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SGI Data Migration Facility Helps UCLA LONI Take Brain Research to the Next Level

  • July 01 2004, 1:00am EDT
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REVIEWER: Rico Magsipoc, system administrator for UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging.

BACKGROUND: At the University of California Los Angeles Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (UCLA LONI), researchers use the latest technology to visualize the brain and other neurological structures. UCLA LONI is a leader in the development and use of computer imaging systems to enhance the understanding of brain structure and function. Research at UCLA LONI is advancing human knowledge in a wide range of areas, from neurological development and brain structure to Alzheimer's disease. UCLA LONI is developing comprehensive atlases of human brain structure and function in both health and disease, and pioneering techniques to help guide surgeons during brain surgery. UCLA LONI uses a variety of imaging techniques, including magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and optical intrinsic signals to generate three-dimensional images of the brain and other structures. These imaging systems and subsequent analysis create a staggering amount of data. A data set from a single subject can consume hundreds of gigabytes, and total stored data is increasing at a rate of 8TB per year. SGI Data Migration Facility (DMF) allows for mass data sets to be stored in an efficient and accessible manner, allowing researchers to focus on science rather than data management.

PLATFORMS: SGI DMF is currently built into an SGI Origin 300, 2-processor.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Prior to implementing SGI DMF, UCLA LONI had been using a Network File System (NFS) for shared access to images; however, NFS lacked the performance to rapidly transfer large image files, and data availability was often a problem. In addition, due to limited online storage capacity and laborious manual processes, costly man-hours had to be dedicated to data archiving and storage space management.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: UCLA LONI and SGI designed a fibre channel-based storage area network (SAN) based on SGI CXFS and coupled this SAN with hierarchical storage management, DMF, in the back end. Based on file size, age and ownership criteria, DMF now transparently and automatically manages the data life cycle, migrating data fitting the defined criteria to and from tape media and high-speed RAID storage. UCLA LONI can sustain approximately 400MB/sec throughput from desktop to disk storage and approximately 20MB/sec from disk storage to tape, improving storage resource allocation and ease of management.

STRENGTHS: The addition of SGI DMF to the solution significantly streamlined data management while providing UCLA LONI with a virtually infinite storage space.

WEAKNESSES: The current version of DMF lacks an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) and everything is done via command line. While experienced DMF administrators prefer the faster command line over a GUI, teaching the nuances of the system to newcomers can be difficult. Moreover, DMF would be greatly improved if "migration intelligence" were built into the product. As an imaging facility, UCLA LONI often views data in image sequence format. If the user requires an entire sequence, DMF migrates it from tape to disk one file at a time. With a 20-second overhead per file, a large image sequence can quickly become cumbersome. UCLA LONI easily works around this by "tarring" such sequences into a single container file, permitting the 20-second overhead to only hit once.

SELECTION CRITERIA: SGI delivered the storage management expertise UCLA LONI needed to become one of the top brain and neurological research labs in the world. With the knowledge that SGI delivered high-performance computing, storage and visualization that address scientific, engineering and creative challenges, UCLA LONI chose not to pursue any other solutions.

DELIVERABLES: Even without a GUI, DMF produces very informative and useful output in a text-based format. DMF sends daily e-mails on tape usage, migration statistics and any errors it has encountered.

VENDOR SUPPORT: From conceptualizing the storage need to coordinating implementation, SGI support pre- and post-installation was fantastic. The UCLA LONI facility was one of the first sites to deploy CXFS with a DMF back end. SGI put UCLA LONI in direct contact with a senior engineer who was intimately involved with DMF to troubleshoot expected installation issues. Whenever a problem occurred, the SGI engineer had an answer - making DMF not only an exceptional solution, but also reiterating why SGI is one of the best in the storage industry.

DOCUMENTATION: SGI provided UCLA LONI with comprehensive documentation for DMF. A fresh installation of the solution can easily be done using the provided manuals. The documentation is extremely thorough, often allowing problems to be solved with a quick look at the provided manuals.

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