Paul Lang’s NASA Legacy
The Computational and Information Sciences and Technology Office’s (CISTO) High-End Computer Networking (HECN) team and the NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and our colleagues reflect back on the NASA legacy of Paul Lang, a nationally recognized expert in high-performance networking.
Paul Lang arrived at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from the Naval Research Laboratory in 1990, and for the next 31 years, he worked to first pioneer, and then continually evolve, computer networking technology for NASA in support of the NCCS supercomputer facility and numerous science projects.
At the start of his NASA career, Paul worked as part of the Network Support Group for Large Systems. Using early 10 megabits per second (Mbps) Ethernet, he helped expand the network from just a few systems to over 10,000 systems across most of the buildings on the Goddard campus, thus forming the inaugural version of the Center Network Environment (CNE).
After helping build the first CNE, Paul joined the award-winning High-End Computer Networking (HECN) team, also called “the Pat Group,” led by Pat Gary. The HECN team concentrated on high-performance computer networks for the science and engineering community, and provided capabilities that were not generally available on the CNE. In 2001, he was instrumental in bringing up the first Gigabit Ethernet (1,000 Mbps) to the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads (MAX) GigaPOP — the gateway to the Internet2 research and education community. Paul helped design and implement a 4xGigE backbone network that supported many major science projects, and also was heavily involved in network research and development with the Advanced Technology Demonstration Network (ATDNET).
Paul worked with the HECN team to further evolve the network into the current Science and Engineering Network (SEN). SEN began as a 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10-GigE) backbone network. That was subsequently upgraded to a 40-GigE backbone network with 40-GigE firewalls and a 40-GigE connection to the MAX/Internet2.
Paul was extremely customer-focused and helpful. With his extensive network expertise, he significantly contributed to the missions of several major NASA science divisions, groups, and projects supported by the SEN, including these: the NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS), the Explore/ADAPT Science Cloud, the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) project, the Science and Planetary Operations Control Center (SPOCC), the Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS), the Direct Readout Laboratory (DRL), the Space Physics Data Facility (SPDF), the Space Science Data Coordinated Archive (NSSDC), the Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC), and the Goddard Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory (GGAO).
Paul continually tested and evaluated new routers, switches, transceivers, network interface cards, and other network technology such as optical networking (dense wavelength division multiplexing) to validate their performance and applicability for use within the SEN itself and also by the SEN customers. He also developed several scripts for automated monitoring of the SEN for customer bandwidth usage, checking on the network health, and other management purposes.
In addition to the production of SEN, Paul also made significant contributions to high-performance network research and development (R&D), working with other government and educational network R&D partners such as the Naval Research Laboratory, the StarLight national and international optical network exchange facility, Internet2, the Energy Sciences Network (Esnet), and the Supercomputing high-capacity network (SCinet). Paul devised custom-built, ultra high-performance servers using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, which were used to perform live demos at the annual Supercomputing (SC) conferences. For example, at the SC19 NASA booth in Denver, Paul set up a 4×100-GigE network just for the conference, and the live demos achieved a record end-to-end disk to-disk network data transfer throughput of 200 Gigabits per second (Gbps).
Paul passed away unexpectedly late in 2021. His teammates, colleagues of many years, and close friends miss Paul’s technical genius, but most of all, they (and we) miss his many other wonderful qualities, detailed in the comments below.
– HECN Network Engineer Bill Fink and HECN Network
Engineer Aruna Muppalla. NASA photos.
I met Paul Lang when I first came to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center back in 2003. At that time, I was the lead high-performance computing (HPC) system engineer at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation, a group which heavily utilized NASA Goddard’s Science and Engineering Network (SEN) for incoming and outgoing network traffic. Over the next several years, I interacted closely with Paul and Pat Gary’s group — the High-End Computer Networking (HECN) team. I became aware of not only how talented the networking team was, but also how close they were as friends and colleagues. During my first years at NASA Goddard, those interactions with Paul and the HECN team showed me that the culture of NASA is teamwork and family.
Since first interacting with Paul in the early 2000’s, I had the opportunity to work and support him until his passing. In every interaction with Paul, he was confident, soft-spoken, and always had a smile on his face. His knowledge of networking and information technology was incredible, and he always took time to explain things to me with patience, even when I asked him the same question multiple times! His ability to creatively solve problems to meet the most cutting-edge networking requirements for science was second to none, and his ability to troubleshoot problems was impressive. I can’t remember a time when Paul ever said “no, we can’t do that.” Rather, he would always say, let us think about it and come back with a solution.
I am extremely lucky to work with incredible people at NASA, and Paul was one of them. I feel like he taught and gave to me much more than I did for him. Quite frankly, that was Paul — always giving and thinking about others. I will always remember him with a smile on my face, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to work and get to know him. I miss you Paul, and I’m sure many others do as well.
– Dan Duffy
I have known Paul Lang for over 45 years. We first worked together at the Naval Research Laboratory for 14 years, and then for 31 years after we both went to work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. There are so many memories to cherish, including doing live demonstrations with Paul over the last 10 years at the annual Supercomputing exposition held in various cities around the country, and our almost daily lunches at our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Azteca. Besides being a wonderful colleague, Paul was also my best friend.
Paul was a nationally recognized expert in our field of computer network engineering. He often came up with unique solutions, such as his clever technique for validating the performance of network switches and routers without highly expensive network hardware testing equipment. Paul also devised automated scripts for network monitoring of the network health, customer bandwidth usage, routes, IP and MAC addresses to proactively detect hardware/fiber issues that could impact network performance.
Paul will be greatly missed. He was always good-natured, willing to help anyone who needed it, and always thought of others before himself, both at work and in his personal life. He was super customer-oriented and would go the extra mile whenever it was needed. The world — and NASA — was a much better place because of him. All those of us who knew Paul were indeed blessed by his company and his great heart.
– Bill Fink
My time spent with Paul Lang began in the Science Communications Technology Branch at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. I served as the lead for part of a network team managing specialized protocol segments (e.g., DECNet, TCP/IP) of NASA’s computer networks. These networks are used by the science and engineering communities at NASA to conduct data analytics and access key online resources to perform their jobs.
Eventually, I became the Associate Chief of the Computational and Information Sciences and Technology Office (CISTO). The High-End Computer Networking (HECN) team was an important element of that office, where Paul continued his work to provide a critical, specialized data communications service to the NASA science community.
Paul sincerely cared about the work he performed on behalf the team and especially about everyone he encountered. Paul’s personality was contagious in the best possible way. Having worked beside Paul was like working with two people, one with a tireless attention to detail for perfecting the end product or mission success and the other that would open his heart to guide those that wanted to endlessly learn more.
The work ethic Paul exhibited was simply incredible, and I’m sure that was fueled by the abundance of empty snack containers that steadily accrued on his office’s desk. I often wondered if Paul had stock in the vending machine companies servicing the campus.
Paul is the only person I knew that didn’t wear a coat during the cold winters in our area of Maryland. We often joked about the idea of his wearing a coat, but it never got to the point that Paul felt the need to purchase one. For someone that came from one of coldest parts of the Midwest, he projected a sincerity of warmth through his veins, even during the cold winter months, and as a person, his warmth is unmatched, even to this day.
I was very fortunate to spend part of my career with Paul, and I will be forever grateful for that experience. I have no doubt that I wasn’t the exception, but one among many whose lives Paul touched in a personal, positive, and memorable way. Thank you, Paul, for being my unconditional friend.
– Jerome Bennett
I worked with Paul Lang for decades at Mid-Atlantic Crossroads (MAX), a consortium with the challenging goal to bring high-speed, high-performance networking to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and other government and educational institutions in the region.
When we worked together, I was the Director of Engineering for MAX, and Paul was “the guy on the other end of the line” at GSFC in the High End Computer Networking (HECN) Team. The HECN Team manages NASA Goddard’s Science and Engineering Network (SEN) as a non-mission-dedicated high-performance computer network. Paul’s group at NASA worked tirelessly to accomplish their mission, and MAX was their outside partner.
At the time, various bureaucratic groups within NASA resisted MAX’s work with GSFC, especially those running three-tier, outsourced contractors who charged departments high rates and delivered very little bandwidth. But Paul’s group was all in favor. So, we had to be a bit stealthy, running fiber into NASA GSFC to peer their routers with our routers. The guy who ran the fiber was an ex-landscape gardener who discovered that he could make more money stapling fiber to telephone poles, which was a bit funky, using one government agency’s build to connect to another.
Of course, after that effort turned out to be a big success, everyone wanted a piece of it, and the groups at NASA who had opposed it discovered that they did have ways to fit MAX into their scheme after all.
Over the decades, Paul and I collaborated on a number of high-performance network experiments, and he was always the friendly, enthusiastic face of those. “Guess what Dan?” Paul would say, “we just got this really advanced gear, and if we connect 16 of those end to end, we can set a new record for throughput!” As they may (or may not) say in Missouri, “we stole a lot of horses together.” I’ll miss him!
– Dan Magorian
I’ve been working with the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS) at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for 10 years. My group utilizes the Science and Engineering Network (SEN) for computer communications. As the sole network guy for the SVS, I often work with SEN team members, including Paul Lang.
Paul was one of those special people that are positive, supportive, and willing to help someone in need. He was such a pleasure to work with, very helpful to me concerning networking issues of all sorts—everything from recommending a specific switch manufacturer or model to discussing the details of various network protocols. Paul was truly a network genius! Not only did he have a thorough understanding of networking protocols, but he also worked to maintain knowledge of the latest technologies.
A recent memory of mine from 2019 was working with Paul to troubleshoot a loop in the SVS network. Paul and I were working side by side one evening, and we realized we needed to monitor the computer’s media access control (MAC) address being reported by a switch. I started writing a script with my normal tools of grep/sed, then noticed a twist which was making it difficult. Paul exclaimed, “We can use awk!” He excitedly dictated the awk code to monitor the MAC addresses. I’ll always remember the joy and excitement in his face as he provided the solution.
Probably a bigger impact that Paul had on me was to teach me how to think about network problems and how to fix them. Over the past several years, whenever I would have difficult network issues, I would start drafting an e-mail to Paul. While I was composing the message, I would think, “what would Paul ask me?” Then, I would find the answer to the question and repeat the process. This would often lead to the solution without sending an e-mail to Paul!
Paul was always calm, patient, and pleasant. He was simply a joy to work with! I never heard a disparaging remark from him, even when he was busy or under a lot of pressure. I will really miss his smile and cheerful demeanor. I know I will always be able to compose an e-mail to Paul to work out future problems, but nothing will replace the interactions with him. Rest in peace, my friend!
– Larry Schuler
I worked at NASA’s Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In supporting ESDIS networking, one of my duties was to investigate emerging technologies that could benefit the project. In this role, I had the pleasure of participating in several collaborations with members of Pat Gary’s HECN team including Paul Lang, mainly in the late 1990s to early 2000s.
Paul was as a great guy to work with. He was always willing to share his experience and lend a helping hand. Paul was one guy you could depend on to get a job done, and he put in that extra effort to make things happen.
Once, Paul and I got into a very heated argument over the phone, and we were really going at it! Several years later, I ran into Paul and asked him if he remembered our spat and what it was about. He said he remembered our spat but not the reason why. Neither could I. We had a good laugh about that. We’ve lost a top-notch engineer, a technology trailblazer, and he’ll be missed — but he’s made all of our lives a bit better.
Paul was unfailingly positive, knew how to listen, and had a great sense of humor. He was diligent, reliable, willing, and expert at his job. He was helpful and a really nice guy. He was a team player and many people liked him, loved him. He impacted science in a very positive way, enabling SMD. He left his legacy, and he will not be forgotten.
– George Rumney
Sean Keefe, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center