Petabyte-chomping big sky telescope sucks down baby code

Beyond the MySQL frontier


Robert Heinlein was right to be worried. What if there really is a planet of giant, psychic, human-hating bugs out there, getting ready to hurl planet-busting rocks in our general direction? Surely we would want to know?

Luckily, big science projects such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which (when it's fully operational in 2016) will photograph the entire night sky repeatedly for 10 years, will be able to spot such genocidal asteroids - although asteroid-spotting is just one small part of the LSST's overall mission.

Two years ago we spoke to Jeff Kantor, LSST data management project manager, who described the project as "a proposed ground-based 6.7 meter effective diameter (8.4 meter primary mirror), 10 square-degree-field telescope that will provide digital imaging of faint astronomical objects across the entire sky, night after night."

I caught up with Jeff again a couple of weeks ago, and asked him how this highly ambitious project is progressing. "Very nicely" seems to be the crux of his answer.

It might not make for the most dramatic of headlines but given the scale and complexity of what's being developed, this in itself is a laudable achievement. In Jeff's words: "First, we have to process 6.4GB images every 15 seconds. As context, it would take 1,500 1080p HD monitors to display one image at full resolution.

"The images must go through a many-step pipeline in under a minute to detect transient phenomena, and then we have to notify the scientific community across the entire world about those phenomena. That will take a near real-time 3,000-core processing cluster, advanced parallel processing software, very sophisticated image processing and astronomical applications software, and gigabit/second networks.

"Next, we have to re-process all the images taken since the start of the survey every year for 10 years to generate astronomical catalogs, and before releasing them we need to quality assure the results."

That's about 5PB of image data/year, over 10 years, resulting in 50PB of image data and over 10PB of catalogs. The automated QA alone will require a 15,000-core cluster (for starters), parallel processing and database software, data mining and statistical analysis, and advanced astronomical software.

They now have a prototype system of about 200,000 lines of C++ and Python representing most of the capability needed to run an astronomical survey of the magnitude typically done today. Next, they have to scale this up to support LSST volumes. According to Jeff: "We hope to have all of that functioning at about 20 per cent of LSST scale of the end of our R&D phase. We then have six years of construction and commissioning to 'bullet-proof' and improve it, and to test it out with the real telescope and camera."

The incremental development and R&D mode the team is following could be called agile, although this is agile on a grand scale. Each year or six months, they do a new design and a new software release, called a Data Challenge. Each DC is a complete project with a plan, requirements, design, code, integration and test, and production runs.

Lessons learned

The fifth release just went out the door, and they've completely re-done their UML-based design third times with the lessons learned from each DC. They're using Enterprise Architect to develop each model, following a version of the agile ICONIX object modeling process tailored for algorithmic (rather than use case driven) development. I've co-authored a book on the ICONIX process, Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UMLTheory and Practice, here.

ICONIX uses a core subset of the UML rather than every diagram under the sun, and this leanness has allowed them to roll the content into a new model as a starting point for the next DC.

Jeff explains: "After each DC, we also extract the design/lessons learned from the DC model to the LSST Reference Design Model which is the design for the actual operational system. That last model is also used to trace up to a SysML-based model containing the LSST system-level requirements."


Other stories you might like

  • Will Lenovo ever think beyond hardware?
    Then again, why develop your own software à la HPE GreenLake when you can use someone else's?

    Analysis Lenovo fancies its TruScale anything-as-a-service (XaaS) platform as a more flexible competitor to HPE GreenLake or Dell Apex. Unlike its rivals, Lenovo doesn't believe it needs to mimic all aspects of the cloud to be successful.

    While subscription services are nothing new for Lenovo, the company only recently consolidated its offerings into a unified XaaS service called TruScale.

    On the surface TruScale ticks most of the XaaS boxes — cloud-like consumption model, subscription pricing — and it works just like you'd expect. Sign up for a certain amount of compute capacity and a short time later a rack full of pre-plumbed compute, storage, and network boxes are delivered to your place of choosing, whether that's a private datacenter, colo, or edge location.

    Continue reading
  • Intel is running rings around AMD and Arm at the edge
    What will it take to loosen the x86 giant's edge stranglehold?

    Analysis Supermicro launched a wave of edge appliances using Intel's newly refreshed Xeon-D processors last week. The launch itself was nothing to write home about, but a thought occurred: with all the hype surrounding the outer reaches of computing that we call the edge, you'd think there would be more competition from chipmakers in this arena.

    So where are all the AMD and Arm-based edge appliances?

    A glance through the catalogs of the major OEMs – Dell, HPE, Lenovo, Inspur, Supermicro – returned plenty of results for AMD servers, but few, if any, validated for edge deployments. In fact, Supermicro was the only one of the five vendors that even offered an AMD-based edge appliance – which used an ageing Epyc processor. Hardly a great showing from AMD. Meanwhile, just one appliance from Inspur used an Arm-based chip from Nvidia.

    Continue reading
  • NASA's Psyche mission: 2022 launch is off after software arrives late
    Launch window slides into 2023 or 2024 for asteroid-probing project

    Sadly for NASA's mission to take samples from the asteroid Psyche, software problems mean the spacecraft is going to miss its 2022 launch window.

    The US space agency made the announcement on Friday: "Due to the late delivery of the spacecraft's flight software and testing equipment, NASA does not have sufficient time to complete the testing needed ahead of its remaining launch period this year, which ends on October 11."

    While it appears the software and testbeds are now working, there just isn't enough time to get everything done before a SpaceX Falcon Heavy sends the spacecraft to study a metallic-rich asteroid of the same name.

    Continue reading
  • Rise in Taiwanese energy prices may hit global chip production
    National provider considering cost increase of 8%, which could be passed on to tech customers

    Taiwan's state-owned energy company is looking to raise prices for industrial users, a move likely to impact chipmakers such as TSMC, which may well have a knock-on effect on the semiconductor supply chain.

    According to Bloomberg, the Taiwan Power Company, which produces electricity for the island nation, has proposed increasing electricity costs by at least 8 percent for industrial users, the first increase in four years.

    The power company has itself been hit by the rising costs of fuel, including the imported coal and natural gas it uses to generate electricity. At the same time, the country is experiencing record demand for power because of increasing industrial requirements and because of high temperatures driving the use of air conditioning, as reported by the local Taipei Times.

    Continue reading
  • Tech companies ready public stances on Roe v. Wade
    Some providing out-of-state medical expenses, others spout general pro-choice statements

    Several US tech companies have taken a stance or issued statements promising healthcare-related support for employees following the Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Roe v Wade last Friday.

    A Supreme Court draft opinion that was leaked in February provided advanced warning of the legal eventuality, giving companies plenty of time to prepare official positions and related policies for employees.

    Without proper policies in place, tech companies could put themselves at risk of "brain drain" as employees become tempted to relocate to states where abortion access is readily available or to companies that better support potential needs as healthcare in the US is more often tied to an employer than not.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022