What keeps the RHIC working? Tape!

Particles colliding on a circular track, inside a hexagon.

Posted on Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Brookhaven Lab's Scientific Data and Computing Centre (SDCC) has this month reached a significant storage milestone. According to their latest estimates, the organisation now stores 100 petabytes of data.

Among the many scientific research datasets being held by SDCC is the output from every test completed by the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. This project aims to uncover the secrets of particles like the atom - but in doing so, each experiment generates huge amounts of data that needs to be thoroughly examined, and stored indefinitely. The SDCC estimates that up to 200 terabytes of information is created each time.

As researchers hunted for the once theoretical Higgs Boson particle, they were generating a lot of new information. To find conclusive proof of these particles, researchers had to perform 300 trillion particle collisions to identify just 20 instances. And every single particle had to be recorded and analyzed at the end of each run.

A surprising answer to the storage challenge

Clearly all this project data needs to be stored somewhere if researchers hope to use existing experiments to refine future tests. But it also means that corporate data stores are growing exponentially.

In the case of the SDCC, they are meeting the challenge of holding 100 petabytes of data using spinning hard drives and magnetic tape autoloaders. In fact, the SDCC uses around 90,000 magnetic storage tapes. Although not technically online, robot autoloader systems can help researchers access all the historical data and insights they need to keep experimenting.

Surprisingly, tapes continue to perform well, and are a good, cost-effective solution to the problem of archiving research data. Data is always available, and retrievable, even if tape drives are not hugely popular with IT managers.

In fact, SDCC has no plans to replace these tape archives at all.

Don’t dump your tapes

Obviously tapes are quite expensive, so it makes sense to extend the lifespan of them, rather that replacing them. As SDCC has demonstrated, tape still plays an important part for storing and managing large datasets - and there's no reason it shouldn't continue to do so.

To learn more about supporting post warranty tape drives and autoloaders as part of your ongoing data storage strategy, please get in touch.