The data storage group at IBM's Almaden, California, research lab is currently building a 120 petabyte drive comprised of 200,000 conventional hard disk drives working together. The team is throwing this storage monster together for an unnamed client that needs a new supercomputer for detailed simulations of real-world phenomena (like weather, climate changes etc).
Despite the insane capacity, the technologies that were developed to handle the monstrous repository could enable similar systems for more conventional commercial computing, claims Bruce Hillsberg, director of storage research at IBM and leader of the project. "This 120 petabyte system is on the lunatic fringe now, but in a few years it may be that all cloud computing systems are like it."
The technology behind the 120 petabyte "drive" includes modified horizontal drawers stacked inside typical data center racks which are significantly wider so that more disks can be crammed into nearly the same amount of physical space. The IBM engineers also ditched the standard fan setup as a cooling system, and went with a more reliable liquid cooling design to keep the drives chilled and to reduce the overall energy consumption
In addition to modifying the rack system, IBM also developed a file system known as GPFS to enable supercomputers faster data access. This new file system spreads individual files throughout multiple disks so that numerous parts of a file can be read or written simultaneously. GPFS also enables a large system to keep track of its many files without "laboriously" scanning through every one. Ultimately this system on a whole is not expected to lose any data for a million years without making any compromises on performance.
Hillsberg added that keeping track of the names, types, and other attributes of the files stored in the system will consume around two petabytes of its capacity. To put this number in perspective, 120 petabytes equals to 120 million gigabytes which theoretically could hold 24 billion 5MB MP3 files or 60 copies of the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine.
To read more about IBM's 120 petabyte drive, head here.