Network Operations for Interop Las Vegas

During the week of April 22nd, UNH-IOL students Joel Nkounkou and I went to Las Vegas, NV to volunteer for the NOC (Network Operations Center) team at Interop Las Vegas. Interop Las Vegas is one of the largest technical conferences and trade shows for the IT industry where companies set up elaborate stations on the expo show floor to promote their products to other companies. Interop Las Vegas also provides educational classes in a variety of topics to their attendees and plenty of business networking opportunities. Our goal as volunteers was to help setup the infrastructure developed to connect the convention show floor and classrooms to the internet.

This experience was, above all, educational as it exposed us to the world of setting up an infrastructure from scratch; teaching us aspects of networking we would otherwise not be entirely exposed to otherwise. A NOC volunteer or ITM (Interop Team Member) works 12 hours a day, 10 days in a row, effectively as “grunts” who run around the convention center performing errands such as terminating cables, patching, and testing. After the infrastructure was completely setup and ready for show day (April 27th – May 1st), ITM’s were tasked to sit at the NOC Help Desk where exhibitors would ask for assistance if, for some reason, they were unable to connect to the internet. This gives ITM volunteers technical and customer support experience.  Although at the UNH-IOL we usually assist our colleagues with debug or work in a similar troubleshooting mode when working on our own issues, we were given the opportunity to provide customer service to a very large customer base. When the convention closed, we then helped tear down the infrastructure that we spent many hours building.

After two days of helping set up the convention’s infrastructure, I was asked to move to the SDN (Software-Defined Networking) Labs as their goals for the convention perfectly complimented my personal and ambitious educational goals. SDN Labs purpose is to educate guests of the convention on SDN and its current progression in the networking world. I was with Bill Jensen of Network Services at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and Chris Stradtman of Cloudnimble LLC, who taught me more about SDN and what they were doing with the labs with enthusiasm. Jensen and Stradtman were both attempting to show interoperability of SDN for the show floor, which was successful as companies like HP, Netronome, TSO Logic, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, and more, setup demonstrations of their latest technologies while interoperating with equipment from companies like Curvature and NetBeez and each other.

I spent my time with SDN Labs helping set up virtual servers, writing some documentation used to help us remember what didn’t work, what did work, or what we wanted to try, and learning as much as I could from each vendor. It was these companies setting up quality demonstrations that allowed me to write a great informational blog on what happened in SDN Labs during Interop Las Vegas.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to do a live radio interview with Curt Franklin, Executive Producer of Blog Talk Radio for InformationWeek, which can be heard here. In addition to this first time media experience, I was fortunate to meet a number of vendors representing companies like HP, PathSolutions, OpenGear, Curvature, Deep Dive Networks, and more! The other ITM’s present were volunteers already well into their careers and returning to enjoy the experience once again.

While education was the most vivid experience I took away for myself, exposing us all to the world of networking and SDN, meeting vendors from amazing companies, and being able to do business networking was an exciting experience as a whole. The people there were focused on their goals, wanting to learn, teach, and help. They also made exceptional acquaintances, and for some, lifelong friends.

I’m pleased to hear that both UBM (United Business Media), who puts together Interop and the NOC team, and the marketing team at the UNH-IOL will again ask for two more volunteers from the UNH-IOL for next year’s Interop Las Vegas. I encourage any colleague at the UNH-IOL and anyone in the industry remotely interested in sharing this experience to apply to volunteer as an ITM for the NOC team for next year’s Interop Las Vegas, either through the UNH-IOL, or directly through the NOC page. The unforgettable experience can’t be beat and it’s more than worth it.