NASA Space Missions Fuel Massive Storage Projects

Phoenix may be on Mars, but NASA storage is firmly earthbound and growing fast

May 29, 2008

3 Min Read
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NASAs Mars mission may be grabbing headlines this week, but there has been a vast storage infrastructure underpinning the nine-month, 422-million-mile trek to the Red Planet.

Data storage projects are playing an increasingly important role for NASA as the administration plans more ambitious space missions and a myriad of cutting-edge research. Officials have already teamed up with Google, for example, around "large-scale data management" and will host a joint conference with the IEEE in September devoted to designing and building “mass storage systems."

From supercomputers to solid state disks (SSDs), here’s a rundown of some of NASA’s current storage projects:

SAN-based supercomputing
NASA is consuming compute power at a rapid rate, forcing officials to rethink their server and storage strategies over the last few months.

The space administration, for example, has already deployed more than 1 Pbyte of disk and 10 Pbytes of tape storage as part of its core SAN infrastructure, which is built mainly on hardware from SGI and Sun/StorageTek.NASA started building its SAN back in 2004, deploying a 440-Tbyte InfiniteStorage disk-based system from SGI to support its "Columbia" supercomputer, a system which has since grown significantly, thanks partly to the Phoenix Mars Lander project.

Such is the ongoing need for compute power at NASA that officials recently announced plans for a new supercomputer, pushing the administration’s storage requirements even further.

Earlier this month, NASA revealed that it will deploy a 20,480-core Altix ICE supercomputer from SGI at its Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley this summer. Capable of 245 trillion operations per second (Teraflops), the supercomputer will support future NASA projects, chiefly manned missions to the moon and potentially to Mars.

NASA is already planning to deploy an additional 450 Tbytes of InfiniteStorage hardware from SGI to support the as-yet-unnamed supercomputer, as well as a 115-Tbyte NAS solution from the same vendor.

NASA’s storage requirements also leaped up another notch when the administration announced its plans to upgrade the “Columbia” supercomputer earlier this year. The Ames Research Center entered into an agreement with Intel and SGI last month to "soup up" Columbia as part of a project called “Pleiades," which aims to deliver a Petaflop (1,000 trillion operations per second) of performance by 2009 and 10 Petaflops by 2012.SSDs and cosmic ray research

NASA, which recently recovered hard-drive data from the Columbia space-shuttle disaster, is clearly on the lookout for storage technologies capable of withstanding extreme conditions.

Earlier this month, for example, NASA announced that SSDs from South Korean vendor Mtron will provide the storage for the administration’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) project.

ANITA is a radio telescope for monitoring cosmic rays. It is attached to a stratospheric balloon floating 35 kilometers above the ground. Given this altitude and the weather conditions at the South Pole, NASA opted for robust SSD technology over more traditional magnetic or optical media.

In December, NASA will attach a number of 3.5-inch SATA SSDs to the stratospheric balloon, providing 1 Tbyte of storage, according to officials.

Image storage
NASA inevitably relies heavily on vast quantities of high-resolution images, both for its space flights and as part of its ongoing environmental research.Earlier this year, NASA teamed up with Fibre Channel specialist Winchester Systems to store Earth images for the administration’s Atmospheric Science Data Center (ASDC) in Langley, Va. NASA deployed three of Winchester’s SA-4500 systems, which are connected to the administration’s Linux servers via Fibre Channel.

Although each of the systems offers up to 12 Tbytes of storage capacity, only 10 Tbytes will actually be used, leaving the remaining 2 Tbytes for RAID 6 protection.

NASA’s imaging projects also involve other vendors, such as Isilon, which provides the storage for the administration’s World Wind project, an open source, virtual globe that lets online users explore the Earth and its terrain through high-resolution 3D satellite images.

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  • Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)

  • SGI

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: JAVA)

  • Winchester Systems Inc.0

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