National Ignition Facility: Big Science Needs Big Data

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, is the world’s largest laser facility ever built. NIF’s 192 laser beams routinely create temperatures and pressures similar to those that exist only in the cores of stars and giant planets. Scientists at NIF are working on using these laser beams to improve our national security, better understand the universe, and develop the science for providing renewable energy sources for the future.


Massive quantities of data are essential to the success of NIF’s experiments, from experimental design through to execution and analysis. NIF depends on the performance and reliability of its infrastructure to support big science, 24/7. The challenge that NIF faced was ensuring high-precision calibration and timing of more than 60,000 control points to support the growing demand for experiments with greater uptime and shorter cycles while also addressing a two-year backlog, reclaiming downtime, and preventing costly delays.


To meet this challenge, NIF transformed its IT infrastructure to provide scientists at NIF and around the world with rapid, uninterrupted access to critical data using a NetApp based private cloud running clustered Data ONTAP with the strategic use of NetApp flash technologies. NIF migrated to secure, multi-tenanted private cloud, making more time for science by eliminating downtime and reducing latency and speed data access with NetApp flash technologies. Since the private cloud implementation, NIF has cut planned downtime by 60 hours per year, reduced latency by 97% to provide data to scientists within 15 minutes of an experiment and enabled secure multi-tenancy to protect sensitive scientific and government data.


In early 2014, NIF announced that record amounts of energy had been created through thermonuclear fusion. The increased availability and throughput are allowing the scientists at NIF to depend on their IT infrastructure with less downtime, improving time to science and hastening breakthroughs that have the potential to change life as we know it—such as creating energy from seawater instead of burning fossil fuels. Tim Frazier, NIF’s Chief Information Officer, excited about the possibilities the migration has enabled said, “By having a cloud with essentially infinitely scalable storage, we can achieve our goal of supporting nonstop science for our nation.”


NIF leverages the speed and reliability of its IT infrastructure to perform more experiments and provide data to scientists faster than ever before. Operating at the speed of light, NIF scientists are fast making headway in pursuit of discoveries that will solve some of the world’s most critical challenges. To learn more about NIF’s success story,  watch the video below to see NIF’s revolutionary work in action.



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