Big Data Get Small

Data Hallway
Unidata's Data Hallway
in 2016 (click to enlarge)

When Unidata's flagship data facility — the Unidata Data Hallway — had its debut in April 2013, everyone in our community expected big things. “Big Data” was the phrase of the day, and the exponential increase in data volumes seemed likely to portend accompanying increases in the amount of computing infrastructure required to make all of that data available. From co-located server farms to elastically expanding cloud-computing resources, the future of the Data Hallway and similar facilities looked Big Big Big.

Oh, what a difference three years can make.

Today, the data traffic coursing over the Unidata-led Internet Data Distribution (IDD) network has more than doubled in volume since 2013, with in excess of 26TBytes per day pushed to community sites from Unidata Program Center (UPC) servers. But far from seeing a massive build-out of the Data Hallway, the UPC has seen the physical footprint of its hallmark data facility contract dramatically. Thanks to Moore's Law and advances in fields like quantum computing, the Data Hallway's racks of server-class machines have been replaced by a single Intel NUC computer measuring just over four inches on a side.

“We're very pleased with the new configuration,” says UPC systems administrator Mike Schmidt. “While the old rack system was already quite energy efficient, the NUC pulls only 33 watts at full load. With the money we've saved on electricity costs in the Hallway alone, we were able to outfit all of the Program Center software developers with updated licenses for Microsoft Visual Basic. And there was enough left over for pizza.”

“We're still trying to decide what to do with all the extra counter space,” Schmidt continued.

Decreased electricity usage has one downside: UPC heating bills have increased in the absence of the warm air created in the Data Hallway by the old rack-mount servers.

Nor was the transition to the new, smaller footprint of the Data Hallway machinery without problems. Prior to purchasing the Intel NUC machine, UPC staff experimented with other ways to control the growth of Unidata's hardware configuration. Regrettably, UPC systems administrator Tom Hollingshead was lost in a tragic miniturization accident during early technology trials.

“Tom gave his all in service to the Unidata community, and we'll miss him,” says Unidata Director Mohan Ramamurthy. “We're quite sure he would have approved of the final configuration of the Data Hallway, not least because it has removed nearly two dozen extremely noisy cooling fans from the hallway right outside his office. If the NewEgg flyer advertising the Intel NUC had arrived even a few days earlier, Tom might still be tinkering with the UPC Windows network.”

In keeping with the “Think Small” trend, the UPC systems administration group is considering purchasing a 10-inch monitor and a folding Bluetooth keyboard to accompany the NUC server machine, and perhaps even relocating everything into a cabinet somewhere.

The newly modernized Data Hallway and Tom Hollingshead memorial is available for public viewing from 8:00-8:15am MDT on April Fool's Day, 2016.

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