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Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)

From the challenges of building a mammoth storage system for tackling blackouts to managing data at one of the world's largest theme parks, IT managers at last week's Networkers Live event in Anaheim described how they are coping with some unique storage challenges.

For San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), this involves building a storage system to outstrip even the Library of Congress, which is said to contain between 20 and 40 Tbytes of information. "It's a tremendous amount of data," explained Steven Knaebel, the firm's IT manager, adding that this is tied to an ambitious $1.7 billion, five year energy project called SmartMeter. (See HP Maps Greener Data Center.)

At the moment, PG&E collects usage data from its 10 million customers by reading their meters manually each month, although recent blackouts and brownouts have forced the firm to rethink this strategy. (See When the Lights Went Down in the City, Redbus Colo Stays Live in Blackout, and Blackout Looms for NYC.) "We're going to be collecting information every hour for residential customers and every 15 minutes from commercial customers, so that we can determine what their load is at different times of the day," said Knaebel.

SmartMeter uses a monitor fitted onto a customer's power meter to record usage data, which is sent back to PG&E and its substations via satellite links. The firm has 35,000 SmartMeter devices already in place and is currently installing the technology at a rate of 2,000 a day. In early September this will increase to 4,000 a day, rising to 10,000 sometime in 2008. By 2010, Knaebel expects to have SmartMeter installed at between 10 and 14 million homes and businesses.

But a project on this scale brings with it a unique set of storage challenges. "It's a monster -- its larger than the Library of Congress," said Knaebel, adding that PG&E typically uses IBM p590 devices for storage. (See IBM Unveils Next-Gen Supercomputer, IBM Lobs Benchmark at Sun, and Big Blue Launches Big Green.)

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