NASA Ames cloud storage

NASA Ames smooths its cloud migration launch

NASA’s Ames Research Center is no stranger to dealing with large data files, but storing them was becoming problematic. For help, the space agency looked to the cloud.

Often when Ames started a new project, IT staff planned for more storage, which meant adding  additional file servers. That, in turn,  involved contacting vendors, finding space in the data center for the equipment, powering it, cooling it -- all of which took time and effort. Now, officials simply create a new bucket in the Amazon Simple Storage Solution (S3) cloud, decide how big it needs to be and deploy file services into it.

Ames officials chose a cloud-based solution from Avere Systems that would meet their goals associated with the move to the cloud: add capacity, avoid latency in downloading files from the cloud, migrate existing projects to the cloud and secure data once it’s moved.

“The target was for them to be able to add researchers, to add projects and to spin [the services] up overnight or instantly,” said Ron Bianchini, Jr., president and CEO of Avere, a provider of enterprise storage for the hybrid cloud. And when the project had run its course, Ames wanted to be able to “take it back offline without having to deploy physical boxes.”

On the performance side, Ames began using three Avere FXT 3200 Edge Filers, low-capacity front-end network-attached storage hardware, about nine months ago. The NAS filers keep the file services on-premise while putting the sharing capacity in the cloud. They support the two main types of file servers: Network File System servers for Unix devices and Common Internet File System servers for Windows. That on-premise aspect is what removes the latency problem, Bianchini said.

“File services in the cloud would be incredibly slow. Imagine the hourglass with grains of sand dropping down on your screen while you’re trying to access data,” Bianchini said. “By putting our Edge Filer on premise, we keep all the things you use most often locally.”  The file services function as if all the disks were on premise,  he said. That’s what NASA is now doing,  “having all the capacity out in the cloud and just the Avere Edge Filer on-prem.”

Besides spinning up new projects in the cloud, Ames also wanted to move existing projects to Amazon S3. To do that, it added Avere FlashMove to the mix.

Besides migrating the data to the cloud, Avere was able to move the data while applications were still running. “Users don’t even know that the migration is happening. And when we’re done, we tell you that the data is now in the cloud. You can now power off your old-school file server,” Bianchini said.

So far Ames has moved tens of terabytes to the cloud with the goal of migrating half a petabyte of data, he added. The migration time depends on how much data is being moved and how big the pipe to the cloud is, said Rebecca Thompson, vice president of marketing at Avere.

“It’s almost akin to when you’re trying to download a file over the Internet – do you have [Verizon] Fios service or do you have a simple cable modem?” Thompson said.

Another of NASA’s concerns was security. “The No. 1 roadblock for people getting out to the cloud is data security,” Bianchini said. With the Avere solution, data is encrypted before it goes to the cloud. Additionally, the keys for unencrypting the data never leave Ames’ premises, so even if hackers got access to the bucket in the cloud, all they would see is a random set of bits, he said. It’s not until users bring those bits down to the Edge Filer and use the local keys that they can see the data.

Officials can also manage capacity more easily now. Instead of having to administer many separate storage filers and figure out where the capacity is and which projects should use which filers, everything is now in one central repository in the cloud.

For Ames’ users, it’s business as usual despite these changes. All their applications look and appear to work the same as they did before Avere came in.

“Edge Filer on-prem makes those things performance-neutral,” Bianchini said. “You won’t be able to tell the difference if you have all your data on-prem old-school or you have all the data in the cloud.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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