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InteropNet: Insights from a 19-Year Vet

InteropNet is the technological foundation for the Interop conference, providing Wi-Fi for attendees and network connectivity for the exhibitors on the show floor. It's also a live demonstration of real-world interoperability, with equipment and applications from a host of vendors working together in real time throughout the conference.

While the InteropNet is only live for two weeks of the year (one in Las Vegas and one in New York), a lot of work goes on in between those conferences to make it happen.

One of the people doing that work is Chris Stradtman, principal at Novocaine Networks, who's been volunteering on the InteropNet team for nineteen years. This commitment says a lot about Chris, but it also says a lot about the people who come together to make InteropNet work. I'll let Chris tell you about it in his own words:

I guess you might say I'm one of the silverbacks on the InteropNet team. I've been doing this show since Atlanta 1994. The reason I've returned as a volunteer year after year for almost two decades basically boils down to one thing--the people. I've met some of the brightest, most knowledgeable, and most driven people in the industry.

[InteropNet's hot stage is the final step where hardware and software are assembled and configured. Get details in "Inside InteropNet's Hot Stage."]

The camaraderie seems to derive from the stress and adversity of building InteropNet. In a mobile network of this scale, things go wrong. Sometimes it's your own fault (installing new code onsite shortly before opening day). Sometimes it's completely out of your control (forklift tine going through a DNS server).

Whatever the problem, InteropNet has to go live on time. The show's been on the books for a year or more and people are arriving on schedule. The team will ensure the network will function even if they need to carry the bits to the booths in a bucket. As anyone who's worked with a production network knows, this pressure can cause some late nights and tense moments. Nerves fray and conversations get snippy. But in the end, everybody pulls together to launch InteropNet.

When the show is done, we enjoy the kinship that comes from having made it work. Many of these relationships then extend much farther than the end of the show. I know I've hit the "collective consciousness" of the group for valuable advice many, many times.

In an industry where people tend to sit on knowledge like an egg, this group willingly shares knowledge. Every show I go to, I learn something (many things) from other team members. Most of the team members thrive on the sharing and learning. I've seen interesting ideas sketched out on the back of napkins in the bar that then showed up as RFCs in the IETF or significant products. I've also seen participating vendors turn around and take team member suggestions for product improvements.

It's also a rush to work with the new and bleeding-edge gear and technologies. Several times we've had a switch in the network or the labs with the serial number of "1"--or no serial number at all. We've also worked with products that were basically circuit boards in a cardboard wrapper. From a professional point of view it's been really valuable to have a crystal ball that sees that far into the future.

Yes, there is also a lot of unsexy grunt work to do. I don't know how many CAT5 terminations I've done on the show floors over the years. But you'll find the most experienced and talented engineers terminating cables or "dressing Peds" or carrying boxes of desktop switches across the building side by side with the newbies--because we're a team.

The InteropNet is open for tours and classes throughout the week at the Javits Center. Details are here. Stop by to ask questions or look around. And feel free to inquire about opportunities to participate--we're already starting work for Las Vegas.

Don't miss the workshop "Building Your Network for the Next 10 Years" at Interop New York. Register today!]