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SC09 Storage Challenge Award

A research team from the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at University of California, San Diego, and the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory won the Storage Challenge competition at SC09, the international conference on high-performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis, which was held last week in Portland, Oregon.

The research team based its Storage Challenge submission for the annual conference on the architecture of SDSC's recently announced Dash high-performance compute system, a super-sized version of flash memory-based devices such as laptops, digital cameras and thumb drives that also employs vSMP Foundation software from ScaleMP, Inc. to provide virtual symmetric multiprocessing capabilities.

The Storage Challenge is a competition showcasing applications and environments that effectively use the storage subsystem in high-performance computing, which is often the limiting system component. Submissions were based upon tried and true production systems as well as research or proof-of-concept projects not yet in production. Judging was based on present measurements of performance, scalability, and storage subsystem utilization as well as innovation and effectiveness.

Dash is the prototype for a much larger flash-memory HPC system called Gordon, which is scheduled to go online in mid-2011( SDSC was awarded a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) this summer to build and operate the powerful system). Both Dash and Gordon are designed to accelerate investigation of a wide range of data-intensive science problems by providing cost-effective data performance more than 10 times faster than most other HPC systems in use today.

The hypothesis of the team's Challenge, called "Data Intensive Science: Solving Scientific Unknowns by Solving Storage Problems," was that solid state drives (SSDs) based on NAND (Not AND) flash technology are "ready for prime time" in that that they are reliable and cheap enough to improve input/output density (I/O rate) by more than 10 times, or greater than one order of magnitude.

"The current data storage I/O rate is far lower than the ever-increasing rate of enthusiasm among researchers and scientists, who are now drowning in a sea of data because of this differential," said SDSC's Arun Jagatheesan, team leader for this year's competition. "With the SC09 Storage Challenge, our team demonstrated the prototype of a data-intensive supercomputer that can bridge this gap. Our mission in this challenge was to design, build, deploy and commission a prototype of such a supercomputer at challenging construction and operational costs, without compromising the data-intensive performance of the scientific applications."

"A major challenge for the scientific user community is to deal with storage latency issues in our systems," said SDSC Interim Director Mike Norman, who is also the principal investigator for the center's upcoming Gordon supercomputer. "Even though not all scientific problems are data-intensive, many of them are, and this challenge illustrated that we can overcome latency issues with innovative approaches and partnerships. We're looking forward to helping the NSF and others meet the needs of this new generation of data-intensive science."

"Moving a physical disk-head to accomplish random I/O is so last-century," said Allan Snavely, associate director of SDSC, co-principal investigator for SDSC's Gordon system and project leader for Dash. "Indeed, Charles Babbage designed a computer based on moving mechanical parts almost two centuries ago. With respect to I/O, it's time to stop trying to move protons and just move electrons. With the aid of flash SSDs, we can do latency-bound file reads more than 10 times faster and more efficiently than anything being done today."

In addition to Jagatheesan and Norman, SDSC team members included Jiahua He, Allan Snavely, Maya Sedova, Sandeep Gupta, Mahidhar Tatineni, Jeffrey Bennett, Eva Hocks, Larry Diegel and Thomas Hutton from SDSC; Steven Swanson (UC San Diego); Peter Nugent and Janet Jacobsen (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory); and Lonnie Heidtke, of Instrumental Inc., a Bloomington, Minn.-based provider of professional services focused on advanced and high-performance computing.

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