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Storing the world’s most valuable experimental data

Since 2014, Toshiba Electronics Europe GmbH has been a key storage partner of CERN who have 3,200 JBODs carrying 100,000 hard disk drives (HDD) providing 350 PB of storage, 10 PB of which is consumed each month from new data requiring analysis. The original system in 2014 made use of the MG03 4 TB capacity drives, server-grade storage designed for high reliability and optimized for highest capacity at the time.

By the time of the experiment “Run 2” at the end of 2015 it was clear that more capacity would be required. An upgrade to the MG04 series with 6 TB per drive saw each JBOD grow in capacity to 144 TB. But even this proved not to be enough. Thankfully Toshiba had been pushing capacities for HDD technology forward and, in 2018, CERN upgraded again to the MG07 series, selecting 12 TB drives.  

This saw 288 TB per JBOD being brought online in part thanks to the use of helium gas being used inside the drives, allowing the number of platters to increase to 9 per drive. A drop in operating power consumption of a third per drive also contributed to power savings.

Despite the mind-bending results of the experiments and the quantity of data being handled, it is important to remember that there is another critical requirement of the HDDs used: reliability. Over the course of Toshiba’s relationship with CERN, mean time to failure (MTTF) improved from 1.2 Mio hours with the MG04 to 2.5 Mio hours with the MG07. This has led to a drop in the annualized failure rate (AFR) for storage over that period from 0.72% to 0.35%.

Currently, in 2019, the LHC is again in shut down, being upgraded in preparation for “Run 3” in 2021. Toshiba is readying itself for the next wave of storage upgrades by preparing for launches of drives of up to 18 TB, enabling 432 TB of capacity per JBOD.

Should you be preparing to build your own particle physics experiment, or just looking for huge storage capacity with fantastic reliability, you can review our white paper on this topic available here:

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