Canadian Space Agency explores virtualization

While not a lot of companies have embraced storage virtualization, some are using server virtualization as a stepping-stone to improve the overall management of their storage.

The Canadian Space Agency oversees space programs, space technologies, space science, space operations and the Canadian Astronaut Office. What this means is there’s a lot of data to store, for a long period of time. The demand for storage is growing rapidly, so the agency has had to continue expanding its storage strategy, so it will be able to store large files such as satellite photos, said Robert Dominique, chief of Unix and storage technology with the CSA, who looks after the agency’s storage capabilities.

Scientists often come to the IT department at the last minute with requests for data – they’re working on a project with the European Space Agency or NASA or Russia, for example, and they need so many terabytes of data by the next day.

“Their turnaround time can be quite rapid,” said Dominique.

Then there’s operational staff that provide support to the international space station. When the robotic arm moves on the space station, for example, they need to know how much power it’s going to consume and how long the arm will take to do a certain task. “Simulations are large files,” he said.

Two years ago the CSA undertook a server virtualization project to reduce its number of servers from 64 to 11 – and this has gone hand-in-hand with its storage strategy. It already had a storage area network in place, but as its storage requirements increased, it added a NAS component. It also has a disaster recovery site in Ottawa, and it’s able with only one or two physical servers to re-initiate its services in a minimal amount of time.

“Our biggest advantage is to be able to turn around [requests for data] rapidly,” said Dominique. The agency is still in the process of building on its storage strategy, and the next challenge will be dealing with information management.

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