Could database software help cure Alzheimer's and save the Earth?
REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 6, 2008 -- Just three months after Microsoft Corp. released its data management and business intelligence platform, Microsoft SQL Server 2008, several large customers are using the database software to scale new heights in data warehousing and transaction processing.
SQL Server 2008 gives companies the flexibility of "scaling up" individual servers by adding processors or memory and "scaling out" their databases by adding more nodes to increase performance. Microsoft is also taking advantage of the latest hardware advancements and announced this week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) 2008 that Windows Server 2008 R2 and the next release of SQL Server, code-named "Kilimanjaro," will support more than 64 processor cores. This will provide customers with the option to consolidate data sources while maintaining similar or improved performance and scalability. Either way, SQL Server literally grows with a business.
SQL Server 2008 offers "a robust, scalable and secure database platform to support critical business applications. Large multiterabyte databases with SQL Server have become common for both transactional applications and data warehouses, as enterprises build larger and complex databases," according to a report from Forrester Research, "SQL Server 2008 Ups Pressure on Competitors; Microsoft Boosts Manageability, BI, Performance, Productivity and Security," by Noel Yuhanna, Mike Gilpin and David D'Silva; Sept. 22, 2008.
Warehousing the Heavens
Perhaps the most impressive application of SQL Server so far -- and one of the most dramatic -- is the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS for short, a wide-field celestial imaging facility being built at the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy. Its architects plan to photograph the entire available sky several times each month, trying to discover asteroids and comets that could pose a danger to Earth. The huge volume of images produced by this system will no doubt also prove valuable for many other scientific programs.
When Pan-STARRS is fully operational, it will have four telescopes, each with a digital camera capable of 1.4-gigapixel resolution. With just one telescope in operation so far, the facility already generates 1.4 terabytes of image data per night. For the longer term, its architects are installing 1.1 petabytes (quadrillion bytes) of disk storage. Although Pan-STARRS won't use up all of that storage right away, it will still rank as one of the world's largest databases.
Compressing, storing and crunching that data is the job of SQL Server.
"There are only a handful of databases that large in the world," said Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of the Data and Storage Platform Division at Microsoft. "If SQL Server can handle applications this large, imagine how well it can meet the needs of the average enterprise. SQL Server 2008 is packed with technologies to scale up individual servers and scale out very large databases."
From Astronomy to Biology
Valerie Daggett's world-renowned protein research lab at the University of Washington is near the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash. Her team is investigating one of the fundamental unsolved problems in molecular bioengineering: the mechanism by which proteins fold themselves from essentially two-dimensional polypeptide chains into precise, three-dimensional structures. Experts believe that incorrectly folded proteins may be responsible for some of the most menacing diseases of our era, including mad cow disease, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, emphysema and cystic fibrosis.
Because experimental approaches provide only limited amounts of information about the actual folding process, Daggett Research Group employs computer simulations, which generate massive amounts of data that must be analyzed. The lab has already produced more than 64 terabytes of data and is generating an additional 15 terabytes a year.
By taking advantage of the relational and online analytical processing (OLAP) capabilities of SQL Server, the team has been able to attack problems in new ways and accelerate its rate of progress. "We've begun to address substantial questions that move us closer to solving the protein-folding problem and other biomedical problems," Daggett said. "With SQL Server, we can investigate questions that were practically impossible to answer before. We can examine 100 times more data because some tasks that used to take hours are now reduced to fractions of a second."
"Data-warehousing techniques have been applied widely in business and financial applications, but are much less common in scientific research," said Andrew Simms, a graduate student in the Daggett lab. "We think the current model will scale beyond 100 terabytes."
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