How NASA Is Meeting the Big Data Challenge

As the scientific community pushes past petaflop into exascale territory, it is imperative that the tools to support ever-more data-intensive workloads keep pace. No where is this more true than at the storied NASA research complex. With 100 active missions supporting cutting-edge science, NASA knows more than most about compute- and data-driven challenges.

A recent paper from Piyush Mehrotra and L. Harper Pryor with NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division sheds light on how NAS has assisted the diverse workflow of its users, including discovery, access, transportation, management, and dissemination of big data, as well as providing the tools to transform data into insight and knowledge.

“As NASA’s flagship site for computational science and engineering at scale, NAS supports a user base that is at the forefront of data intensive and data driven science,” write Mehrotra and Harper. “Our users’ codes use and generate very large datasets and analyzing these datasets to extract knowledge is a fundamental part of their workflows.”

To get a better understanding of the kinds of challenges faced by their user population, NAS officials went directly to their user base. They then grouped the challenges by the main elements of the workflows, ie “discovery of data and tools, access to and movement of data, storage and management of data, algorithms/tools for performing the analysis/analytics and finally dissemination of the results.”

Discovery hinges on data, which is challenging for NASA based on sheer volume and the distributed nature of the storage archives. Users require tools that support large-scale data movement. There is also the looming need to develop platforms that meet the computational and analytic requirements of the coming exascale era.

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