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NASA monitors shuttle with Constant Data

NASA talked about using Constant Data's replication software to monitor Discovery, and what it is hoping new parent company BakBone will do to improve the product.

NASA revealed it used data replication software from Constant Data Inc., recently acquired by BakBone Software Inc., to analyze film footage of the takeoff of space shuttle Discovery in July 2005.

The film analysis, known as the Ground Camera Ascent Imagery Project, was part of the stipulations of the Return to Flight program laid out by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board following the loss of the space shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1, 2003. Discovery's mission this year was the first manned space flight undertaken by NASA since the Columbia disaster.

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An investigation of Columbia's demise had shown that a piece of foam had broken off the shuttle at launch and damaged one of the heat-resistant tiles on the orbiter, which caused the shuttle to break apart on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. To try to prevent history from repeating, high-definition film was taken from 26 different angles of Discovery's launch, then analyzed for any anomalies that could put the flight at risk.

The Constant Data replication software was used to replicate film files and images of the Discovery launch to Kennedy Space Center in Fla., Johnson Space Center in Texas and Marshall Space Flight Center in Ala. Constant Data's product is now known as NetVault Replicator after the company was acquired by BakBone for an estimated $5.5 million in cash last month,

"We had shots of everything that happened to the orbiter," said David Campbell, IT director for NASA. "Moving the engines in, emptying the bathrooms -- everything."

The 26 camera feeds produced massive files. The smallest, Campbell said, was 6 gigabytes. Moreover, they needed to go through a WAN and firewall built to NASA security standards. Finally, the product needed to fit into a stingy budget -- otherwise, Campbell said, NASA would probably have gone with a hardware-based appliance, which proved too pricey.

Constant Data's product, he said, was the only software-based replication product that met the many specialized aspects of NASA's application: it fit the security requirements, worked with its Sun Solaris operating system and met the minimum performance criterion, which was that 14 massive video files be replicated perfectly to the three locations within the first hour after Discovery's launch.

Meanwhile, BakBone, announced this week that the Constant Data product had been integrated into its Integrated Data Protection portfolio, and the goal was eventually to bundle it as NetVault Replicator with the NetVault backup product.

Asked if he would consider switching backup products, Campbell was sure he would not -- he said he hadn't even looked at BakBone's backup product and had no interest in changing his infrastructure. Of BakBone's vision for "combining .. technologies into one concerted, integrated data protection infrastructure," Campbell was nonplussed.

"I really hope they stick with offering it as a replication product separately," he said. "I hope they'll continue to improve the product as it is."

The main improvement Campbell wanted to see is "a nice friendly GUI" that would allow us to see the progress of files transferring. We had to write our own script in house for that [on the Discovery] launch."

Campbell did say he would be purchasing NetVault Replicator, as his version of Constant Data's product is "back one or two releases."

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