May 21, 2004  




Mammoth Database Wins Grand Prize

By Mason Inman

SLAC not only boasts the world’s longest building, but also the world’s largest recognized database. The B
ABAR database—now containing about 900 terabytes, or 900,000 gigabytes—recently earned a Grand Prize in a prestigious annual survey of very large databases, the Winter Corporation’s Top Ten.

Award winners from SCS (l to r): Igor Gaponenko,Yemi Adesanya, Artem Trunov, Daniel Wang, Wilko Kroeger, Tofigh Azemoon and Jacek Becla. (Photo by Diana Rogers)

The information in the BABAR database, if printed out, would fill about 25 billion books, nearly 1000 times the number of books in the world’s largest library, the Library of Congress.

In 2002, the B
ABAR database group applied for the Winter Corporation award, but since the database was a special type that didn’t fit into the survey’s existing categories, it didn’t win an award. The group knew that their database dwarfed the others, so they applied again in 2003, not knowing what to expect.

“When I first submitted the survey, we didn’t have much hope,” said Jacek Becla (SCS), B
ABAR database manager. As the date for the announcement of the award got closer, however, the group had inklings that this year would be different. “I sort of knew it was coming,” Becla said, “Too many people started complaining that we were ignored last year.”

On March 3 the Winter Corporation announced the awards, with the B
ABAR database in first place in a newly created category: Most Data in a Hybrid System. The database is called a hybrid because it uses both hard disk drives and tape drives to store the data. The second place database, run by the UK Meteorological Office, weighed in at 184 terabytes, about a fifth the size of the BABAR database.

While this award brings well-deserved recognition, the B
ABAR database is already well known within the database community as a pioneering project, in part because of presentations by the BABAR database team at database conferences.

“Database gurus are still very interested in things we’re doing,” said Yemi Adesanya (SCS), a database developer on the project. Becla added, “They want to hear the story of what we did and why we did it this way.”

When the database was being planned in 1996, the database group talked to professors and professionals to find the best system for handling the reams of data that would come pouring out of B
ABAR. No one was sure what system would be best, Becla said. The group took a chance on a new object-oriented database technology created by Objectivity, Inc. in Mountain View. Their leap of faith has paid off famously.

Numerous DOE science projects—from combustion and proteomics studies to climate models and nuclear physics—collect huge data sets, and many look to the B
ABAR database for guidance, Becla said. “Everybody’s talking about petabytes in the next couple of years. Everybody has similar issues to ours, so there’s a lot of common ground.”

Many other databases are quickly catching up with B
ABAR’s, especially since all new BABAR data is being stored in another data storage system, designed at CERN, rather than in the BABAR database. But for the near future, the group thinks they’ll hold their title. “It’s very likely that we will be the largest next year,” Becla said, “even though we’ve stopped growing.”


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Tuesday May 18, 2004 by Emily Ball