Case Study: Linux Can, Linux SAN


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With such attractions as lower costs and flexibility, it was only a matter of time before the success of Linux in the server sector translated into broader application within the storage market. This doesn't mean there aren't still doubts and questions about its viability as a storage platform. On the other hand, when a company that boasts the fourth largest commercial supercomputer system in the world successfully deploys a Storage Area Network (SAN) using the Linux operating system, it's time to take a closer look.

The company in question is NuTec Energy, serving the oil and gas industry with seismic imaging services. Based in Houston, Texas, NuTec employs 35 staff. In early 2000, the company struck a deal with IBM to develop a massively parallel supercomputing system capable of dealing with the ever-increasing demands of seismic signal processing for oil and gas industry-based applications.

The storage system initially consisted of 3000 Power 3/3+ CPUs with AIX on each server, and with each CPU running its own analysis. The Network File System (NFS) file server utilized 2 IBM 'Shark' units connected to three B80 servers and featured shared file access to all CPUs. By 2003, however, the system was not keeping up with the demands placed upon on it, so a project was established to specify a replacement.

Project Goals

According to Sampath Gajawada, manager of software development at NuTec Energy, "The target was a super-scalable SAN — a high-performance, single image storage environment using Intel, Linux, Fibre Channel, and Ethernet." He defined several key objectives for the SAN:

  • Software tuned to be latency tolerant and massively parallel, offering buffered asynchronous communication and I/O
  • High I/O bandwidth (>500 processing nodes)
  • High computing power (processing power >2 Teraflops)
  • Large, flat file system (10-100TB), with easy storage management
  • Cost effective, solid price/performance balance, and scalable at low incremental costs
The main issues with the incumbent UNIX system were the high cost of the proprietary software and associated support and management, barely adequate computing power and bandwidth for some of the processing requirements, and a bottleneck on the storage NFS.

"The existing system just couldn't cope with the demands of our Depth-Domain Analysis and Time-Domain Analysis," said Gajawada. "We had reached the stage where business requirements were forcing us to reconsider our entire system. We looked at all the alternatives and settled on a combination of Intel and Linux."

Page 2: The Switch

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