NASA Revamps Its Storage Environment

The space agency overhauls a storage network to match its benchmark-smashing Columbia supercomputer.
Posted November 29, 2004

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

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NASA has just revamped the storage environment at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. This revamp consists of a new 450 TB storage network working in tandem with the massive Columbia supercomputer, which runs on Intel Itanium 2 and Linux.

"All of the storage is within one big SAN fabric," said Bob Ciotti, Terascale Systems Lead at NASA. "We now have 200 TB of data on Fibre Channel and 250 TB on SATA."

The various system elements include:

  • 2 Silkworm switches from Brocade Communications, each with 128 ports
  • Disk drives from Engenio Information Technologies
  • Memory technology from Dataram Corporation and Micron Technology.
  • An InfiniBank 288-port switch from Voltaire
  • The 10,240-processor Columbia supercomputer built from 20 Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) Altix systems, each powered by 512 Intel Itanium 2 processors. Columbia
  • A 450 TB SGI InfiniteStorage SAN
  • A further 800 terabytes of existing data managed by Data Migration Facility, SGI's InfiniteStorage data lifecycle management solution. This consists of a storage server and a tape farm composed of StorageTek tape silos
  • CXFS shared file system from SGI as the software layer that sits on top of the two operating systems running – IRIX (a UNIX variant) and Linux.

"The shared file system handles the access of meta data through a proxy system so it is possible to read and write to FC storage directly," said Ciotti.

Why Itanium 2 and Linux?

Why base the platform on Intel Itanium 2 processors and Linux rather than traditional RISC chips and UNIX? According to Ciotti, Itanium 2 has now reached the point where it can compete well with RISC.

"We get high bandwidth off out Itanium 2 chips," he said. "It also has a large cache that suits our applications."

Itanium 2 is based on the EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) architecture. These chips come with Level 1 cache of 32KB, 256KB L2 cache, up to 9 MB L3 cache and clock speeds between 1.3 and 1.6 GHz. They are based upon the Intel E8870 chipset, system buses are either 400 or 533 MHz, and I/O bandwidth is 6.4 GB/sec.

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