AF center saves space and time with SAN

AF center saves space and time with SAN

As data from satellite simulations, software development and various other tasks piled up at the Air Force's Center for Research Support, the complex looked for somewhere to put it all.

The center's disparate storage systems were running out of space, so officials decided to consolidate the data into a storage area network. The center, located within the Joint National Integration Center at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., now has a system that can scale up to 9.1T while maintaining a much smaller footprint than previous systems.

'We're not a large facility, so we have to cram a lot into a very small space,' site manager Paul Barbara said.

The center selected the NexStor 3150 storage system from nStor Technologies Inc. of San Diego. The system contains up to eight 73G disks in a single 2U'or 3.5-inch'form factor unit. The Fibre Channel SAN holds 1.5T of data and can add an additional 7.6T to the same rack.

Because the center conducts spacecraft operations all day, every day, speed and reliability were key, Barbara said. The network has dual fault-tolerant RAID controllers that can read and write up to 200 Mbps. The SAN also has dual eight-port switches providing redundant path support for failover.

Simplified management

In almost a year of operation, the storage network has had no unexpected downtime. Barbara believes it has also simplified management.

'We had several different ways of putting things in storage,' he said. 'Now we have one central facility instead of having it segmented across many systems.'

The implementation of a SAN is part of an overall modernization project at the center. Most of the Air Force Satellite Control Network's technology was put in place in the late 1980s. Customized systems are currently being replaced with commercial hardware.

One of the biggest challenges is in testing. With most systems, if the system crashes, the users can reboot or reload the software, make some design adjustments and try again. But that procedure doesn't work with satellites orbiting 22,000 miles above the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour. A slight miscalculation can send a multimillion-dollar satellite spinning out of control.

To prevent such problems, the center conducts rigorous testing programs on actual satellites. It uses five decommissioned but still orbiting satellites to develop and test software and procedures for operating satellites. One current simulation involves the automation of flight paths so they require less operator intervention.

'We take satellites that have lived out their usefulness and work out the simulations,' Barbara said. 'While we could sit here and do it with simulators, the best simulator of all is having an actual vehicle in space.'

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