For this Member Spotlight, we chose to recognize @ChrisLaird. While he has been a community member since 2017, Chris caught our attention this month through his participation in the Folding@home challenge. We watched as his moniker (Moravian_College) quickly rose to the top of the Cisco Meraki team from donating loads of processing power and we just had to find out more about him and learn how on earth he pulled this off!
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I currently work in IT but that wasn’t originally the plan. I graduated from college as a history major with an elementary teaching certificate. I tell people that to demonstrate that you don’t need to go to school for tech or be a CS major, to succeed in this field. You’re not locked out, it’s not too late, almost anyone can succeed in IT if they work at it. After graduating college, I started in IT at Moravian College, where I worked as user support, then networking/systems engineering, then as director of networking/systems engineering, and now currently as the Assistant CIO for Infrastructure.
In the Folding@home challenge, you quickly skyrocketed to rank 1 on the Cisco Meraki team — what kind of set up (or witchcraft!?) did you use to achieve this?
I wish it was witchcraft, that would be much more fun! As soon as I originally received the community challenge email about folding@home, I knew I wanted to help. Our virtual infrastructure isn’t being used as heavily as normal during COVID, so I first set up VMware’s folding@home fling appliance to see how it worked. Setting it up only took a few minutes, but I started doing the points-per-day math and thinking of how to grow. I realized that all of Moravian's classrooms and labs are shut down and can’t be used because COVID, but could be used to fight against COVID. Thankfully, the College’s senior leadership immediately supported the idea of using our computers to contribute to the folding@home’s COVID project.
I set up all of the Mac clients using JAMF. That took about 48 hours to get a working deployment that will drop the correct config in place. All of our classrooms have a Mac Mini in the podium, plus we have various specialty labs with iMacs for graphic design and digital music. For Windows clients, I deployed those by hand using Remote Desktop. We have some really great machines for our eSports teams that were sitting idle, but now their graphics cards are really doing work on the folding project. We also had some other empty labs, including a GIS computing lab, that are now folding.
It took about a week to get everything running, but that was sort of fun. And I was really lucky to be able to do almost all of it remotely.
What are you most excited about for the future of networking?
If you asked me this a few months ago, I would’ve said something about how easy it is now to manage and deploy our network, firewalls, computers, servers, etc., even just compared to 5 and 10 years ago. But now, in the midst of the new COVID landscape, I think I’m most excited about the world recognizing the importance of reliable and easy to use resources like software, VPN, MFA, telecommuting, etc. Things that used to be non-priority are now front of mind to everyone, and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.
What’s your advice to folks who are just getting started with Meraki?
If you need support, call them! The email and web submission are great, but phone support is always faster when you’re in a tight spot and need help. Also, attend webinars and training sessions frequently. July will make it 4 years since I started using Meraki, and I’m still learning. Work with your account executive to make sure you’re properly utilizing and taking advantage of what you have.