PTO upgrades systems to store patent data online

The Patent and Trademark Office has 27 terabytes of online storage and
will keep adding more until it hits 35 terabytes, said A.K. Borough, the deputy chief
information officer and director of technical support services.


PTO plans to publish 20 million pages of patent and trademark information on the Web,
beginning this month.


But the new storage demands represent only the tip of the iceberg.


Even before the Web project, PTO had capacity problems keeping up with the storage load
of its own examiners, Borough said.


The public-access project will put 2 terabytes of online magnetic storage outside the
agency’s firewall. But behind the firewall, he said, it’s a bigger story.


“Even with 27 terabytes, we were looking for a [spare] terabyte the other day and
couldn’t find one,” Borough said.


Over several months, PTO has bought terabytes of RAID Level 5 storage from EMC Corp. of
Hopkinton, Mass., to replace a roomful of fixed-platter optical devices.


The SCSI-attached Symmetrix Enterprise Storage systems, which range in price from
$40,000 for the Symmetrix 5330/3330 to $86,000 for the Symmetrix 5700/3700, consolidate
data storage off the servers.


The architecture gives PTO more than one server “going after the same set of
data,” Borough said.


The largest of PTO’s servers is a 16-processor HP 9000 enterprise system from
Hewlett-Packard Co.


In trying to handle 3,500 new patent applications every week, PTO hit a wall with
hard-mounted 12-inch optical disks that had a low image resolution of 150 bits per inch.


Newer, 50-platter optical jukeboxes from Sony Corp. of America of Park Ridge, N.J.,
gave examiners a fallback medium that took longer to access but gave better image
resolution: 300 bits per inch.


“The jukeboxes are a little more stable in terms of archival storage” but
designed for low use rates, Borough said. “We’ve been using them in a way they
weren’t designed for. Those jukeboxes are dancing around on the floor.”


When Borough came to PTO in 1989, the agency was receiving about 2,000 patent
applications a week. The number has since climbed to 3,500, and there can be hundreds of
pages per submission.


The agency records not only U.S. patents but also those granted in Japan, Europe and
elsewhere in the world, Borough said.


“In the past two years, patents have been concentrated in the super high-tech
areas—computers and biotechnology—and those tend to be big,” he said.


The Web project moves the agency closer to providing nearly 24-hour access to patent
data online.


“What’s driving us is not so much our own examiners, because they like to go
home and get some sleep,” Borough said.


For now and well into the future, the agency plans to satisfy the demand for capacity
with online storage networks, he said.


“Nothing is faster,” Borough said. “They’re
smokin’.” 

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