Sometimes, the old dog actually does go live on a farm. HPC systems are often cursed with short lifespans, as they are continually supplanted by the latest and greatest – and seemingly more often than not, the replaced systems are dismantled and discarded or recycled, rather than finding new life in another facility or installation. Sometimes, however, HPC infrastructure lives happily ever after, as told in an interview with Paul Abston at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
Abston is the head of the HPC Infrastructure Operations Group at ORNL’s National Center for Computational Science (NCCS). In 2018, the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF) decided to replace its six existing magnetic tape storage systems (some of them more than a decade old) with a new system provided by Spectra Logic that offered an 85 percent lower footprint with the capacity for 1.52 exabytes of storage. In 2019, the upgraded library was installed – and Abston’s team was left with six cabinets of Oracle StorageTek SL8500 infrastructure.
“We had gotten a huge technology upgrade with our new storage library, but then our goal became: what do we do with the existing libraries?” Abston said. “How can we be as environmentally friendly as we can? How do we minimize cost?”
However, while magnetic tape storage hadn’t gone out of vogue, Oracle’s tape cartridges for the system had gone out of print.
“The really great thing about these tape libraries was that they had a tape drive form factor that was supported across multiple generations of drive and of the tape media, so they were almost infinitely scalable,” said Jason Hill, who had worked as a storage team leader at ORNL. “That being said, when the manufacturer stopped development for future technology, all of that infinite scalability was lost.”
With this in mind, Abston weighed whether it would be possible to quickly find a new owner, or if he would have to dismantle and store the system – or worse, recycle what he could. He turned to GSAXcess, a platform where federal agencies list unneeded items that might find new life elsewhere.
Some of the cabinets went relatively quickly, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) footing the bill for packing and shipping four of the units. The units were split between NOAA’s Hero supercomputer center and its Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.
Still, two units remained. Not finding any federal agencies willing to adopt them, Abston instead found a home for the cabinets with Data Sales Company, a Minnesotan lessor of IT hardware and reseller of refurbished equipment. The remaining two cabinets were shipped out – again, at the recipient’s expense.
“I think that’s how we should approach business,” Abston said. “How do we protect taxpayers’ interests, provide the science we need to provide, and protect the environment in the process?”
To read the reporting from ORNL’s Coury Turczyn, click here.
Header image: the Oracle StorageTek SL8500 system. Image courtesy of Carlos Jones/ORNL.