Barrow

High Availability in the Arctic

 I returned last week from a trip to Barrow, Alaska, the Northern-most settlement in North America.  Many people read my daily posts (http://blog.timrettig.com/category/barrow/), and have been asking me exactly what I installed while I was there.  So in this post I will go into more detail about the software I setup. 

My primary purpose for trip was to install a high-availability server cluster running Avance from Stratus Technologieshttp://www.stratus.com/products/avance/index.htm.  I installed the solution in July when the weather is in the 40s, and the sun shines around the clock.  The platform I installed is so dependable that no one should need to visit the site again for a long time.  And hopefully no one has to go back in the winter, when the weather can be 50 below and the sun doesn’t come up for months. 

To guarantee the uptime we needed, we chose the Avance software in order to have a cost-effective high availability virtual cluster.  The solution is so fault tolerant, an entire physical server can fail, and the virtual machines that were running on the failed server will start right back up on the surviving node.  It truly separates the running virtual machines from the hardware.  Avance monitors the health of the system, all the way down to the status of fans and hard drives.  If anything on a node fails, it will automatically migrate the virtual machines off of it and send out a notification.

Avance Arctic Configuration
Avance Arctic Configuration

 The Avance software is loaded on two physical servers.  That creates a single logical platform to run virtual servers across.  Data is continuously replicated between the two nodes.  Because of the replication, it doesn’t require a SAN.  That not only saves money, but it also reduces Continue reading

Barrow

Attack of the Arctic Mosquitoes

Today was our last day in Barrow.  Our final task was to go back to the research hut and improve the weather station mount.  The day before the weather was about 40 degrees with a sustained 20MPH wind.  Today it was almost 50 degrees and it was very calm, so we thought we were going to have it easy.  Unfortunately, that is perfect weather for mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes in Alaska aren’t your typical mosquitoes, either.  They are gigantic and swarm around you.  It is very unnerving.  To ward them off, we wore netting and raw deet.

Giant mosquito
Giant mosquito

Out on the tundra, there was a 5MPH wind.  If I stood in one place I created a wind block so the mosquitoes would gather in that draft behind me.  After about 20 seconds I could literally hear the bzzzzzzz of the gathering swarm of mosquitoes in the draft.  I was actually wishing for the return of the cold and wind from the day before so I didn’t have to deal with the mosquitoes.  Yuck!

After our work was done on the tundra and we showered to remove all of the deet, we took one last tour of the town before our flight.  We got to see the northern most football field in the US.  The field is Astroturf and is located Continue reading

Barrow

Research Hut on the Arctic Tundra

 Today we spent the afternoon wiring up a research hut on the tundra.  “Hut” is kind of a misnomer.  It is actually a small construction trailer on skids that is put in place when there is snow.  The scientists use the building as a base camp during their daily research.  The building has electric for heat and light.  Bathroom facilities consist of a 5 gallon bucket and a bag that you take out with you at the end of the day. 
 Research Hut
Research Hut

Our goal for the day was to mount a weather station and multiple cameras on a hut.  In addition, we wanted all of these devices to collect data and feed it real-time back to the servers we installed earlier in the week at the BARC.  I will provide a more detailed explanation of the data communication systems that are in use in a later post.  The hut we went to was located Continue reading

Barrow

Town Festival and Arctic Rainbow

 We spent most of the day in the lab staging weather stations today.  That was fine with me because the temperature dropped about 10 degrees from yesterday, and the wind is blowing.  At lunch we stopped by the city park and checked out the 4th of July Festival.  The city park is pretty much a gravel lot.  There were food booths, face painting for kids, and some games.  We walked around for a few minutes but quickly got back in our truck to escape the chilling wind. 

Barrow City Park
Barrow City Park

We went out again after dinner and got to see an Arctic rainbow.  A fog moved in from the ocean, and the sun hitting that fog created the rainbow.

Arctic Rainbow
Arctic Rainbow
Barrow

Satellite City in Barrow, Alaska

Today was another unusually warm and beautiful day in Barrow, Alaska.  Clear skies and lower 50s.  We, however, were locked in the server room all morning completing the setup of our servers.  After lunch we got to get out and see some more of the surrounding area.  We took a trip to see “Satellite City”, an area outside of town where all of the satellite dishes are located.  It is interesting how the dishes point at the horizon, instead of up in the sky.  In order for them to work properly, there can’t be anything in front of them.  Luckily finding empty space  isn’t much of an issue.  

Barrow Satellite City
Barrow Satellite City

There are absolutely no wires connecting Barrow to anyway else.  Power is generated just outside the city by a power plant that runs on a natural gas reserve.  All communications – data, voice, and video must be sent and received over satellite or long-range radio.  The BARC has 6Mbps of bandwidth being sent and received over an AT&T satellite, the equivalent of four T1s . Internet speed is Continue reading

Barrow

Witnessing a Seal Necropsy

While working in the Barrow Alaska Research Center (BARC) today, I was able to witness part of a seal necropsy.  The scientist that was performing the procedure was cataloging the animal for later study.  It is part of a study on communicable diseases in marine mammals.  In particular, she is studying sicknesses that can be passed from animal to human and vice-versa, similar to the swine or avian flu.

The procedure was pretty far along by the time we were invited in.  I will warn you if you have a weak stomach, do NOT view the pictures in this post.  There are some raw pictures, but it doesn’t come close to being there and smelling it.  Shortly after the necropsy, we went to the cafeteria for dinner.  I passed on the fish that was offered. Continue reading

Barrow

Rackin’ Servers in Barrow

The weather this morning was overcast, raining and in the mid 30s.  First on the agenda was a quick tour of the Barrow Alaska Research Center (BARC).  Walking into the building was like walking into another world.  All of the buildings we had been in so far were either old army buildings from the 1950s, or interconnected shipping containers.   The BARC is part of a 35 million dollar building project to create a scientific research center for all different types of studies by groups from around the world.  There are labs, conference rooms, offices, and a spacious, modern server room.  The building has tall ceilings, a tiled lobby, modern bathrooms, and very nice furniture.  You would think it would be the place to be, but it seemed to be empty compared to the other buildings we had been in.  The older buildings seemed to teem with activity as people came and went.  The BARC was like a library, whereas the other buildings were like college dorms. 

After the tour, we took care of some meetings and paperwork, and then got to work uncrating the rack.  It was shipped in a sturdy wooden crate we had to disassemble outside in the wind and rain.  Luckily, by the time we got the crate open, the rain stopped and it was starting to clear up.  

Uncrating the rack overlooking the tundra
Uncrating the rack overlooking the tundra

 We wrestled the rack into the building and then ran into our first technical issue. Continue reading