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DOE Launches Storage Effort

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investing $11 million in a project to solve the storage problems of high-speed supercomputers, a move which may ultimately help enterprises handle their own spiraling storage demands.

The money is being used to fund the Petascale Data Storage Institute a research group of universities and government labs, led by Carnegie Mellon University, which will tackle the storage challenges posed by next generation supercomputers. With users now planning to deploy "petaflop" machines capable of a quadrillion (a million billion) calculations a second, the strain on storage will be immense, warns Garth Gibson, associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, and head of the Institute.

"The faster the processor, the faster you can absorb and create data," explains Gibson, who is also the CTO of clustering specialist Panasas, adding that a petaflop supercomputer may require hundreds of thousands of magnetic disks for storage. Such a large number of components, according to Gibson, increases the likelihood of a system failure.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Lab, home to one of the largest supercomputers in the world, have already warned that the machines typically suffer failures once or twice a day. Once the technology reaches the petaflop level, warns Los Alamos, this failure rate could jump to once every few minutes.

Supercomputers, although traditionally the preserve of universities and shadowy government research labs, are increasingly making their presence felt in the enterprise.

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