RAID Captures Data From The Sky

The University of California/Lick Observatory (UCO/Lick) was building a bigger spectrograph and needed a reliable RAID (redundant array of independent disks) data storage system. A donation of dozens of drives made the project less costly, and an integrator made the drives work.

When the UCO/Lick Observatory received a donation of Quantum drives, it needed an integrator that could provide the rest of the solution. UCO/Lick Observatory had received funding for the design and construction of a spectrographic instrument for telescopes located at Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

For the past four years, Jacob Nelik, president and VP of engineering for I.S.S. (International Systems Solutions) (Santa Ana, CA), has been providing UCO/Lick Observatory with single drive solutions. Each uses the DS100, a Kingston Technology product. A RAID (redundant array of independent disks) system was needed to record real-time data, without worry of failure, from the new instrument.

I.S.S. has experience with RAID installations, having provided solutions to the U.S. Navy, NASA, McDonnell Douglas, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Most often, Nelik relies on Kingston to provide the metal RAID enclosures, which consist of several key components, including redundant hot-swap power supplies, power distribution, monitoring circuitry, and hot-swap cooling fans.

"We receive the enclosures with all of those things built-in, and then we populate them," said Nelik. Kingston also supplies removable disk drive mechanisms that allow us to remove the drive like a drawer in hot-swap fashion. We don't have to unbolt anything. There's a keylock, and you pull a handle to remove the drive. You just plug in a replacement."

Choosing A Good Fit
Nelik also chose Kingston because of its replacement policy. "Kingston will send an advance replacement before it gets the old one back. It makes sense because the same packaging can be used to return the defective part," said Nelik.

I.S.S. selected Kingston's Data Silo DS500 rack-mount RAID chassis and Data Express DE100 removable drive subsystems. Kingston memory was used for RAID controller cache. CMD Technology's CRD-5500 dual redundant active/active RAID controllers were also part of the solution. I.S.S. provided six rack-mount chassis to hold 52 disks at the California campus, and three rack-mount chassis to hold 25 disks for the Hawaii location. "This is a completely new, truly online capacity for UCO/Lick Observatory," said Nelik. "We did everything around those donated drives. We integrated the cable and the seven-channel CMD RAID controller."

Solution Shipped In Modules
The most challenging part of the installation was designing a 52-drive RAID tower in a modular fashion. This would provide ease of upgrades and modifications; and, since the customer already had the rack, there was no expense in that area. There was also the possibility that the system would have to be dismantled at some point to transport it to another location. With the diagrams of the module and cable scheme, the engineers at the university would be able to put the system together by themselves.

Other than the documentation that was provided with the RAID systems, there was not much training involved. "It's a host-independent RAID system," explained Nelik. "It appears to the user like a single disk. The staff at UCO/Lick Observatory knows how to label and partition on a UNIX platform."

Both RAID systems are up and running at the California facility. One will ship to Keck in Hawaii with the spectrograph instrument. "With real-time data acquisition, if something happens in the sky and you miss it because your equipment is down, you probably won't get another chance. Celestial events happen in real time, and you're recording in real time. You need to have equipment that runs without interruption. With RAID, if there's an alarm, you take care of the problem while the equipment keeps running."

Ann DeDad