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November 4, 2011

EMC Isilon Loosens Storage Shackles at SCI

Datanami Staff

The University of Utah’s Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute (SCI) is a hotbed of cutting-edge applications that power progress in geosciences, fluid dynamics and atmospheric research, among other areas. As a leading visualization center and research hub that handles some of the most data-intensive problems in science, they have become a center to watch for those who follow news related to big data server, storage and network buys.

Chris Johnson, who serves as SCI director provides a visually rich overview of the visualization and other challenges the team addresses on the research front. As one might imagine, when it comes to handling datasets at the scale Chris discusses, storage decisions are rather crucial.

Today EMC announced a significant win with SCI to help them overcome growing data challenges and associated processing needs. The university’s research center buckled down with EMC’s Isilon scale-out NAS, in part for scalability and also to alleviate some tricky management problems.

SCI says that workflows for their biomedical, geosciences and other areas were hitting a wall, outrunning what their previous installations were able to provide. Limitations on the storage in particular were causing data access and other delays, thus officials decided to consolidate its imaging and research applications as well as its network of user home directories onto a unified storage platform.

SCI chose the Isilon 36NL, allowing them to support almost 200 users with drastically different workflows. EMC says that following the deployment, “SCI’s home directory environment has doubled, but despite the rapid data growth, the research group has not experienced any performance issues.”

EMC points to storage unification as a key to unburdening IT staff from becoming overloaded with storage bottlenecks. They say their OneFS OS and SmartQuots application “simplified management to less than one full-time equivalent and enabled SCI’s IT department to focus on support the institute’s research instead of managing a slow and unreliable storage system.”

According to EMC, their offering has provided the linear scalability needed for data-intensive research applications as well as a much-needed boost in data access rates. As a result of pulling SCI’s resources under a single storage umbrella, management of diverse applications and user requirements has been simplified. As EMC stated today, this has enabled “the SCI IT staff to work on research rather than managing storage systems.”

Before merging the storage infrastructure, officials from SCI say that the management issue was particularly sticky for the researchers. EMC says that before their scale-out NAS solution was implemented, they were unsure about how the storage model would perform under the weight of the applications plus email and other more general traffic.  To solve the problem of email loads, SCI split its email off with four 10 gigabyte connections to its HPC cluster with two email servers that tap directly into the Isilon system.