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NASA lights a fire under storage access

To access optically stored data files, NASA needed an automated storage system that could serve in a UNIX environment.

NASA lights a fire under storage access
The agency automates optical file retrieval

By Linda Christie

To gain rapid access to a vast number of optically stored data files, NASA needed a non-proprietary automated storage system that could serve in a UNIX environment.

NASA engineers and mission crews utilize the data from each launch to ensure the safety of current as well as future missions. However, as the complexity of shuttle missions grew, the job of tracking and analyzing data was becoming increasingly difficult. To provide quick access to files stored on over 80 2.6G byte optical platters, NASA needed a cost effective optical hardware/software storage system that could be readily consolidated and maintained. At the same time, NASA wanted to migrate from VMS hosting to a UNIX environment.

In 1998 Space Gateway Support in Kennedy Space Center, Fla. was selected as the contractor to manage the infrastructure at Cape Canaveral Spaceport and the first Joint Base Operations Support Contract (JBOSC) between NASA and the United States Air Force. At that time launch data was being processed and archived to optical disk platters on an HP 1715T Optical Disk Server hosted by an OpenVMS Cluster configuration. To retrieve specific data, NASA engineers and researchers had to know which optical disk contained the required data, log onto VMS, mount the correct platter and then copy or ftp the data file. "It could take half a day to determine the location of the desired data and retrieve a single file," says Shawn Riley, system analyst at Space Gateway Support (SGS) and its affiliate InDyne Inc. (IDI). "Not only was this process cumbersome, but it was overly dependent on operator intervention."

File location was maintained in a database. "However, we'd have to manually update the database each time a platter changed slots in the jukebox--and even rebuild it after a power outage," Riley says.

NASA wanted an automated solution that would make the data available at the desktop. So, it contracted with Space Gateway Support to solve the problem. NASA stipulated that it stick with an optical storage solution because of its superior security and data integrity features relative to hard disk storage. Also, it would probably be less expensive than switching to a hard disk solution such as Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID). In addition, optical storage would provide NASA with the flexibility to archive data permanently with Write Once Read Many (WORM) media.

Finding an optical disk storage solution that was not tied to a proprietary file system seemed like a tall order. "We wanted to be able to read platters at the operating system level. So, we wouldn't get locked into a vendor," Riley says. "In addition, we wanted to be able to write our own scripts and use UNIX copy, format and mount commands."

"In addition to offering the features that we needed and having a good track record, Optiserver does not use a native file system: a nonproprietary approach," Riley says. That means that NASA can:

  • Easily add devices foreign to the operating system or technology used for storing the data (as simple as changing a file path).
  • Access data on optical media in the same manner as a hard drive.
  • Maintain backward compatibility as operating systems might be upgraded.
  • Work in its familiar UNIX Tru64 environment, with no additional training for users.
  • Continue to benefit from the operating system's existing features and functions, including C2 level security with user-ID-based access control.
  • Retain the portability of its media: Labels, file structure information and data can be self-contained on its optical media in portable volumes.
  • Remove media and store it offsite for disaster recovery.
  • Avoid rebuilding volumes.

Migrating from OpenVMS to UNIX required formatting all of the platters to make them UNIX compatible. "We backed up the jukebox to tape, networked the two servers together, reformatted the platters, and dragged and dropped the files onto the new media," Riley says. "The system is a lot more stable now. KOM software has been bulletproof."

Today NASA engineers use an automated, Web interface to search the database for the files it needs. Even if the platter isn't mounted in the jukebox, it only takes 10 seconds to retrieve a file. "NASA engineers are extremely pleased with the software solution we have developed with KOM Networks," says Phil Gemmer, SGS/IDI systems analyst. "Because the data is always there for them when they need it, they can conduct more samples and therefore generate extremely high probability conclusions. This improved knowledge not only positively impacts today's mission, but tomorrow's as well."

For additional information about KOM Network's Optiserver, visit its Web site.

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