NCAR installs major storage upgrade

National Center for Atmospheric Research begins fivefold expansion of scientific data storage with new Sun library system.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has begun installation of high-capacity digital storage libraries that will boost the center's storage capacity from six to 30 petabytes.

The new Augmentation of the Mass Storage Tape Archive Resources system (AMSTAR) is built on Sun Microsystems's StorageTek SL8500 Modular Library System and StorageTek T10000B tape drives. Installation of the first two production libraries was completed last week, and they are expected to become operational in December. An additional library is scheduled to be added in 2010.

Transfer of the 6 petabytes of data from the existing Mass Storage System will take about 18 months at a rate of about 140 Mbps. Once it becomes operational, new data will be stored directly to the new system.

Despite the expanded capacity, AMSTAR is expected to meet storage needs only until NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) moves from its present campus in Boulder, Colo., to new quarters in 2012.

NCAR was established in 1962 by the National Science Foundation to create a central resource for the earth and atmospheric science communities. It provides data and tools, including supercomputer facilities at the CISL, to university researchers and is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

CISL is one of four laboratories operated by NCAR and provides researchers with high-performance computers, high-speed networks, visualization and advanced mathematical tools'all dependent upon its data archiving and storage facility.

The Mass Storage System is one of the largest archives dedicated to geosciences. It holds historical climate records and data from field experiments and observations, but the bulk of the data is generated by climate simulations, weather models and other Earth system models running on CISL supercomputers.

'The current MSS archive hardware has reached end-of-life,' NCAR said in its program operating plan for fiscal 2009. It reached its six-petabyte capacity less than six years after accumulating its first petabyte of data. AMSTAR is intended to enable NCAR to continue to advance petascale science.

CISL began the AMSTAR procurement in fiscal 2008 and is on schedule to have it in production early in fiscal 2009, which began Oct. 1. The Sun system will allow the lab to increase its storage capacity and speed without increasing power requirements or requiring the rewriting of code. The SL8500 Modular Library can scale from 29 terabytes of storage to 70 petabytes (70,000 terabytes) with 70,000 tape slots and 448 drives. AMSTAR will have 30,000 tape slots using the T10000B tape drives, each with a 1-terabyte capacity and a 120Mbps throughput.

AMSTAR is the first step in creating a High Performance Storage System (HPSS) that will use data archive management software to align NCAR with external partners and reduce the costs of its MSS system. All of this is being done with an eye toward relocating the computational lab to a new facility that is being planned for the University of Wyoming campus in Cheyenne.

'The 40-year-old Mesa Laboratory computing facility is rapidly becoming obsolete,' NCAR said. 'CISL continues to pursue the goal of building a new data center in Wyoming,' the NCAR Supercomputing Center, 'which will enable development of petascale systems that will soon be required by the atmospheric and related science communities.'

CISL has established a project office for the NSC and allocated staff time for developing a proposal for the new center and expects to begin facility design in fiscal 2009.

'Success of the HPSS development system will lead to adoption of a follow-on NSC data archive system,' NCAR said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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