NASA Takes Cloud on Mars Mission

By Nicole Hemsoth

November 8, 2010

Last week NASA announced that its Mars Exploration Rover Project has been the first space agency mission to use cloud resources for daily operations. According to reports from NASA, the cloud is being used to access the software and data that the flight team uses to manage their daily plans for the rover’s activities.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who manage the mission worked with members of Amazon Web Services team at both the planning and implementation stages in conjunction with the JPL team who built the rover’s daily activity-planning software, which is called Maestro.

JPL CIO, Tomas Soderstrom admitted in a recent release that his team has been working with a number of cloud vendors since 2007 to find the best ways to take advantage of cloud computing and that the agency set forth to “pragmatically look past the hype about cloud computing to find the practical, cost-efficient real mission applications.”

With the readily-available NASA Nebula cloud resource officially at the disposal of the agency following the recent announcement of NASA Cloud Services, one has to wonder why the JPL decided on using an external cloud services provider. Soderstrom, in an interview with Information Week, noted that the agency decided not to use its own cloud for the Rover project because “it has had more time to evaluate the worldwide reach of Amazon than Nebula so far” but that the JPL would indeed evaluate the use of Nebula for coming projects. 

A Mission Well-Suited for Cloud

As it stands, there are two rovers on the surface of Mars—Spirit and Opportunity—but at this point, only Opportunity is on duty since Spirit went into low-power hibernation mode in March. Originally, these were planned as three-month missions but as the program has grown, extended missions have been added, which means there is far more data than researchers initially planned for when initially considering expected capacity.

Since the mission has been extended far past what NASA engineers anticipated, the volume of data has outgrown the systems that were put into place to handle it. Khawaja Shames, a software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, noted that using the cloud means that the team’s mission is no longer bound by these restrictions, which is one element that made cloud computing an attractive option back in 2007 when the team started to scan for options.

Interestingly, the reasons that drove the decision to adopt cloud computing for these particular needs are not so different than those that inspire enterprise organizations to consider making the move to remote resources. For one thing, the JPL was facing a decision about either building out its current infrastructure to handle the unexpected increase in data following the move to extend the mission.

Project Manager for the Mars Rover project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, John Callas, remarked “when we need more computing capacity, we don’t need to install more servers if we can rent more capacity from the cloud for just the time we need it. This way we don’t waste electricity and air conditioning with servers idling waiting to be used and we don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance and operating system obsolescence.”

In addition to being a good fit due to the unexpected demands for storage and compute capacity, Shames also noted that the cloud is well-suited for this project because of the added boost it gives to the collaborative efforts that keep the project going.  In his view, using the cloud means that these disparate contributors to the mission are able to share information in near real-time.

Before the agency adopted the model, members of the Rover team had to send data to users who were geographically scattered based on their location versus sending the data from a central location, which sped up workflow—an important factor in the overall sense of satisfaction with the fit of cloud as strategy to improve operations. 

JPL on Cutting Edge of Cloud

NASA’s JPL has been among the early adopters of cloud computing, although in somewhat different contexts, for a number of years. For instance, the JPL formed a partnership with Google in which the NASA researchers used Google’s resources to develop an educational application that allowed elementary students to tag and label images from the spacecraft.

The JPL also formed a partnership between Microsoft and the JPL called “Be a Martian,” which came into play in 2009. This project, which can be found at http://www.beamartian.jpl.nasa.gov uses its 54,000 users who analyze data to help improve the Mars mapping projects as well as aid in other research endeavors.

While the JPL’s use of Amazon as its primary resource has occurred in part because the need for a solution came far before the agency was able to fully evaluate what Nebula would have to offer, there is a clear effort on the part of NASA to remain vendor-neutral when making decisions. Given its partnerships with Microsoft and Google before this foray into Amazon, it does seem clear that the agency is willing to give vendors a fair shake if they have services to offer that are ideally suited for their projects.

The Bigger Picture for Clouds in Government

As a release from the JPL noted early this week, “The extended missions of Spirit and Opportunity have provided a resource for testing innovations during an active space mission for possible use in future missions. New software uploads giving the rovers added autonomy have been one example, and cloud computing is another…JPL is currently building and testing NASA’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, for launch in late 2011 in the Mars Science Laboratory mission.”

One can only imagine that if all goes well in this cloud, it will be a central feature during the Curiosity mission as well.

Out of all agencies and departments in the United States government, there has yet been no parallel to NASA’s efforts in exploring and providing a research commitment to cloud computing. Between Nebula, which is its own internal cloud that will soon be opened to other agencies, and its practical implementation of other cloud-driven research projects, NASA is setting the trend for cloud adoption for government agency research.

While granted, the agency might not face some of the security hurdles that other agencies that have massive privacy and security restrictions, at least in terms of this particular project, this is nonetheless demonstrating that the cloud can be a cost-effective solution to handle peak loads and problems that occur when data outgrows the systems meant to handle it.

Cloud computing has been making a stronger appearance in releases from governments worldwide, but in the United States, adoption has been slow yet steady as benchmarking and authorization procedures to mitigate security concerns continue to add delays.

Thus far, outside of the General Services Administration (GSA) clouds have been discussed to death but are still in the mid-implementation stages. NASA, however, has taken a proactive approach with its Nebula resource and now, with a growing number of users adopting it for research uses and the utilization of Amazon, Microsoft and other cloud services resources, news from government agencies containing actual cloud use studies is expected to start trickling in at a faster pace—a good sign for those who advocate cloud adoption for research and government agencies.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Musk’s Latest Startup Eyes Brain-Computer Links

April 21, 2017

Elon Musk, the auto and space entrepreneur and severe critic of artificial intelligence, is forming a new venture that reportedly will seek to develop an interface between the human brain and computers. Read more…

By George Leopold

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Cori Shows the World How Many-Cores for the Masses Works

April 21, 2017

As its mission, the high performance computing center for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, NERSC (the National Energy Research Supercomputer Center), supports a broad spectrum of forefront scientific research across diverse areas that includes climate, material science, chemistry, fusion energy, high-energy physics and many others. Read more…

By Rob Farber

Nvidia P100 Shows 1.3-2.3x Speedup Over K80 GPU on Financial Apps

April 20, 2017

When it comes to the true performance of the latest silicon, every end user knows that the best processor is the one that works best for their application. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC-Driven Weather Simulations Improving Forecasting Capabilities

In September of 1938, a massive hurricane traversed the Atlantic Ocean and made landfall in New England. Due to inadequate and incorrect forecasting, the storm struck farther north and with greater intensity than had been predicted, leaving residents and authorities with virtually no warning or time to properly prepare. Read more…

Quantum Adds Global Smarts to StorNext File System

April 20, 2017

Companies that use Quantum’s StorNext platform to store massive amounts of data this week got a glimpse of new storage capabilities that should make it easier to access their data horde from anywhere in the world. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Scaling an HPC Career in Nepal Can Be a Steep Climb

April 20, 2017

Umesh Upadhyaya works as an IT Associate at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal, which supports the country’s one and only HPC facility. He is directly involved in an initiative that focuses on climate change and atmosphere modeling Read more…

By Nages Sieslack

Hyperion (IDC) Paints a Bullish Picture of HPC Future

April 20, 2017

Hyperion Research – formerly IDC’s HPC group – yesterday painted a fascinating and complicated portrait of the HPC community’s health and prospects at the HPC User Forum held in Albuquerque, NM. HPC sales are up and growing ($22 billion, all HPC segments, 2016). Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Open Sources All Lustre Work, Brent Gorda Exits

April 19, 2017

In a letter to the Lustre community posted on the Intel website, Vice President of Intel's Data Center Group Trish Damkroger writes that effective immediately the company will be contributing all Lustre development to the open source community. Damkroger also announced that Brent Gorda, General Manager, High Performance Data Division at Intel is leaving the company. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Cori Shows the World How Many-Cores for the Masses Works

April 21, 2017

As its mission, the high performance computing center for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, NERSC (the National Energy Research Supercomputer Center), supports a broad spectrum of forefront scientific research across diverse areas that includes climate, material science, chemistry, fusion energy, high-energy physics and many others. Read more…

By Rob Farber

Hyperion (IDC) Paints a Bullish Picture of HPC Future

April 20, 2017

Hyperion Research – formerly IDC’s HPC group – yesterday painted a fascinating and complicated portrait of the HPC community’s health and prospects at the HPC User Forum held in Albuquerque, NM. HPC sales are up and growing ($22 billion, all HPC segments, 2016). Read more…

By John Russell

Knights Landing Processor with Omni-Path Makes Cloud Debut

April 18, 2017

HPC cloud specialist Rescale is partnering with Intel and HPC resource provider R Systems to offer first-ever cloud access to Xeon Phi "Knights Landing" processors. The infrastructure is based on the 68-core Intel Knights Landing processor with integrated Omni-Path fabric (the 7250F Xeon Phi). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CERN openlab Explores New CPU/FPGA Processing Solutions

April 14, 2017

Through a CERN openlab project known as the ‘High-Throughput Computing Collaboration,’ researchers are investigating the use of various Intel technologies in data filtering and data acquisition systems. Read more…

By Linda Barney

DOE Supercomputer Achieves Record 45-Qubit Quantum Simulation

April 13, 2017

In order to simulate larger and larger quantum systems and usher in an age of “quantum supremacy,” researchers are stretching the limits of today’s most advanced supercomputers. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Penguin Takes a Run at the Big Cloud Providers

April 12, 2017

HPC specialist Penguin Computing recently re-ran benchmarks from a study of its larger brethren and says the results show its ‘public cloud’ – Penguin on Demand (POD) – is among the leaders in cost and performance. Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC and the Colocation Datacenter – a Bridge Too Far?

April 7, 2017

A more standardised HPC platform approach is making the running of HPC projects within increasing financial reach. Read more…

By Clive Longbottom, Quocirca

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference phase of neural networks (NN). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This