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A win for WINS: High-capacity SCinet is successfully deployed

GRC's Stacy Vincent recently received one of seven Women in IT Networking at SC program scholarships.

Stacy Vincent,
GRC data security analyst

By Stacy Vincent, data security analyst, Governance, Risk & Compliance

Have you …

  • Ever heard the jet-engine roar of a Palo Alto firewall when it starts up?
  • Scoped and cleaned fiber optic cable before “patching” it into a server rack?
  • Been thrown into a room with 200 strangers, a couple million dollars of unfamiliar equipment, and told to build, run, and tear down the world’s fastest temporary network in three weeks?

Yeah, me neither. Until last month, that is.

I had the good fortune to be selected as a Women in Networking at SC (WINS) awardee, and invited to the 2019 Supercomputing Conference (SC19) in Denver, Colorado. The WINS program is meant to help close the gender gap in computer networking fields by including more women on SC19 volunteer teams. 

As you can imagine, a supercomputing conference swamps a standard conference network like a dinghy in a tidal wave. To support the multiterabyte demands of thousands of vendors and tens of thousands of attendees, a small army of volunteers was needed to design, build, run, and dismantle a special network — SCinet — just for the conference. There were 200 volunteers overall, and 17 of us were on the network security team. Of those 17, four were women — all either current or past WINS awardees. WINS for the win!

Vincent, second from left, was one of only seven women selected for the Women in IT Networking at SC (WINS) program.

Vincent, second from left, was one of only seven women selected for the Women in IT Networking at SC program.

So what did I actually do at SC19? Here are the Cliffs Notes.

The first week was staging, where we unboxed those millions of dollars of equipment, screwed them into racks, and patched the racks (connected them with fiber optic cable), as well as initial power-up and configuration of equipment.

The second week was setup. This is when the racks we so carefully screwed and patched together were nerve-wrackingly (pun intended) fork-lifted up to the Network Operations Center (NOC) — a large open room cordoned off in the exhibit hall. The NOC would be our home for the next two weeks. After the move, we configured all of the software and logs we would be using to protect the conference network from would-be attackers. Once the conference began and the network was live, our team worked in shifts to monitor the network for threats and respond to any we found. After all that work, our final task was to dismantle the entire network in one day.

Speaking of attacks — funny story — one day we started receiving reports of numerous computers cycling through the Windows “Blue Screen of Death.” Thinking it was an attack, we furiously combed through logs, trying to figure out where it was coming from and how to stop it. Alas, the conclusion we came to was that we were not under attack. It was, rather, a Microsoft update gone wrong (*face palm*).

Attending SC19 was a truly incredible experience unlike anything else, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has the interest and opportunity to go. While the WINS scholarship is open only to women, volunteering is open to anyone with computer networking skills, including students.

Below are additional photos from the conference. Photo credit: Stacey Vincent.

Last Updated: 12/18/19