At the Hadrian Hotel

At the Hadrian Hotel

Monday, March 02, 2015

The End of an Era, The Beginning of a New Adventure

For the past 27 years, I have been involved with the running of major network infrastructure for Princeton University.  Way back in 1988, on my birthday, I took a position with CIT's Network Systems group, working with Cisco AGS, MGS, and IGS routers, Applitek CATV-to-10Base5 Ethernet bridges, and Cabletron MMAC switches.  I wrote a whole bunch of Perl code to implement a host "database," worked with everybody and his brother to re-subnet the campus, and launched the first BOOTP service to make that re-subnetting task easier.

Along the way I moved from using X10 on an IBM RT to X11 on a Sun 4 (or was it a 3?) while the campus moved from AUI connections to proprietary twisted-pair ethernet to 10Base-T.  We deployed Hughes LAN Systems CATV-to-Ethernet bridges for the main campus network and moved the Appliteks over to the new DormNet network.  We also dabbled in ATM for the campus and ISDN out to remote sites.  The dial-up terminal servers just weren't fast enough for some folks, I suppose.

After just 7 years and 9 months, I left the central computing organization for a position on the Technical Staff of the Computer Science department.  The group was smaller than CIT, unsurprisingly, but was called upon to provide many of the same services, albeit for a smaller and much more demanding group of customers.  While my duties and tasks there were more varied, I was still, at heart, a "network guy."  In CS, I oversaw the move from 10Base2 to 10baseT using Cisco Catalyst 5000 switches, and then to a shiny new Packet Engines switch.  When Alcatel bought Packet Engines, we followed, and even tried their next generation architecture.  I'd tell you what it was, but I don't remember as we were not too happy with it and moved to a Foundry FastIron 1500 as soon as we could.  While we were mucking about with all of these wired network changes, we also deployed the first sizable wireless installation on campus, using (pre-Cisco-acquisition) Aironet access points.  I also wrote a new host database application just for the CS department.

After Cisco bought Aironet and before we bought the Foundry, Cisco added MAC-based Authentication to the access points.  Nobody seemed to have this feature on the wired side of the house - at least it didn't exist on the FastIron 1500 we just installed.  I proposed to our Foundry team that they add this as a feature, and they worked with me, and others, to do just that.  As part of this collaboration with Foundry and members of the CS Tech Staff, I was able to present a paper at the 2004 USENIX LISA Conference.  I stayed a bit longer with CS than I did CIT, but in May of 2011 I moved from CS to OIT - while I was gone they renamed the department.

My position at OIT was the Manager of the Network Systems group, the same group I had left almost 16 years before.  For the past 3 years and 11 months, I managed a small, dedicated team responsible for the architecture and overall operation of the campus network.  While my team didn't do the hard field work of dealing with switches in wiring closets, if something goes wrong on the network, the buck stopped with us.

During my tenure, we collapsed multiple Catalyst 6513 routers at the core down to a Nexus 7018, and are in the process of configuring the Nexus 7018 in the on-campus data center as a redundant switch/router for all of the buildings on the campus.  We also brought online a 7018 at the University's High-Performance Computing Research Center, NATed the campus-wide wireless infrastructure, and helped our colleagues in Enterprise Infrastructure Services move from layer 2 load balancers and firewalls to layer 3 infrastructure, as well as a number of other campus network improvements.

As of today, all of that is behind me.  The network team is under new (very capable) management, and I am moving on to become the Senior Architect for Advanced Networking in OIT.  I have been tasked, along with a number of other newly-minted Senior Architects, to divine and define the direction for computing and network infrastructure for the campus, moving forward.

I am moving from the Support Service group to Research Computing.  We expect research to drive the needs for advanced network infrastructure on campus, so putting me in the group that directly serves the research community makes quite a bit of sense.  I expect to be spending a fair amount of time meeting with researchers across many disciplines as we try to figure out exactly what problems we need to solve to provide them with world-class infrastructure.  However, we will not be designing the next generation of the campus network only for the researchers.  I firmly believe that SDN, and other new and emerging network technologies will allow us to improve the network for everyone at Princeton.

For the first time in 27+ years, I will not have a day-to-day operational role in network infrastructure.  I cannot say that I will necessarily miss it, but I will miss working so closely with the dedicated people that keep the bedrock of the campus infrastructure stable.  However, exciting times are ahead, and I am thrilled that I will be at the fore as we build the next generation of computing and network infrastructure at Princeton.

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