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The Magazine

Issue 15

Instant gratification - Why digitalisation has created a world of demanding customers.

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Spencer Green
Chairman, GDS International

Sales and the 'Talent Magnet'

A lot is written about being a ‘Talent Magnet’, either as a company, or as President. It’s all good practice – listen, mentor, reward, provide clear goals and career maps. Good practice for the employer, but what about the employee?
25 May 2011

Amazon web services case study: The Server Labs

Amazon Web Services | aws.amazon.com

T he Server Labs is helping the European Space Agency build the operations infrastructure for the Gaia project. Using Amazon Web Services, their goal is to create the largest, most precise 3D map of our Galaxy by surveying more than one billion stars.

“AWS had the most functionality of all the public clouds and we especially liked the self-serve aspect”
-Paul Parsons, Founder & CTO of The Server Labs

The Server Labs (TSL) is a European IT company focused on providing expert services in the fields of IT architectures and advanced software engineering. One of their current, high-profile clients is the European Space Agency (ESA) and they are helping ESA build the science operations infrastructure for the Gaia project. Gaia is a global space astrometry mission with a goal of making the largest, most precise three-dimensional map of our Galaxy by surveying an unprecedented number of stars - more than one billion.

In order to help Gaia reach its goal, the TSL team is helping build the Astrometric Global Iterative Solution (AGIS) to process all the observations produced by the satellite (1 billion stars x 80 observations x 10 readouts). This requires a tremendous amount of data processing. As an example of the magnitude of this project: if it took one millisecond to process one image, it would take 30 years of data processing time on a single processor. Thus, the ESA Gaia Team developed their own grid/distributed computing system based on data processing trains.

Originally, the Gaia team began testing the technology on ESA's in-house cluster. The team estimated that with the current data set, it would cost approximately 1.5 million Euros for in-house data processing. But the amount of data was increasing each month and each year. They needed a more scalable, cost effective solution.

Paul Parsons, Founder & CTO of The Server Labs says, "With the magnitude of data and processing power required and the fact that the processing for AGIS is not continuous, it made an ideal candidate for the cloud. Every 6 months we need to process all the observations in as short a time as possible (typically two weeks) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) could help us do that. After due diligence, we discovered that AWS had the most functionality of all the public clouds, and we especially liked the self-serve aspect. Additionally, AWS was the only cloud where we could run Oracle Database 11g, a core part of our data processing system."

The Server Labs estimated that processing the full 1 billion stars data set with 6 years of data would cost $463,929 on AWS. Whereas, it would cost $972,147 to purchase the amount of servers required to analyze the same data in the same amount of time, not including bandwidth, electricity, or storage. These calculations helped TSL realize that AWS's on-demand model would be cheaper and more efficient than buying and maintaining the hardware internally.

Parsons recalls the migration process: "It took us 20 man days to port the software to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), and most of that time was spent configuring Oracle. To move the architecture to AWS, we created a 64-bit Amazon Machine Image (AMI) running Oracle Database 11g Enterprise Edition using Automated Storage Management (ASM) on top of Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS). For the grid software, we created another AMI capable of running the 3 different types of data train used in AGIS. As all the software is written in Java, this process was quite straight forward. To get everything running we had to change only 4 lines of code to solve a thread synchronization problem that only occurred in virtual machines."

Today, The Server Labs has moved its entire architecture lab and public web site to the cloud and estimates saving 60% of their monthly infrastructure bill. For more on the Gaia project visit www.esa.int/science/gaia or visit The Server Labs at www.theserverlabs.com .