SAIC Stretches Database Limits

Defense contractor looks to the stars as it builds some of the world's largest databases

April 18, 2007

3 Min Read
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SAN DIEGO -- Storage Networking World -- Killer asteroids, complex data searches for the intelligence community, and cancer research are laying the foundations for the next generation of massive databases, according to Cora Carmody, CIO of defense contractor SAIC.

During her keynote today, Carmody outlined a number of SAIC projects that are stretching database technology to its limits, such as the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (PAN-STARR) initiative. "Working with the University of Hawaii, we're building the largest database of astronomical data," she said.

The project, which involves searching for "killer" asteroids and researching the origins of the solar system, began in 2002, and will eventually generate about 10 Tbytes of data a week. "It will, at the end of its life, create an astronomy database of 40 Pbytes," said Carmody.

The long-term goal of PAN-STARR is to make the database available over the Internet so that it can be used for education and research.

By way of context, the entire printed collections of the Library of Congress are said to equal 10 Tbytes of data, highlighting the sheer scale of this effort.Although Carmody did not reveal which other vendors are working on the project, she touched on some other SAIC initiatives that are pushing the database envelope. One of these is the TeraText project, which was first developed at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). "It's a non-relational text database that can scale to some very large sizes and handle both structured and unstructured data," said Carmody. "We have used it with intelligence kind of work, and we have also used it with the SEC."

Another data intensive initiative is the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Genome Anatomy Project, which aims to decipher the molecular makeup of cancer cells. "This project is building an exceptionally large database of the attributes of cancer," said Carmody, adding that the database will be available to researchers via the Internet.

The exec highlighted some possible uses of technologies such as RFID, Bluetooth, and ultra-high speed optical transmission, over the next few years. This could involve, for example, being checked into a hotel as soon as you pull into its parking lot, or the use of biometrics in healthcare. Thumb-scanning technologies are already used in some California gyms, explained Carmody, adding that this could be widely deployed as monitoring technology in the healthcare industry.

Despite these predictions, it wasn't all future-gazing in San Diego today. Carmody used her keynote to highlight some of the major shortcomings in technology, particularly when it comes to laptops. "As long as I have been in IT, I have wondered when we will have a breakthrough in battery life -- some people can't make it across the country on one battery," she said.Also From the Podium

Other users voiced their technology concerns today. "Storage is this behemoth that keeps growing," said Gary Berger, vice president of technology solutions at Bank of America Securities, during another of the day's keynotes.

In an attempt to get around this problem, Berger has deployed virtualization technology from 3PAR on IBM blade hardware. (See 3Par Shines at Sunlight, 3PAR, Riverbed Deliver DR, and Jacent Deploys 3PAR.) "It helps us distribute workloads as efficiently as possible," he said, adding that he is looking at the likes of Mimosa for database recovery.Although he did not reveal how much he has saved through virtualization, the exec explained that he has slashed the amount of time spent on storage admin by 95 percent. Virtualization has helped the bank cut its hardware purchases by 50 percent, he said.

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Mimosa Systems Inc.

  • Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC)

  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

  • 3PAR Inc.

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