ESnet gives CISCO Nerd Lunch talk, learns televangelism is harder than it seems

As science transitions from lab-oriented to a distributed computational and data-intensive activity, the research and education (R&E) networking community is tracking the growing data needs of scientists. Huge instruments like the Large Hadron Collider are being planned and built. These projects require global-scale collaborations and contributions from thousands of scientists, and as the data deluge from the instruments grows, even more scientists are interested in analyzing it for the next breakthrough discovery. Suffice it to say that even though worldwide video consumption on the Internet is driving a similar increase in commercial bandwidth, the scale, characteristics, and requirements of scientific data traffic is quite different.

And this is why ESnet got invited to Cisco Systems’ headquarters last week to talk about how we how we handle data as part of their regular Nerd Lunch talk series. What I found interesting although not surprising, was that with Cisco being a big evangelist of telepresence, more employees attended the talk from their desks than in person.  This was a first for me and I came away with a new appreciation for the challenges of collaborating across distances.

From a speaker’s perspective, the lesson learnt by me was to brush up my acting skills. My usual preparations are to rehearse the difficult transitions and  focus on remembering the few important points to make on every slide. When presenting, that slide presentation portion of my brain goes on auto-pilot, while my focus turns towards evaluating the impact on the audience. When speaking at a podium one can observe when someone in the audience opens a notebook to jot down a thought, when their attention drifts to email on the laptop in front of them, or when a puzzled look appears on the face of someone as they try to figure out the impact of the point I’m trying to make. But these visual cues go missing with a largely webcast audience, making it harder to know when to stop driving home a point or when to explain the point further to the audience.  In the future, I’ll have to be better at keeping the talk interesting without the usual clues from my audience.

Maybe the next innovation in virtual-reality telepresence is just waiting to happen?

Notwithstanding the challenges of presenting to a remote audience, enabling remote collaboration is extremely important to ESnet. Audio, video and web collaboration is a key service offered by us to the DOE labs. ESnet employees use video extensively in our day-to-day operations. The “ESnet watercooler”, a 24×7 open video bridge, is used internally by our distributed workforce to discuss technical issues, as well as, to have ad-hoc meetings on topics of interest. As science goes increasingly global, scientists are also using this important ESnet service for their collaborations.

With my brief stint in front of a stage now over, it is back to ESnet and then on to the 100G invited panel/talk at IEEE ANTS conference in Mumbai. Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!

Inder Monga