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LCG on Itanium 2



CERN openlab II - Platform Competence Centre - Optimization

IO Testing

When LHC is running, the experiments will deliver data at rates up to 1.2GByte/s for a long time period. This data has to be handled efficiently in many different ways. From receiving the data from the experiment to the final analysis the data has to be written to tape, exported to the LHC Computing Grid (LCG) sites, re-reconstructed with new calibration constants, etc. etc.

Naturally there is a lot of interest in the most efficient way of handling the data and, in order to stay efficient, an outlook into what might be possible in the near future.

The I/O capabilities of a server can be separated into disk I/O and network I/O.


The throughput of a particular disk-subsystem depends on a vast number of parameters.

  • the hard disks ... transfer rates for a single disk vary by more than a factor 2

  • the controller ... significant differences between controllers, esp. with a large number of disks

  • CPU ... how many interrupts can the CPU(s) handle

  • OS ... how good are the I/O and Memory management capabilities of the operating system


Another important distinction has to be made for network-I/O. It can be a connection in the Local Area Network (LAN) or in the Wide Area Network (WAN). LAN connections correspond to connections inside a computer center, while a WAN connection connects to a server in another computer center somewhere in the world. The evolution in networking in the last 10years went from 10Mbit Ethernet, via 100MBit Ethernet (FastEthernet) and 1Gbit Ethernet, to the broad availability of 10Gbit Ethernet today.


The initial IO testing in openlab-I was focused on testing 10Gb Ethernet Network Interface Cards (NICs) in a LAN environment. Already there it turned out that the main problem would be the PCI-X bus which connects the NIC to the system. It wasn't fast enough to achieve full 10Gb out of a single NIC. This problem is now overcome with the availability of NICs for the newer PCIExpress bus.

The next step were tests in the wide area network. These tests were done in close collaboration with CalTech, the DataTAG project and the TDAQ group of the ATLAS experiment.

A few achievements:

  • a number of Internet2 Land Speed Records

  • the first transeuropean Ethernet connection (using WAN PHY technology)

  • the first transatlantic Ethernet connection (using WAN PHY technology)

But all those tests transfered the data only from the memory of one system into the memory of the other system. In real life the data would come from disk, so we built an affordable disk-subsystem capable of achieving transfer rates comparable to the capabilities of the 10Gb NICs. This effort led to achieving a transfer rate of 700MB/s for transfering the data from disk (at CERN) into the memory of another server an CalTech more than 16000km away.

While these projects were mostly R&D projects looking into the (near) future, openlab was also involved in setting up and running the first "data transfer challenges" in direct preparation of the data export service to the LCG Tier 1 sites. The capabilities of the Itanium2 servers out of the opencluster were crucial to the success of the "Service Challenges".


All the 10Gb WAN R&D projects had to be halted for a while because the 10Gb links were used for the Service Challenges.
Luckily more and more additional 10Gb links to the different LCG Tier 1 sites become available now, so the projects will be able to commence again. With the availablity of new hardware and software we will push the limits again...

Openlab will also work closely with other groups in IT (esp. FIO) to evaluate the possible use of 10Gb connections to a new generation of disk servers. Some of the things which openlab tried and tested a few years ago are now on the way to be used in the standard operations of the CERN computer center.