, the culture tends to be much more open, much more about getting done what has to be done, whether that’s moving data around or access to computing for scientists and their students. That culture has often bumped up against cybersecurity, which tends to want to wall things off. But cybersecurity is now much more about enabling science. As I tell people, “Listen, the funding agencies, the government, have invested billions of dollars in science and in this infrastructure that you rely on for your particle accelerator, electron microscope, whatever. And we want to protect that investment, because at the end of the day, things like cybersecurity incidents, they can disrupt your work. They can stop it dead in its tracks, and that’s money that’s lost.” 

So today’s cybersecurity is about understanding how researchers use these systems and devices, how they access them through the network – and working together to make sure that we enable their use and make it available while at the same time very secure. At ESnet, we want to ensure the integrity of the data so that researchers can be productive on their computational systems and networks. That frame of approach is easier than traditional cybersecurity, which is more focused on things like confidentiality and privacy.

What book, movie, or podcast would you recommend?

A podcast I’ve been really enjoying has been “Some Work, All Play” by David Roche and Megan Roche. It’s an excellent inclusive running podcast for all runners, especially trail running, which is a hobby I enjoy.

Running ultras sounds like a little more than just a “hobby.” Tell us more about why you do it?

Well, a lot of people think of it as a very physical sort of endeavor. And I mean…that’s true, and I don’t want to downplay that, but you’d be surprised to find out that it’s not as difficult as you think it is. The real challenge is the mental challenge. It is extremely difficult mentally to go out on a trail and run for hours and hours and hours and hours. You’re really fighting against the urge to drop out and call it a day. And sometimes you’re not successful. 

What’s great about it is pushing yourself up against the limits of what you can do. There are people who seriously race these things, and they win. I’m not in any danger of doing that, I assure you. For me, it’s racing against various aspects of yourself. Racing against yourself mentally. Racing against your past self. Maybe you’re going to do better on a race you’ve done before. Sometimes you’re racing against your own stomach, because you have to eat during these things—but it’s not a pleasant task to eat while you’re doing all this running! 

It’s very challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s very rewarding when it works out. 

3Q with Juan Antunez, ESnet’s new Network Operations Engineer!

Before joining ESnet as a network operations engineer, Juan Antunez was an infrastructure engineer at Lowe’s. He brings seven years of experience in IT help desk support (customer support) and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management Information Systems from the University of Houston-Downtown. Outside of work, he enjoys playing soccer with his seven-year-old daughter and traveling. 

Juan Antunez smiling into the camera
Juan Antunez

Question 1: What brought you to ESnet? 

After working for many years in the aerospace and retail industries, I’ve decided to join ESnet, which has a significant footprint supporting scientific research and development. The opportunity to contribute to the Department of Energy’s large-scale scientific research is exciting and fulfilling. I’m thrilled about joining, and I’m looking forward to continuing my career development!

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

I would say that Automation is something that many organizations are integrating into their network to avoid daily repetitive tasks that take time away from the workforce. It also helps prevent zero-day attacks with automation and response.

Question 3: What book, movie, or podcast would you recommend? 

I highly recommend The Art of Networking Engineering podcast to anyone interested in listening to other network engineers speak of their real-life experiences in the industry.  Also, Darknet Diaries is another fascinating podcast; you get to listen to and learn about what’s happening in the cybersecurity world. 

3Q with ESnet’s newest computer software engineer: Alex Ray!

Before coming to ESnet, Alex was a network software automation engineer for Charter Communications and sometimes a contractor. In another life, he was a professional artist. He lives in Denver, CO with his wife and two Pekingese, which may actually be aliens in a cute disguise. Enjoys hiking and camping in the mountains, biking (not in the mountains), comics, and the occasional video game. 

What brought you to ESnet?

I was working as a contractor for about a year, helping write code for the Network Services Orchestration (NSO) piece of ESnet and various other parts of the software ecosystem. The people are great, and the fact that the network being deployed and maintained supports scientific research is amazing. Couldn’t resist the offer to work here!

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

I really like where the Rust programming language is headed, and I’m actively trying to learn more about it so I can implement it in both professional and personal projects.

What book, movie, or podcast would you recommend?

I enjoyed Dune (just read it for the first time). I’ve been trying to read more lately, so maybe ask again in a couple months. I would also highly recommend Darknet Diaries podcast for those interested in stories about cybersecurity/hacking, physical security testing, or social engineering.

3Q with David Sundquist

David comes to us from Concord, CA, where he worked the last 10 years at McAfee as a Project Manager in both the Consumer and IT teams. During his tenure with McAfee, he led a variety of projects, from small 2 month projects to multi-year projects. His last several years have been focused mostly on IT infrastructure, and working with the Server, Storage, Network, and Data Center teams. 

He is a father to five daughters, three of them still living at home with David and his wife. He loves watching football, and during the NFL season, you will find him cheering wildly for his 49ers! 

David Sundquist

What brought you to ESnet?

After spending 10 years with McAfee I decided that I needed a change of scenery. While looking around for jobs, I found the position at ESnet and started reading about what goes on at Berkeley Lab and was immediately impressed. Being able to work with folks who are working on cutting-edge technology was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

I’ve been fascinated by technology and computers since I was a kid. I always liked being around the newest technology. After reading all of the cutting-edge work going on at ESnet, especially their leadership in the quantum networking space, it seemed like a great fit. 

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

I’m not sure the field of Project Management has exciting changes like some of the tech world. However, I can say some of the best parts about working in Project Management is the ability to constantly be creating something new with a group of individuals, and having everyone share their knowledge to build something great. Having the opportunity to work with people from all over the world on any number of projects is always exciting and rewarding.

What book would you recommend?

This is a tough question as I love to read, and picking one book is tough. But I will go with Ender’s Game, as that was probably one of the earliest books I read that really hooked me and got me interested in reading more.

3Q with Britt Gathright

Britt Gathright has a varied background in education, hospitality, entertainment, warehouse/logistics, and oil and gas. He has over 20 years of experience in information technology operations and project management. Gathright obtained his undergraduate degree from his home state’s flagship university, the University of Arkansas, and completed his Masters in Education at the University of Tulsa—where he also met his wife. He also holds a Masters in Management Information Systems from Oklahoma State University and is a certified project manager (PMP). Britt and his wife live in Tulsa, Oklahoma and have three adult children.

Britt Gathright

What brought you to ESnet? 

I’m at a point in my life where I’m fortunate to be able to choose where I want to be. I’d like my work to outlive me and lend my project management skills to a team that is changing the world.

Education and service to others are at my core. Both my parents are educators in Arkansas, and my wife is a high school science teacher. I have seen the impacts of the pursuit of knowledge and hope my skills can help advance and continue the science conversation. 

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

Remote work has intensified the need to meet workers where they are and identify how they best intake and process information. Crafting communication styles to support and serve project team members and stakeholders is even more critical with dispersed teams. Project Management is trending towards agile methodologies that shorten delivery cycles and work products/packages. This results in hybrid project methods that blend traditional waterfall with agile for more flexible delivery frameworks.

What book would you recommend? 

While I am normally a podcast junkie, I recently enjoyed Bad Blood about the Theranos saga. It illustrates the importance of data, results, and oversight to support product claims and not be swayed too much by charisma and charm. Adventure and political thrillers from David Baldacci and Vince Flynn are favorites too.

I’m interested in book recommendations about diversity and inclusion, so please reach out if you have suggestions!

3 Questions with Liang Zhang

Liang comes to us from Illinois, where he worked at Fermilab for eight years as computer researcher before joining ESnet. His research interests lie in network protocols, resource management, and high performance software architectures. His previous experience involves designing and developing data movement tools including MDTM and BigData Express. He also developed network management applications using Software Defined Networking (SDN).

A photo of Liang Zhang
Liang Zhang

What brought you to ESnet?

I got to know ESnet during my years with Fermilab when I participated in collaboration projects between ESnet and Fermilab. In my impression, ESnet plays a pioneering  role in research and development in networking and is ahead of most of the field when it comes to using new technology. I’m excited to start a new adventure at ESnet and have fun working with other talented researchers and engineers to contribute important knowledge and findings to this community.

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

While it isn’t directly related to my work at ESnet, I’ve been intrigued by the revolution known as Web3 that’s rising on the horizon. I think it will change the way people deal with the Internet. I am eager to explore how Web3 might impact the infrastructure and applications.

What book would you recommend?

The Three-body Problem. It is a science fiction novel written by a Chinese writer Cixin Liu. It discusses history, physics, the universe, and human nature.. I also enjoy watching Youtube videos about Chinese and European history, technology, and crazy inventions. 

3 Questions with Kapil Agrawal

Kapil Agrawal. Juniper the cat was unavailable to photograph.

Kapil Agrawal comes to us from National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), where he worked as a Network Engineer focusing on HPC data center networking and all things automation. Before that, Kapil worked as a Network Engineer at GlobalNOC focusing on service provider networking for regional R&E networks. He is passionate about learning and tinkering with new open source technologies in his home lab, intense hackathons, and infrastructure-as-code. In his downtime, Kapil enjoys high intensity interval training, traveling and exploring new places, competitive gaming, and playing with Juniper (his cat).

Kapil Agrawal. Juniper the cat was unavailable to photograph.

What brought you to ESnet?

ESnet’s mission to innovate, build, and support a bleeding edge network infrastructure for scientific computing, empowers researchers to focus on what’s core to them—the science. This is very exciting but it also comes with challenges in terms of security. We want to be open to share the science with our collaborators, but not too open to the point where bad actors take advantage of us. Where does one draw the line? That is the challenge and that’s what makes cyber security in scientific computing so interesting! I am also familiar with the innovative work that ESnet security does for the R&E community and I am excited about the opportunity to learn and grow with the team and to give back to the community in every way possible. 

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

Coming from a networking background, I find MANRS (Mutually Agreed Norms for Routing Security) very exciting. It’s a herculean effort by the larger networking community to secure the global internet routing infrastructure. 

What book would you recommend?

Books in the order from non-technical to most technical : Atomic Habits, The Phoenix project, Where Wizards stay up late (The origins of the internet), and Internet routing architectures.

3 Questions with Michael Haberman

Michael comes to ESnet’s Cybersecurity group after working as a software engineer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), and in the Automated Learning Group at the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana (UIUC). Recently, he has also been an instructor for a data science and machine learning course within the School of Informatics (iSchool).

Michael Haberman
Michael Haberman

What brought you to ESnet?
The classes I taught at UIUC were designed around mastery-based learning and evidence-based teaching. I built a framework that instrumented the assignments (similar to observability) so that I could get a good pulse on where students were struggling and where they weren’t. Creating the end-to-end workflows for the students made me realize how much I missed architecting (and building) software. I knew several great ESnet people and it was just perfect timing that the security group had an opening where they were receptive to bringing on someone with a software design background and also enthusiastic about letting me continue climbing the data analytics and machine learning mountain (I’m at the base). I also love that ESnet’s mission enables science.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your field?
There’s a lot going on and staying current is a challenge. If I had to pick a topic that is ripe for potential (or hype) it’s using blockchain “decentralized ledger” technology (now being used for databases, voting, and electronic currencies), to create applications in digital identity, and remove unnecessary intermediaries from transactions. It seems like there are new application ideas for blockchain every day.

Although I do not know much about cryptocurrency (or its future), the idea of using their decentralized ‘bookkeeping’ architecture for secure transactions with provenance seems intriguing.

What book would you recommend?
I remember reading The Cuckoo’s Egg in high school and it’s one of the books that got me interested in both computer science and security. When I saw this question I remembered that the main character is from LBL! Perhaps the security group will want me to look into an accounting discrepancy?

3 Questions with Jeremy Randolph

Please meet Jeremy Randolph, the newest software engineer in ESnet’s Software Measurement and Analysis Group!

Jeremy Randolph

Jeremy has an extensive background in distributed systems, working for companies like DataDog, Fitbit, and Google, to build resilient backends to power customer data visualization and real user interactions. Before that, he also worked in the video game industry at 2K Sports, LucasArts, “The Force Unleashed” franchise, and number of other sports titles.   

What brought you to ESnet?

Recently, I’ve been spending chunks of my free time watching math and physics channels. I’ve also tried some publicly available lecture series with varying degrees of success. In the recent past, working on distributed systems has been rewarding, but I’ve never felt passionate about the wider mission statement of the various companies I’ve worked at. I see ESnet as a chance to build interesting systems while also contributing to our scientific understanding of the universe.

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

The slow, but steady migration to cloud-based environments and virtual systems. Software Engineers tell horror stories about how our vocation used to have to write our programs on punch cards and would get the program’s output the next day (including things like syntax errors). Real-time syntax highlighting of compile errors in my  IDE (integrated development environment) allows me to focus on the bigger picture and more complicated systems. I suspect the next generation of software engineers will also tell horror stories about DevOps and how we had to have intimate knowledge about what hardware our code was running on and where specifically in the world it was running.

What book would you recommend?

Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke.