Energy pulls plugs on world's largest database

The world will have to wait a while longer to see the first petabyte database. The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center's Objectivity database, widely acknowledged as the world's largest, has stopped growing, just short of 900 terabytes, a victim of industry standardization within the scientific community. A petabyte is 1,000 T.

Last fall, the Stanford co-run International BaBar Collaboration switched its primary database for holding experimental data, said Jacek Becla, a database manager for BaBar. The new database, nicknamed Kanga, runs the ROOT Object I/O System, a database format developed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN. A smaller relational database is also used for bookkeeping and indexing.

'Everyone in high-energy physics is using ROOT, or is planning to use it,' Becla said. 'We have students who want to reuse their knowledge on other experiments.'

Since ROOT is more well-known in the scientific community, it would be more familiar to outside researchers who access the BaBar data. It also has tools that are easier to use than the ones Stanford wrote for the Objectivity database, Becla said.

Last December, Winter Corp. of Waltham, Mass., recognized Stanford's Objectivity as the world's largest database, at least the largest publicly known (Click for GCN coverage). Each year, Winter publishes a list of the world's largest and fastest databases.

At last count, the Objectivity database held 896T of data, and was growing at a rate of about 1T a day. The majority of the data was held offline on magnetic tape. The database was nicknamed Objectivity after the company that supplied the database software, Objectivity Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.

The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center first considered using Objectivity in 1996. Then researchers from Stanford University and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory were ramping up the International BaBar Collaboration, which involved crashing particle beams into each other inside a linear accelerator. The resulting data, captured from sensors within the facility, would help researchers better understand the relationship between matter and antimatter.

The lab will continue to keep the data available on the Objectivity database, and even add small increments of new data. The database is run from a number of older servers, mostly Sun Fire and Enterprise 4500 servers from Sun Microsystems Inc.

Kanga currently has about 100T and is being added to at a rate of about 1T a day.

(Posted 12:33 p.m. and corrected 2:01 p.m.)

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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