Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery

Feb 25 2011   11:56PM GMT

Moon Project Switches Storage

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Ever been in the middle of a project and found out the storage system wasn’t big enough?

Now, imagine the device on the other end, generating the data, is a giant camera taking pictures of the moon, and you see the problem.

The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) uses a technique known as remote sensing to draw a precise topographical map of the moon. When it’s done, scientists will basically have a GPS system for the moon, all ready to go, next time we send people to the moon. The purpose is to identify ideal landing sites and areas of permanent shadow and illumination. (Depending on what sorts of cameras LOLA has, imagery could also help scientists determine the amount of water, the type of dirt, and even whether there’s any plan life on the moon, as well as the best places to put a cell tower.)

Basically, according to NASA, the technology works by splitting a single laser pulse into five beams. These beams then strike and are backscattered from the lunar surface. From the return pulse, the LOLA electronics determines the time of flight which, accounting for the speed of light, provides a precise measurement of the range from the spacecraft to the lunar surface.

It’s the same sort of technology spy satellites use on the Earth now. The difference between this and the sort of imagery done of the moon before is one of detail. Where previous images had errors of from one to ten kilometers (about 0.62 to 6.2 miles, the LOLA system is down to the level of 30 meters (almost 100 feet) or less spatially and one meter (almost 3.3 feet) vertically. (In comparison, commercial satellites can take pictures of things on the earth as small as half a meter — and government satellites can take pictures at an even higher resolution.)

What this means, though, is that after a year up in space, LOLA had taken nearly three billion range measurements, compared with about eight million to nine million each from three recent international lunar missions, NASA said.

That’s a lotta data.

So that’s where the new storage system came in. The Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) deployed an EMC Isilon network attached storage (NAS) system to hold the tens of thousands of moon images. SESE can also replicate its lunar imagery to a second Isilon NL cluster, using Isilon’s SyncIQ asynchronous replication application.

Because the project is expected to last until 2014, the school’s previous NAS — which wasn’t identified, but which according to SearchStorage.com was Network Appliance — couldn’t handle the projected load, which adds up to more than a petabyte of capacity in the Isilon system.

Ironically, though EMC — which purchased Isilon for $2.25 billion last fall — sent out the press release announcing the project, it was pretty much all set up before the EMC purchase and had little to do with EMC itself. In fact, the project manager wasn’t all that thrilled with the news of the EMC purchase, and he is somewhat concerned about EMC’s ability to continue to support the project, SearchStorage said.

Ernest Bowman-Cisneros, manager, LROC Science Operations Center at SESE was reportedly testing Isilon’s system at the same time EMC was negotiating the Isilon acquisition, but didn’t know it. “It wasn’t until after we signed on the dotted line that we found out about EMC,” SearchStorage quoted Bowman-Cisneros as saying. “By the end of December, we had completed our testing and decided to go with their system. At this point, [the acquisition has] been inconsequential to us. My only concern is that EMC will continue to develop and support the model I have. “

Here’s hoping. It’s another three years before the project is completed .

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