The US Department of Defense has set up a supercomputer SAN. Its purpose is to better simulate aircraft, weapon systems and battlefield engagements. The SAN is located at the Aeronautical Systems Center's (ASC) Major Shared Resource Center (MSRC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. It has a 4 Gbit/sec storage infrastructure from Brocade and SGI to lower the complexity of data access and management and to meet performance needs driven by rapid growth in data and in compute power.

The centre used to bundle 2 Gbit/sec links together to get the bandwidth it needed. It no longer has to do that.

The MSRC functions to support Department of Defense (DoD) research, development, and test and evaluation communities with high-performance computing and visualization resources. Weapons will be developed faster and ground:air battle tactics refined by the new installation which will also improve the quality of weapons simulations.

The ASC MSRC has recently installed a 2,048-processor SGI Altix supercomputer, called Eagle, as part of the Department of Defense' High Performance Computing Modernization Program’s Technology Insertion for its fiscal year 2005. It uses 1.6GHz Intel Itanium 2 processors which address 2TB of memory. In supercomputing terms it is slow, running along at a pedestrian 11.63 teraflops - trillions of operations per second. This makes it ninth in the top 500 list of supercomputers. The lead spot is claimed by IBM with its 70.72 teraflop BlueGene/L.

Steve Wourms, director, ASC MSRC, said: “These latest storage upgrades from SGI and Brocade provide a direct performance benefit to our user community of DoD researchers and engineers who have big data requirements and require a robust storage area network capable of handling a massive amount of data to solve some of the most demanding compute problems confronting the U.S. military in the twenty-first century. Our users will now benefit from the high performance, flexibility, and scalability of this SGI/Brocade SAN solution.”

To help DoD users with their 'big data requirements', the ASC MSRC has installed a 130TB SGI InfiniteStorage TP9700 storage array. This is the first 4 Gbit/sec RAID array available in the market. It combines the high-performance 4 Gbit/sec Fibre Channel architecture with increased host connectivity to deliver more bandwidth.

Data-intensive applications like those of the ASC MSRC will benefit from the increased connectivity provided by the TP9700's eight 4 Gbit/sec host channels and realize up to 1600 MB/sec of sustained bandwidth through these channels to the host servers.

“Previously, the ASC MSRC relied on multiplexing 2 Gbit/sec Fibre Channel streams to deliver the bandwidth now available from a single 4 Gbit/sec connection,“ said Benn Stratton, national director of defense and civilian agencies business unit in SGI's Federal organisation. “Now, by leveraging the 4 Gbit/sec technology of the SGI TP9700, the ASC MSRC’s HPC applications requiring high-bandwidth streaming data can benefit from storage solutions using 4 Gbit/sec Fibre Channel links to achieve total throughput not possible previously with the 2 Gbit/sec infrastructure.”

Shared file system
The TP9700 system's storage is available to servers via the Fibre Channel SAN and an SGI InfiniteStorage Shared Filesystem called CXFS. SGI says it is the industry's fastest shared filesystem.

The SAN provides direct, high-speed physical connections between multiple hosts and disk storage. CXFS provides the software infrastructure to allow simultaneous shared access to that storage. Large files are shared, not moved, and all systems have direct access to all data. Bottlenecks caused by slow, congested networks or overloaded file servers are gone, so servers can take advantage of the full bandwidth of the SAN to read and write data directly to and from the disks where it resides.

Bottleneck-busting SilkWorms
In addition to the new array, the ASC MSRC has upgraded its Fibre Channel storage network by installing Brocade SilkWorm 4100 4 Gbit/sec midrange SAN switches. These Brocade switches create a fully redundant and managed 4 Gbit/sec storage network for the ASC MSRC, whereby all connections between the file servers, attached disk, and storage tape drives can now operate at twice the previous bandwidth.

Brocade is well pleased. "Today's announcement with SGI underscores our strong relationship in the government market and illustrates our leadership in bringing high-performance storage solutions to the federal marketplace," crowed Tom Buiocchi, Brocade's vice president of world-wide marketing. "The SGI TP9700 and the Brocade SilkWorm 4100 ... switches provide the speed, reliability, and scalability that HPC users need as they advance the state of computing capability.”

The Silkworm switches feature Ports-On-Demand scalability with configurations of 16, 24, and 32 ports; redundant and hot-swappable power supplies and cooling fans; hot-swappable SFP media; hot code loading and activation; and extensive enterprise-level security, fabric management, and ease-of-use features. The beauty of 4 GBit/sec Fibre Channel compared to 10 gig is that, with auto-sensing ports, the SAN switches also provide full backward compatibility to existing 1 and 2 Gbit/sec SAN infrastructure.

Big fat and fast disk
The SGI InfiniteStorage TP9700 - the industry’s first RAID system with a 4Gb per second Fibre Channel interface - offers twice the connectivity and bandwidth of previous models for lower infrastructure complexity and management costs as well as pure performance benefits. Comprehensive storage management capabilities and the ability to mix Fibre Channel disks and newer serial ATA disks behind a single controller add to the system’s appeal.

Of course, the actual end result of this supercomputer SAN is going to be, hopefully for the DOD and literally, more bangs per buck.