ARTEQ implements storage system from Oracle at AMOLF/ARCNL

AMOLF's scientific discoveries and the unpredictable world of research data

The fundamental scientific research conducted at AMOLF generates a significant amount of data. “But how much exactly is difficult to predict in advance,” says ICT manager Carl Schulz. Therefore, AMOLF set out to find a storage system that can handle ‘tremendous growth,’ but with predictable storage costs.

“Do you know why LED lights emit warm white light?” Schulz asks. According to the ICT manager, this is partly due to research carried out at AMOLF. “But, for instance, we also conduct research on proteins, hoping to contribute to the development of medicines for age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

“We are often far ahead in our research. What is conceived here sometimes only finds an application much later,” Schulz continues. He believes this applies to the Advanced Research Center for Nanolithography (ARCNL) as well, a sister institute for which he is also responsible for IT. “Here, research is conducted on nanolithography, a technique to make computer chips, for example in smartphones, even smaller and more powerful.”

AMOLF’s researchers collaborate closely with universities, institutions, and companies. Schulz says, “Our researchers come from universities both in the Netherlands and abroad. We have people from all nationalities here, and the turnover is high. Every year, a third of the researchers leave. This means you have to have a good system in place for onboarding and offboarding of employees.”

According to Schulz, this dynamic nature of the organization sometimes presents challenges, especially in terms of planning IT capacity. “Often, we don’t know in advance what kinds of research will come up and how much research data will be produced. For example, if there’s a research project involving smart cameras, you have to anticipate a significant amount of data resulting from that research. But it can also turn out differently.”

Optimal efficiency and scalability: transforming AMOLF's storage infrastructure

With the storage environment that AMOLF had been using until recently, the research institute was no longer capable of handling unexpected peaks in data. Schulz succinctly summarizes it by saying, “This environment was simply full.” As a result, the system’s performance was subpar.

“The system was so complex that we never managed to set user limits correctly,” Schulz continues. “One user could fill the system to its limits, causing it to come to a grinding halt. If someone from finance wanted to save a PDF, it couldn’t be done.”

For these reasons, AMOLF decided to implement a new storage system. After market research, the research institute chose an Oracle ZFS Storage Appliance ZS7-2 with a disk capacity of 400 terabytes, which is also used by ARCNL. An additional 200 terabytes are available at a remote location for replicating data that requires extra protection.

AMOLF, in collaboration with its IT partner Arteq, is exploring ways to use the available space efficiently. AMOLF utilizes the option to compress data. “The system also offers deduplication options, but deduplicating research data is challenging,” says Wim Huijbers, managing director of Arteq. “By archiving data to tape or the cloud, you free up more space on primary systems. That’s an option we are currently considering.”

AMOLF had multiple reasons for choosing the Oracle solution, including the price-performance ratio offered by Arteq. Arteq was a trusted partner for AMOLF that had proven itself in the past. AMOLF was also familiar with Oracle’s user interface. Schulz notes, “We already had an Oracle storage system in use on-site. It had to be a ‘complete solution’ that automatically makes shares available, assists in setting quotas, and communicates with the Windows domain for user authentication. The Oracle system provides all of that.”

According to the head of IT, there were other reasons for selecting the Oracle solution. Flexibility and scalability were important selection criteria. “A storage system should not only meet the current needs but also be capable of handling significant changes in storage demand. You need to be technically capable of making a substantial jump. But it should also be possible to expand capacity without incurring unexpectedly high costs.”

Efficiency and predictability: a successful transition to Oracle Storage

Predictability of costs was a crucial consideration during the selection of the new storage solution. Schulz describes it as, “We want to be able to grow with cost control. We now have a license for five years of support and warranty, with the option to extend that period by one or two years. The price for that extension is already fixed, so we won’t be surprised by unexpected costs in the future.”

No simple copy-paste job

Arteq, with background support from distributor Tech Data, delivered and implemented the solution “extremely quickly.” However, according to Schulz, the data migration was more complex. “We spent a total of about a month and a half on it. It was more than just a copy-paste operation from the old system to the new one. We wanted to make improvements and ensure that data from a group was placed in the right share from the start.”

Additionally, AMOLF and Arteq took the time to properly configure the permission structure and access rights. “We wanted to segment the system sensibly so that a user who, for example, accidentally deleted data wouldn’t bring down the entire system. The impact of a mistake would then be limited.”

Exciting Conclusion

That month and a half of migration had some tense moments. “There were reports from the old environment that it might stop, potentially resulting in data loss. Fortunately, everything turned out well,” Schulz reflects. “Users are now free from an old and slow system. We still need to officially say goodbye to it. Perhaps we can make it a ceremonial moment. It’s still a milestone.”


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