Meet Aaron Chin, UCSD OptIPuter Project Manager

Aaron Chin
Aaron Chin, UCSD OptIPuter Project Manager

September 28, 2004 -- "Working in the networking arena, I can really appreciate the Calit² master plan," says Aaron Chin. "All the pieces that Larry Smarr is working on are coming together, and I'm excited to play a role in that process." Chin was hired in February as the UCSD OptIPuter project manager.

Chin is helping to establish dedicated network connectivity among the nine sites of the UCSD campus OptIPuter testbed.[1] "Everything is up and running," says Chin, "and we've already converted three sites from 1-Gigabit Ethernet to 10-GigE connectivity." He's also working with Max Okumoto and Sean O'Connell of the Jacobs School of Engineering to provide storage to the participating groups. Working with Garrett Hildebrand and Mike Scott at UCI, Jim Koda at USC/ISI, and John Ratcliffe at UCSD, Chin has helped enable two dedicated 1-GigE links each to UCI and ISI via the CENIC Cal-REN XD (experimental development network).

October 1 begins Year 3 in the OptIPuter project; the funds for infrastructure are largely spent and the equipment implemented. Early success and visibility of the project, though, have led to award of another grant called "Quartzite" from the National Science Foundation. This $1.44M, three-year project will fund supporting infrastructure, including an experimental wavelength-select switch from Lucent, which will allow switching wavelengths that remain bundled together.

The Quartzite funding, says Chin, will support more 10-GigE and coarse wave-division multiplexing gear that will make it possible to put multiple GigE links on a single fiber pair, dramatically increasing the bandwidth available for the cyber applications pioneers using the OptIPuter network. Quartzite will also support implementation of an all-optical MEMS switch. Such a device uses no electronics in switching the optical signals. The previous generation of technology typically combines optical with electronics: an optical signal enters a switch, is converted to an electronic signal, then converted back to an optical signal as it's sent on its way to the next switching point. This process is much slower and less flexible than what's possible with an all-optical switch. Vendor selection for the OOO switch should happen in the next couple of months.

Chin's other responsibilities include supporting the Collaborative Visualization Center, a videoteleconferencing and meeting facility equipped with advanced visualization capabilities. Chin will be experimenting with and evaluating new technologies, particularly collaborative software such as Access Grid derivatives.

Chin will also provide technical support to the WHYNET project, a scalable testbed for next-generation mobile, wireless networking technologies. WHYNET seeks to provide (according to its Website) "researchers at every layer of the protocol stack, from physical devices to transport protocols, a testbed to evaluate the impact of their technology on application level performance, using scalable and realistic operational scenarios."

After receiving a BS in Electrical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, Chin went to work at GTE as a UNIX system administrator in the Network Operations Center. After four years there, he moved to a position that managed IT projects that included upgrading some 500+ UNIX machines to the next revision level and adding new security tools.

While in this position, he obtained an MBA in Finance at the University of North Texas. "Since I was working in a large company, I became interested in the business aspects of IT and how to manage people," he explains.

During the now infamous broadband buildout, GTE, as a phone company per FCC regulations was not permitted to own a broadband company. So it spun off a company named Genuity where Chin became manager of service assurance and hired 12 staff members. There he provided the business and IT requirements for systems that supported the ATM- and SONET-based networks. "It was a startup environment but with lots of money. We were spending millions every year, but that was accompanied by frequent staff shuffles and reorganizations," says Chin.

Chin inherited responsibility for service fulfillment and was promoted to director of the group where he supervised more than 30 people in Boston and Dallas. Genuity bought another company, requiring Chin and his group to figure out how to integrate legacy systems into their current operations.

"At that point, the telecom bubble was beginning to burst," says Chin. "As many companies had, we had built out lots of fiber based on our expectation of being able to sell it at a certain price point. When the price began to fall, we were pinched for cash and had to start laying off people. We had just done an IPO when things began to go south."

Chin seems relieved to have left that rollercoaster behind and is now adjusting to the academic world. "The industrial world has different priorities such as profit and return on investment," he says. "Here at Calit² we spend money to experiment with things that will benefit mankind. In fact, I'm expected to play with things. I'm having a great time learning new things and working with some extraordinary people."

[1] The Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, the Computer Science and Engineering department, the Jacobs School of Engineering, the Preuss School UCSD, Sixth College, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the School of Medicine, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and “node M,” the location of the Chiaro Enstara router.

Related Article:
UCSD Division Launches Collaborative Visualization Center