After 33 Years at ESnet, Jim Gagliardi Retires

June 4, 2012

Jim Gagliardi

After a 33 year career, Jim Gagliardi is looking forward to traveling with his wife Sandy, spoiling their grandchildren and spending more time on his hobbies of fishing, woodworking and following college and pro football.

As a boy growing up in Trinidad, Colorado, Gagliardi worked at the family auto body shop. Working alongside his father and grandfather instilled a work ethic that carried throughout his career. Working at a family owned business didn’t allow much time for long vacations. There was always time for short family trips after work and on Sunday to the mountain lakes and streams for picnics and fishing.

After graduating high school in 1973 and attending one year at the local junior college, Gagliardi did a two-year enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California and was assigned to a supply company in the 1st Marine Division. The Marine Corps was entering the computer age, moving from data cards to computer databases. Gagliardi was a member of the team that ran the unit’s data entry system, tracking everything from supplies to the unit's training and personnel records. The data system was in a “deuce and a half” van with an extension cord back to the warehouse or company office. The data system was mobile and was used in the spring of 1975 to document the Vietnam refugees in the tent cities at Camp Pendleton.

After his enlistment ended in the fall of 1976, Gagliardi went back to school at Trinidad State Junior College, but dropped his plans to study business and instead pursued courses in electronics and computer maintenance.  Once when Joe Burrescia, Gagliardi and his wife’s friend since grade school, was in Trinidad on vacation, Gagliardi asked Burrescia how he liked working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “He said it was a pretty good place to work”.  Gagliardi later interviewed at LLNL in April of 1979, was offered a position, and left for Livermore on Father’s Day that year, with his wife and two-month-old son Geno. “The plan was to stay for a couple of years, then transfer to Los Alamos,” Gagliardi said. But as their family grew, with another son (Franco) and daughter (Angelena), those plans changed, as their roots grew deeper and his position at ESnet became more challenging and rewarding. In hindsight, staying in California and working for ESnet with the UC retirement system was a very good decision.

Gagliardi later returned the favor and encouraged Joe Burrescia to join ESnet after Joe completed his BS degree at University of the Pacific. Yes, that was another very good outcome for all involved.

At LLNL, Gagliardi worked in the Engineering Group supporting the Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center (MFECC), which became NMFECC and then NERSC.  The network, MFEnet, was the predecessor to ESnet, and at that time the “high-speed” satellite links were 56 Kbps to Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, General Atomic, and 112 Kbps to the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. “We had to build and maintain our own network interfaces that connected the terminal concentrators to the Crays and MicroVAXes using PDP-11s to connect to the satellite interfaces,” Gagliardi said.

One of his first projects was to design the “satellite delay simulator.” At that time, when a remote user wanted to print the output of a computer job, there were problems in the code written at LLNL caused by the delays on the satellite links. The managers at Livermore wanted the programmers to experience the same environment as the remote users, so Gagliardi designed a wire-wrapped chassis that added a delay between the local users terminals and the computers.

As ESnet was launched and standardized on commercial routers that were installed at the ESnet user location, the Network Engineering team provided the support for all sites. Back then, Gagliardi recalls, upgrading the Cisco AGS routers would require removing the processor board and replacing a dozen or so chips. Today, those 30-60 minute outages for upgrades can be done in milliseconds just by switching over to the redundant router engine.

Nowadays, most outages and upgrades are transparent to the user community. For example, the main fiber connections to Berkeley Lab needed to be moved and re-spliced to accommodate construction of the Computational Research and Theory Building. Thanks to redundant circuits, there was no major interruption to the site. This is also the case throughout the ESnet backbone, which has come a long way from the satellite links, and is now in the process of moving from the nX 10 GE waves of ESnet4 to the 100 GE waves ESnet5.

“One problem that ESnet has is that since the network is up most of the time, it is taken for granted.” Gagliardi said. “Most of the network circuits and the access to the sites are at a 100 percent uptime rate.”

Gagliardi has made many friends and acquaintances in the user and vendor communities via phone, email or video conferences.  He especially valued the face-to-face meetings during his remote installs and through the ESnet Site Coordinators Committee and Internet2 Joint Techs and Members Meetings.  

“Over the years there have been many challenges, and ESnet has always been able to overcome those issues and get the job done,” said Gagliardi, who is the Group and Technical Leader for the Operations and Deployment Group. “I have been very fortunate to have had supportive and insightful management, dedicated world class colleagues and a great work environment in the ESnet organization.”

When asked what he will be doing in retirement Gagliardi said, “ The first thing we are planning is to take our children and grandchildren to Disneyland.” He is looking forward to planning trips, but instead of installs they will be for fishing in the Sierras, trips back to Colorado and one day to Italy. Gagliardi also has a long list of projects to do around the house that have been on hold for years.

“It’s been a great career, I’ll miss the people and being on the 'bleeding edge' of technology, but I’m also looking forward to this new adventure in our lives,” he said.