Editorial Type: Case Study Date: 2020-10-01 Views: 921 Tags: Storage, NAS, Research, Healthcare, RAID, Flash, Quantum, ActiveScale PDF Version:
Genomics England stores, protects, and provides access to hundreds of petabytes of genomic data - scaling up even more this year to participate in vital COVID-19 research - thanks to Quantum ActiveScale

Genomics England was established in 2013 by the UK's Department of Health & Social Care to support the 100,000 Genomes Project - a ground-breaking effort to sequence whole genomes from a vast number of patients with rare diseases and common cancers. In 2018, the project was significantly expanded, requiring Genomics England to scale its data storage infrastructure. Using Quantum ActiveScale object storage as part of a single, integrated environment enables the organisation to store, protect, and provide access to hundreds of petabytes of genomic data.

Genomics England has ambitious aims. The organisation was created to sequence the genomes of an enormous number of people, generating new insights that can help improve treatments - while also accelerating the development of the UK genomics industry.

Within a few years of its inauguration, the organisation proved that it could reach its initial goal of sequencing 100,000 genomes, and it was rewarded in 2018 with a new goal of sequencing up to five million genomes over five years.

Unfortunately, the existing network-attached storage (NAS) solution used for storing genomic data was not up to the task. The NAS, which was storing 21 PB of data, could not be scaled further - it had reached its node-scaling limit.

As the NAS approached capacity, performance suffered. Meanwhile, the organisation could not ensure resilience for all this genomic information. Though data was backed up to tape, Genomics England lacked a robust disaster recovery strategy that could restore data rapidly in the event of a disaster or another significant disruption.

The organisation needed a solution that could store and protect fast-growing data volumes. "We needed something much more scalable than existing NAS solutions-an infrastructure that could grow to hundreds of petabytes," says David Ardley, head of technical delivery at Genomics England. A new solution also had to facilitate simple, flexible access to data by more than 3,000 researchers around the world.

Genomics England consulted with Nephos Technologies, an independent UK-based data services organisation to design and implement a new storage solution. Together, teams from Nephos and Genomics England reviewed current requirements, projected future needs, and then designed and implemented a new, multi-faceted solution.

The storage solution incorporates a WekalO high-performance file system, Mellanox high-speed networking, and Quantum ActiveScale object storage. It creates a two-tier architecture that combines flash storage plus ActiveScale object storage, which serves as a long-term data lake repository. The initial deployment included 1.4 PB of flash and 40 PB of object storage.

The two storage tiers - each of which can be scaled independently - present as a single hybrid storage environment. As a result, researchers have the flexibility to query data in a highly randomised fashion.

Within a few years of deploying the new storage environment, Genomics England needed to expand again. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 presented new, urgent challenges for the global medical-scientific community, and Genomics England was in a prime position to help better understand who is susceptible to the virus. The organisation committed to sequencing the genomes of up to 20,000 intensive care patients with COVID-19, plus up to 15,000 people with the virus who are experiencing only mild symptoms. In addition, the organisation launched a next-generation genomic research platform to enable researchers and drug developers to access and use genomic data in their COVID-19 work.

Around the same time that Genomics England was ramping up participation in COVID-19 research, the ActiveScale solution platform was acquired by Quantum from Western Digital. A Quantum team helped facilitate a smooth transition for Genomics England. With full confidence in Quantum and the ActiveScale system, Genomics England moved forward with expanding its object storage environment to accommodate COVID-19 work. The organisation scaled to more than 100 PB of capacity.

Scaling was seamless with RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). "What we love about the ActiveScale system is that its inherent architecture is underpinned by its RAID replacement technology, the intelligent, dynamic placement of erasure-coded data," says Ardley. "That placement of data eliminates the need for system rebalancing, which can compromise performance and availability."

ActiveScale object storage protects data and provides the data resiliency that Genomics England needs for its critical work. The organisation takes advantage of the geo-distributed capability of ActiveScale. With ActiveScale, the organisation distributes data across three data centres, for full data protection against a major disaster such as site loss.

Data can continue to be accessed for reading and writing at the remaining sites and withstand additional hardware failures, offering 19x9s data durability. In addition, the technology helps ensure high data integrity by enabling a self-healing process through automatic data scrubbing, verification, repair, and optimisation.

With ActiveScale, Genomics England no longer faces the capacity limits of its previous NAS solution. The organisation has been able to expand its object storage to support more genomic analysis and even take on additional COVID-19 work without a major storage overhaul. In the future, Genomics England can easily integrate ActiveScale object storage with Amazon S3-compliant public cloud environments for additional protection and scaling flexibility.

This scalable storage environment is also helping to reduce costs. According to Nephos, the Genomics England team decreased storage costs by 75 percent per genome compared with the previous environment. The organisation is expected to reduce these costs by 96 percent by 2023.

Just as importantly, the Genomics England team has been able to experience these benefits without adding complexity. "We love the simplicity, ease of use, and architecture of the ActiveScale systems," says Ardley. "These systems are truly designed to scale seamlessly to exabyte-scale deployments of on-premises and hybrid data storage solutions."

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