ArsTechnica reported today on the proposed Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope and it’s data requirements. IBM is in collaboration with the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) to help develop the SKA called the DOME project.
When completed in ~2024, the SKA will generate over an exabyte a day (10**18) of raw data. I reported in a previous post how the world was generating an exabyte-a-day, but that was way back in 2009.
What is the SKA?
The new SKA telescope will be a configuration of “millions of radio telescopes” which when combined together will create a telescope with an aperture of one square kilometer, which is no small feet. They hope that the telescope will be able to shed some light on galaxy evolution, cosmology and dark energy. But it will go beyond that to investigating “strong-field tests of gravity“, “origins and evolution of cosmic magnetism” and search for life on other planets.
But the interesting part from a storage perspective is that the SKA will be generating a “few exabytes a day” of radio telescopic data for every full day of operation. Apparently the new radio telescopes will make use of a new, more sensitive detector able to generate data of up to 10GB/second.
How much data, really?
The team projects final storage needs at between 300 to 1500 PB per year. This compares to the LHC at CERN which consumes ~15PB of storage per year.
It would seem that the immediate data download would be the few exabytes and then it would be post- or inline-processed into something more mangeable and store-able. Unless they have some hellaciously fast processing, I am hard pressed to believe this could all happen inline. But then they would need at least another “few exabytes” of storage to buffer the data feed before processing.
I guess that’s why it’s still a research project. Presumably, this also says that the telescope won’t be in full operation every day of the year, at least at first.
The IBM-ASTRON DOME collaboration project
The joint research project was named for the structure that covers a major telescope and for a famous Swiss mountain. Focus areas for the IBM-ASTRON DOME project include:
- Advanced high performance computing utilizing 3D chip stacks for better energy efficiency
- Optical interconnects with nanophotonics for high-speed data transfer
- Storage for both high access performance access and for dense/energy efficient data storage.
In this last focus area, IBM is considering the use of phase change memories (PCM) for high access performance and new generation tape for dense/efficient storage. We have discussed PCM before in a previous post as an alternative to NAND based storage today (see Graphene Flash Memory). But IBM has also been investigating MRAM based race track memory as a potential future storage technology. I would guess the advantage of PCM over MRAM might be access speed.
As for tape, IBM has already demonstrated in their labs technologies for a 35TB tape. However storing 1500 PB would take over 40K tapes per year so they may need another even higher capacities to support SKA tape data needs.
Of course new optical interconnects will be needed to move this much data around from telescope to data center and beyond. It’s likely that the nanophotonics will play some part as an all optical network for transceivers, amplifiers, and other networking switching gear.
The 3D chip stacks have the advantage of decreasing chip IO and more dense packing of components will make efficient use of board space. But how these help with energy efficiency is another question. The team projects very high energy and cooling requirements for their exascale high performance computing complex.
If this is anything like CERN, datasets gathered onsite are initially processed then replicated for finer processing elsewhere (see 15PB a year created by CERN post. But moving PBs around like SKA will require is way beyond today’s Internet infrastructure.
Big science like this gives a whole new meaning to BIGData. Glad I am in the storage business. Now just what exactly is nanophotonics, mems based phote-electronics?