University of Hawaii Innovation Initiative

Really Big Bytes

UH research relies on data capacity and expertise

By Cathy Cruz-George
David Lassner, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, University of Hawai‘i. Photo by Anthony Consillio

David Lassner, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, University of Hawai‘i. Photo by Anthony Consillio

Two years ago, as Hiroki Tokinaga stood on the beach watching waves rise higher with the strengthening wind, he got the idea to analyze 100 million records of wind and wave data from old ship logs. Synthesizing the data and computer models, the researcher for the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) tracked regional patterns of climate change in the tropical Indo-Pacific region in the past 60 years.

Tokinaga’s historic findings help scientists understand bizarre weather patterns – such as flooding and droughts – plaguing the Pacific region. Locally, his study tracks weakening trade winds contributing to the decrease in Hawai‘i rainfall since the 1950s. Hawai‘i could have less rain in future years if the trend continues, a cause for concern.

His study is one example of UH research projects with real-life impacts that involve the gathering, analysis and storage of “big data,” with techniques often referred to with terms such as “informatics” or “cyberinfra-structure.” From the Pan-STARRS telescope on Haleakala, used to track killer asteroids, to the culling through demographic and genomic databanks to decode a disease, researchers increasingly need to collect, securely store, manage, analyze and access huge amounts of data. Some sectors that increasingly rely heavily on big data for new insights include meteorology, marine and earth sciences, astronomy, environmental studies, energy systems, public health, biomedical sciences, and agriculture.

The IPRC uses computer models to project climate changes over the next century to provide information that will be used in assessing impacts on Hawaiian birds and plants in the next century.

COMPUTER SIMULATION Shows ocean temperatures, currents, and clouds in the Pacific region. Courtesy: International Pacific Research Center/Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science

COMPUTER SIMULATION Shows ocean temperatures, currents, and clouds in the Pacific region. Courtesy: International Pacific Research Center/Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science

“UH needs as much cyberinfrastructure as we can get,” says IPRC director Kevin Hamilton. This includes data storage, high-performance computing and advanced networks for collaboration.

David Lassner, UH’s vice president for information technology and chief information officer, says the new $41-million information-technology building under construction at UH Manoa will support researchers’ growing data and cyberinfra-structure needs. Storage capacity at the new building will be sized to support petabyte-scale data (see box), with the capacity to grow to exabytes.

“We just want to make it easy for our scientists and researchers to focus on their scholarship,” says Lassner.

A Whole Yotta Data

Data storage is measured in “bits” and “bytes” of information. Each bit contains either a one or a zero, and a byte is usually made up of eight bits. Larger amounts of data are referred to using metric prefixes, with each term referring to 1,000 times the previous level, as follows:

kilobyte 1,000 (thousand) bytes
megabyte 1,000,000 (million) bytes
gigabyte 1,000,000,000 (billion) bytes
terabyte 1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) bytes
petabyte 1,000,000,000,000,000 (quadrillion) bytes
exabyte 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (quintillion) bytes
zettabyte 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (sextillion) bytes
yottabyte 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (septillion) bytes

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