So just how do you get gear into the Interop show?

The Interop show, seen through the eyes of a volunteer

Well, the Interop New York show is done, and I'm seeing e-mails flying around on the engineer listserv about how and where gear used during the show should be shipped to their owners. Surprise, all that gear you've been seeing at the Interop shows is contributed by sponsors in return for marketing at the show. So it's now that time of year where equipment vendors can toss in their $0.02 worth and submit a proposal as to how their solution will rock the world and make the InteropNET the best ever.

The first part of the process is the "Request for Proposal" where potential sponsors submit plans on what kind of gear they think will work, what kind of engineering personnel would be provided, what kinds of marketing they'd like to do as part of the InteropNET, and most importantly, what kinds of new technology they would provide and show off at the show.

Next is the evaluation process, and I'm not even going to guess as to just how that process works. However, I do know that the best and baddest tech isn't always the one that wins. Remember that this is a collaborative effort and the InteropNET really is supposed to showcase advances in networking technology. It does also have to work, and to that end, the best and the baddest might not be an appropriate fit in the puzzle of tech that is the InteropNET. The job of evaluating the proposal sits on the shoulders of the InteropNET lead engineer (right now it's Geoff Horne) in cooperation with the show management and marketing. (Remember, this is a for-profit show, and it's all about marketing all those sparkly bits of tech.)

Once show management has determined which proposals will best fit the theme and the needs of the upcoming show season, the winners are notified and everyone is invited to converge for an engineering meeting someplace in Northern California. This is also the first time the volunteer engineering staff officially meets up with the vendor engineers, and this is where controlled chaos reigns as everyone pushes to get their tech bits highlighted as best as possible.

Did I mention volunteers? You bet, the bulk of the tech staff that put together the InteropNET are volunteers; in fact, most of them have to pay their own way to the show. However, it's this group of superb networking engineers that year in and year out pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. So while there are always veterans in the team, the volunteer list is searched by the lead engineer and the InteropNET program management for potential new recruits. Again, it's not always the person with the most experience; many times, it's the appropriateness of the experience, how well they seem to be able to work with others (recommendations by previous team members), and willingness to work hard. Yeah, we all put in some really long hours to build the world's largest temporary network, and we sure don't do it for the pay. I started volunteering in 1995 and have been coming back to work with the very best in the industry and, most importantly, to learn. So part of the RFP should also include what kinds of education the vendor is willing to provide for the volunteer workforce. Keeping in mind that this group is very much an extended family, with "past noc" members attending each other's weddings, graduations, promotions, and holidays.

Well, imagine it's March, and vendor engineers and team leads (think technical management for the show; each lead responsible is for a different facet of the InteropNET) converge on a warehouse in Fremont, Calif. The bits and pieces from various vendors have been arriving now for a couple of weeks and have been inventoried by the warehouse staff. For the Las Vegas show, the team has roughly two weeks to go from bare floor to a completed network ready to pack into trucks. This is HotStage, and this is where the design is fine-tuned, the gotchas worked out, and the sparkly bits configured. Testing is done all the way up to a plugs-out test where the team makes sure everything transfers to UPS correctly and that a graceful shutdown is possible.

It's now a week before the show and the team has arrived at the venue. The electricians have been here a few days to start hanging the network and electrical drops over the bare floor with booths only indicated by tape on the floor and chalk marks with booth numbers on them. This is where the team gets together with the trucks full of gear and starts lighting up the net. With gear in co-location facilities at the two ends of the continent, load balancers, proxies, and caches have already been deployed, and the class "A" network is unparked and moved to the show venue. Normally we're one day in and the externals are running, the troubleshooting team has confirmed that the network drops meet the CAT5e or CAT6 standards and the backbone is running along with its backup path. To date, we've only had to dodge forklifts for the really huge booths, but now the smaller booths have started to arrive, the "freight free aisles" are now packed with crates, walking across the exhibit floor takes 10 minutes instead of 2, and the team is now starting to pick splinters out of their clothing from all the crates.

It's now Monday and the network is fully lit up, and we've been serving the already completed booths, and wireless has already been confirmed all the way into the meeting rooms since we're already support tutorials. The VoIP telephone system has been providing auto-attendant information on our main show number, along with telephony and conferencing capability to the show management. Monday is when we're all up late since that's when the carpets are put down and team members need to be around to make sure our equipment racks (PEDS) aren't accidentally disconnected by the carpet gang.

It's Wednesday and the show has been running with the exhibit floors packed with attendees. The team leads have been collecting tchotchkes as gifts for the volunteers, and tonight is when the volunteers get to party after a long week of setup. Some of the sponsor vendors have included products to give to the volunteers as part of their proposals, since it's the volunteers that have made a huge contribution in time and energy to make the InteropNET a success.

It's now Thursday and with the show floor closing at 3 p.m., the team only has an hour to pull out all the network drops and get the equipment racks off the floor before the forklifts attack. Normally it's 6 p.m. and the racks are wrapped and packed in the trucks before the team settles in for our last dinner. The NOC and a portion of the network still has to run until Friday to support the last of the classes, but by then, it's the team leads that are left to do the final packing before we all bid our old and new friends good-bye until the next show.

The result is a unique environment where network equipment vendors can show off their products AND get a huge amount of interoperability testing done in a VERY short amount of time. I won't even attempt to count how many integration documents have come out of Interop, but I can assure you that a great number of the RFCs from the IETF have had their origins with the InteropNET team. Friends are made, partnerships formed, and we've even had a few weddings along the line. If you'd like to become an InteropNET partner, here's where you can go to get additional information on the InteropNET RFC process:

InteropNET 2009 RFP Alert

Interop is now accepting InteropNET proposals for

Las Vegas & New York Event Network Participation.

The InteropNet is a leading example of how to design, deploy and manage a multivendor, converged network. It is a platform for the introduction of new technologies and, utilizing "best practice" methodologies, provides a viable demonstration and reference model of networks that meet current and future business needs.

Deadline for submissions: November 7, 2008

Send proposals to: valerie@interop.net

For more information go to: interop.com/rfp <http://www.interop.com/rfp>

Network Providers will be selected: December 12, 2008

Planning Meeting : January 16, 2009, San Francisco, CA

Hot Stage : March 30, 2009 - April 10, 2009, Fremont, CA

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