Storage for the Stars

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With its archived solar data stores reaching capacity and terabytes of data yet to come from upcoming space missions, scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) knew it was time to revisit their network attached storage (NAS).

Though storage product pickings were slim, GSFC opted for the Pillar Axiom Storage System after being a Network Appliance customer for about 12 years.

“We ran an extensive set of tests on the Axiom storage system and we liked the speed, the functionality and the price,” says Joe Gurman, facility scientist at the Solar Data Analysis Center at GSFC, located in Beltsville, Md.

So in April, the Solar Data Analysis Center (SDAC) purchased the Axiom 500 configured with 10 terabytes of storage.

The mission of the SDAC is to archive and serve data obtained from spaced-based solar physics missions and ground-based observations. “We serve the data to solar and heliospheric scientists worldwide,” says Gurman.

The center is home to the nation’s largest organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to studying the Earth, solar system and universe.

Celestial Data Growth

As SDAC’s existing storage device approached its 4 terabyte capacity late last year, the center began considering how to expand storage capacity at a reasonable cost. “We estimated that we’d be adding 10 terabytes to 15 terabytes of data per year,” says Gurman.

The 4 terabytes of existing data came from active missions or missions completed in the last few years. Two key missions, for example, were the European Space Agency’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) launch in 1995 and the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) launch in 1998.

Two upcoming missions, STEREO and Solar-B, expected to launch in a few months, are expected to increase data storage by about 15 terabytes per year, according to Gurman. In 2008, the Solar Dynamics Observatory is expected to generate one terabyte of compressed data per day.

“As a primary repository for data, our major concern for storage is integrity,” says Gurman. Two other key criteria for the solution were uptime to serve the data and cost per terabyte. “While speed is nice, most systems are fast enough for our purposes,” he adds.

SDAC looked at several vendors’ storage solutions, including its current vendor, Network Appliance. According to Gurman, the IT department conducted its own search and got some feedback on storage solutions from other organizations.

One of the key features of Pillar’s Axiom storage that Gurman liked was the ability to add SATAdrive bricks. According to the vendor, a brick is a hardware building block or storage enclosure that provides the high-performance storage for the common SAN/NAS storage pool.

“The SATA drive bricks take advantage of the latest improvements in the size of the drives,” says Gurman, adding that the drives offer a decent level of reliability at a reasonable cost.

“Comparing the two vendors on features, expandability and total cost of ownership over the years, Pillar was the better of the two choices,” he adds.

It’s a Launch

In January, SDAC began a three-month test of the Axiom 500 configured with two bricks of 500GB drives. “Among other testing, we also replicated existing data, and the system performed very reliably,” says Gurman.

However, there were a couple of incidents that occurred during the testing that indicated the Pillar product wasn’t a perfect match for the SDAC environment, which is primarily Apple and Mac OS. “Pillar offers Web-based management and also a command line version, which is convenient when adding hosts, but it didn’t work with OS X,” explains Gurman.

Not wanting to get too involved with time-consuming systems administration work, Gurman asked Pillar to make changes to better accommodate OS X. The company was willing to make the improvements. “One of the major benefits of NAS is to reduce the human interface and reduce administration costs,” he says.

According to Gurman, Pillar made changes in the command line interface to help SDAC copy data and bring over local hosts. “The complete improvement to this feature will be available in a new release,” he says.

The SDAC has between 40 and 50 hosts with network attached access. The purchase acquisition for the Pillar Axiom 500 test unit began in April. The system administrators had to switch to the Axiom 500 as the primary storage and the Network Appliance as the backup device until it’s phased out entirely.

The Axiom storage device and hosts sit on a Gigabit Ethernet network segment, while most clients are on a 100 Mbps Ethernet network.

SDAC expects the 10 terabytes of storage to suffice until year end, at which point the organization expects to add a 750 MB brick, followed shortly thereafter by the purchase of a second 750 MB brick.

Given the organization’s cost parameters and storage system requirements, Gurman says there weren’t many vendors in the running. “Storage solutions were either at the high end and out of our price range, or at the very low end and didn’t meet our features requirements,” he says.

For more storage features, visit Enterprise Storage Forum Special Reports

Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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