SmartStor Helps NASA Glenn Research Center Organize and Access Important Software Applications

The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is in the business of producing knowledge — but not just any knowledge. The kind of sophisticated knowledge the center produces is that which helps NASA send humans into space, to the moon, and hopefully to Mars and beyond.

Named after astronauts John H. Glenn and George W. Lewis, the agency has been researching more than subsonic, supersonic, hypersonic, and general aviation. Moreover, it has been researching materials, structures, internal fluid mechanics, instrumentation and controls, interdisciplinary technologies, and aircraft icing research. In short, the agency is providing NASA and other government, civil, and educational entities with the knowledge necessary to be the world leaders in technology.

The people at NASA Glenn Research Center would not hesitate to say that the success of their research hinges on all divisions within the agency running smoothly. One such division is the Computer Services Division, which supplies the bulk of the computing infrastructure at NASA Glenn, ranging from maintaining mainframe and client server applications to Web servers and databases.

One particular task for which CSD is responsible is distributing published software applications as well as those recorded in-house. The list of applications that CSD distributes to NASA Glenn employees is extensive and includes Microsoft's Office Suite and TechNet, financial management, environmental, travel and logistics, CSD help manuals, and computer-based training. In addition, CSD distributes numerous application development tools from Sybase, Oracle, and other vendors. One of the primary technology vehicles CSD uses to accomplish this is CD, and the software it uses to distribute the applications is SmartStor Archive.

SmartStor Keeps Things at NASA Glenn Research Center Running Smoothly
The employees at NASA Glenn must have easy access to the CDs, so a network CD software product that provides grouping capabilities is the number-one requirement for CSD. SmartStor, running in a 150-slot NSM Mercury jukebox, provides Shawn Postich, systems engineer III and a member of the PACE contract at NASA Glenn, with a file system format that allows him to organize CDs for NASA Glenn employees.

With SmartStor software, Postich has the ability to logically group CDs into electronic folders and share those CDs over the network, which makes it easier for his network clients to locate the files they need among approximately 100 CDs stored in the NSM jukebox. This is particularly applicable to a product like Microsoft's TechNet, which is comprised of an extensive series of CDs that include trouble shooting guides, patches, add-ons, and utilities. Addressing the immensity of TechNet and the organizational challenges it presents, Postich says, "One CD may refer exclusively to SQL Server, another to Exchange, another to troubleshooting, and another one to the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Keeping all of this logically organized, up-to-date, and administered can be very tough. With a product like SmartStor, I can throw it into a group, call it TechNet, share it out to licensed users, and move on to other tasks."

Being able to easily group and share the CDs translates into time saved for the administrator, explains Postich. "When you get anywhere from 15 to 20 updates per month, that can be time consuming. But, because I can group CDs, this frees up a great deal of time for me to do other important things." And, because Postich can dedicate his time to other important tasks, this saves NASA Glenn a great amount of money in the long run.

Clients Benefit from SmartStor's Ease-Of-Use
The network clients served by Computer Division Service are a diverse group, as their responsibilities range from researching propulsion and communications to testing new engines and devises under extreme weather conditions. Regardless of their tasks, they require the ability to access applications easily and fast.

To the employees at NASA Glenn, using SmartStor to access grouped CDs over the network is straightforward. If you can use Windows," Postich says, "you can use SmartStor software." The SmartStor GUI is similar to Windows Explorer, providing clients with a directory of drive letters, one of which is SmartStor's. The clients simply click on the SmartStor drive letter, and the folders containing the applications they need are displayed in the right-hand pane. With an application like TechNet, which is updated so frequently, having these updates in one folder keeps clients from wondering where they are.

Postich also attributes fast access to the speed of the jukebox and the random access nature of the technology. According to Postich, the elevator mechanism within the NSM jukebox can find the CD and put it in the drive in less than four seconds. Once the CD has been loaded into the drive, NASA Glenn employees benefit from the random access nature of CD technology, which allows them to bring up the exact files they need instantaneously, as opposed to the slow, linear-access nature of tape.

Looking Toward The Future
Going forward, the Computer Services Division plans to expand its use of the Web. Currently, CSD serves a number of clients who use different operating systems, including UNIX, Macintosh, and Windows. To accommodate these different operating systems, there is a great deal of redundancy when writing in-house applications. "It's tough because we have to re-write one application three times," says Postich. A complete Web-based system will eliminate this futility. As well, Postich sees accessing CDs stored in the jukebox from the Web as a viable possibility. In terms of moving from CD to DVD, Postich says, "DVD is the natural course to follow, and we will be moving there." Until that time comes, CD technology is serving the requirements of the great minds who strive to find better ways to expand our presence in outer space.