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Nexsan arrays 'ARM' national lab with redundant disk storage

Nexsan Unity disk arrays are based on a dual-controller NST platform. Argonne National Lab uses the storage for continuous operations in inhospitable environments.

Argonne National Laboratory has put Nexsan Unity SAN arrays to work in the harshest environments on Earth.

The Department of Energy-chartered research lab deploys the disk-based Nexsan arrays to collect climate data in support of the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) program. The Nexsan storage runs at Argonne's seven sites, including data centers in Chicago and Oklahoma City. The national lab's headquarters is in Argonne, Ill., about 20 miles outside Chicago.

But it is in rugged settings, such as Alaska's North Slope and aboard Antarctica-bound icebreakers, where Nexsan arrays really shine, said Cory Stuart, Argonne's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement site data system and cybersecurity manager. 

"I have nearly 500 hard drives deployed on Nexsan arrays in the field, but I have only had to replace about three drives over the last five years," Stuart said. "When we have had a controller issue or something like that, Nexsan support has provided the staff on site to replace the hardware when needed, everywhere from the North Slope to the Azores."

Argonne houses its sophisticated instruments in sea containers or other remote facilities in regions with extreme temperature and other weather variables. Sometimes, generators provide the sole source of electric power. The sites generally do not have IT staff on hand to troubleshoot problems, underscoring the importance of storage redundancy and high availability, Stuart said.

Cory Stuart, Argonne's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement site data system and cybersecurity managerCory Stuart

Argonne installed Nexsan Unity 4000 midrange models at two mobile facilities. The other five sites are equipped with high-end Unity 6000 arrays. Environmental data collected ranges from aerosol measurements and cloud physics to soil samples and wind conditions. Scientists use the data sets to build improved climate models.

"The purpose of the Nexsan is to temporarily house the data we collect in the field, until it can be transferred over the wire to our data center at Oak Ridge National Lab. The primary focus is capacity, but we also need a little bit of performance for our virtualization infrastructure at every location," Stuart said.

Capacity and durability combo clinched deal

Unity arrays are based on the Nexsan dual-controller NST platform. As the product name implies, the Nexsan arrays support unified block and file storage, with additional controllers available for Nexsan Assureon object storage and built-in enterprise file sync and share.

Argonne selected Nexsan Unity to replace individual server-based file storage previously in use.

"Before we got Nexsan, we had two different Dell servers running redundantly" at each location, Stuart said. "At one point, we used DRBD (Linux Distributed Replicated Block Device), but that turned out to bite us a couple of times. We looked at possibly using Gluster to write to the different servers concurrently, but the performance was lacking."

Those headaches prompted Stuart to explore other options. Argonne considered storage from Dell EMC and NetApp, among others, before settling on Nexsan Unity. Stuart said he was aware of the product from previously using Nexsan's burn-in process, a quality-control effort that aims to reduce drive failure.

"Another thing that led us to Nexsan was being able to fit 192 TB of raw data in a single rack, along with our other infrastructure," he said.

Launched in 1992, the ARM project hit 1 petabyte of data last year. Stuart said he expects Nexsan arrays to provide sufficient capacity for near-term growth. Starting in 2018, he expects Argonne to generate about a petabyte of new data each year, attributable largely to advanced radar equipment installed at nearly 20 weather-radar stations.

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How could Nexsan arrays handle your workloads in physically demanding environments?