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The World’s Fastest Network is (virtually) Unstoppable at SC20

Lauren Farah Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 26 Feb 2021

I tell ‘ya folks, we were so close! So close to showing off our latest hardware and enjoying chicken & waffles in Atlanta, GA in a couple weeks. Of course, I’m talking about Supercomputing 2020. And by hardware I mean our new SLX 9740 router. And by chicken & waffles I mean breakfast at Atlanta Breakfast Club, one of my favorite places in Atlanta and only blocks from the convention center!

We know the 2020 pandemic has been challenging to everyone, and while I think about all the customers and friends I won’t see in person this year I also think of the hospitality staff and folks who have taken such great care of me every time I’ve visited Atlanta. Here’s hoping that I’ll see these folks again once we get through this period.

To rewind a bit, I’ve been lucky to spend this year working on Extreme’s behalf as a Vendor Team Member on SCinet’s Routing Team. The SCinet Routing Team began planning for SC20 early this year with big plans to build the fastest network in the world (again), build a multi-vendor IP Fabric to provide all that “world’s fastest” bandwidth to researchers demonstrating how networks enable cutting edge science, and to prototype the SCinet network in a virtual lab environment before ever setting foot in the conference center for setup. Extreme’s new SLX 9740-80 router was also set to be used as a Spine and Border-Leaf in the SCinet IP Fabric. And coolest of all, Guinness World Records was coming to validate that SCinet is indeed the fastest network in the world!

Of course, with the pivot to a virtual SC20 we’ve had to modify those plans. Unfortunately, there won’t be a physical SCinet network this year. No one will get to see the SLX 9740 running live in the SCinet network, SCinet’s Guinness World Record attempt has pushed back to next year, and attendees won’t get to see how fast Windows Update can run when you have over 1Tb of internet connectivity.

All is not lost though! I mentioned the SCinet virtual lab and that’s proven indispensable as we plan for SC21. I won’t spoil too much since there’s an in-depth session on it as part of the “SCinet Track” during the conference, but every network vendor’s virtual router is running in the virtual lab environment. For Extreme that means we have vSLX configured just as we had planned for the show, as a Spine and Broder-Leaf

The SCinet Routing Team also spent 2020 working collaboratively to build the device configs on (virtual) pen & paper, then to transfer those configs to the virtual lab environment. The original reasoning behind this effort was to provide configuration examples to the SCinet DevOps team as they developed the custom orchestration that configures and powers the network. That orchestration system could then be deployed in the virtual lab to test against each vendor’s device API and help debug problems without needing access to physical hardware. Because the network hardware that powers SCinet is on loan from vendors just for the conference, it is critical to think outside the box like this and allow the different SCinet teams to work in parallel long before the physical setup of the show begins.

None of this was an easy task in 2020 because the SCinet teams are 100% comprised of volunteers. Those volunteers needed to juggle collaborating remotely on SCinet, while also collaborating remotely for their day jobs, and in most cases helping their children collaborate remotely for school. Everyone suffers from Zoom fatigue and SCinet volunteers are no exception.

Thankfully, we crossed the finish line with not only with lesson’s learned from a virtual SC20, but also a head-start for SC21. All the work for 2020 will become the basis for the SC21 network in Saint Louis next November. SCinet’s virtual lab will also continue to be improved, helping pave the way for more advanced automation at SC21. And the SC20 conference will still go on, but as a virtual show that’s now accessible to those who can’t always travel to the show each year.

Extreme Networks will be there too, with a virtual booth on the virtual expo show floor, and a presentation in the expo forum: High-Performance Computing (HPC): The influence of HPC on Cloud-Managed Networking Tuesday, November 17th at 3:00 pm

Be sure to stop by and say hi to us (virtually – you get the idea). And save those “who has the best BBQ” arguments for SC21 in Saint Louis, MO.

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