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Oh, What A Night! JPL OCIO’s Journey with Mars Science Laboratory
By Whitney Haggins, Gary Beaner, Jonathan Chiang, Robin Dumas, Joy Laibl, Gabriel Rangel, Julie Reiz, Richard Van Why, and Janet Zadeh Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

On August 5, a worldwide audience watched and celebrated the Mars Science Laboratory’s (MSL) successful Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) and Curiosity’s touchdown on Mars. For JPL’s OCIO, it was a celebration of a successful Project partnership. This article examines the preparations for that historic night through reflections from JPL IT leads.

Robin Dumas, IT Flight Project Support Manager and Julie Reiz, Information and Configuration Manager: Preparation for EDL began years ago.
Robin: The OCIO has been involved with the MSL Project since 2006 when the decision was made to use OCIO-provided IT services rather than create a separate project IT environment. A Service Level Agreement (SLA) was carefully crafted and monitored to ensure that the project’s IT needs were being met. This required a great deal of coordination within OCIO among different IT service teams.

Julie: As EDL approached, our OCIO Flight Projects IT Readiness Initiative, an integrated cross-OCIO team that conducted weekly meetings with stakeholders and other support areas outside of the OCIO, worked to identify the types of IT support needed for critical mission events. The team focused on preparing for Curiosity’s landing and maintained open communication paths with all participants.

Gabriel Rangel, IT Solutions Strategist: The OCIO played an important role in public engagement.
As part of the Innovating Together focus, in 2009 we started working with the Mars Public Engagement Office and the Office of Communications and Education to enable new world class experiences to help tell the story of the wonders of Mars to the public. During the past three years (an IT decade), we helped to put their creative ideas into practice. It started with a cloud-hosted Be a Martian citizen science gaming web site, which then evolved into a virtual immersive experience, and a mobile application. We also helped create and deliver the Spacecraft 3D mobile augmented reality app on the iPhone and iPad. This has led to an effective and ongoing relationship where we prototype new capabilities and put them into production much more rapidly than before.

Richard Van Why, Operations Manager and MSL Support Coordinator: The OCIO provided extensive on-call and onsite support.
Preparing for EDL required extensive coordination. We met monthly with MSL Real Time Operations to ensure that all IT services and support were aligned with the Service Level Agreement and met weekly with the MSL navigation team to discuss high performance computing needs:
  • The JPL Galaxy and JPL Nebula supercomputers were dedicated to MSL and ran close to 200 24-hour Monte Carlo simulations at 20 GB each.
  • The OCIO supplied on-call support from two days before until four days after EDL, and began onsite support the day before through the day after EDL. Our onsite support teams consisted of two shifts ready to provide any necessary support.
  • Our conference room support team ensured all critical conference rooms were ready for EDL and were onsite to provide support.
We published a Support Activity Reference Guide for our providers with coverage schedules and contact information for all OCIOprovided IT services. Over 100 OCIO team members were part of the on-call and onsite support for MSL during their critical window.

Joy Laibl, Network Engineering Manager: Preparing for the IT needs of the many JPL visitors presented a challenge.
Our biggest concern for MSL was enabling appropriate network access to IT resources. MSL challenged us with their requirements, and this enabled us to examine technologies, brainstorm and create effective solutions:
  • We worked with the project to create role-based profiles and defined isolated environments to ensure appropriate access for the right people—especially for the MSL Science Zone, a secure network layer where partners and Principal Investigators from around the world access MSL science systems.
  • We moved from hardwired connections to ubiquitous and pervasive Wi-Fi.
  • We partnered with Cisco to bring in 20 ruggedized access points around critical areas for enhanced Wi-Fi coverage.
  • We laid extensive cabling for areas needing hardwired access. It takes a coordinated effort and team to support an event of this magnitude.
Gary Beaner, Telecommunications Manager: Communication systems had to be increased to meet MSL’s needs.
MeetingPlace (JPL’s audio, video, web conferencing application from Cisco) was upgraded to support 250-300 connections to meet MSL’s requirements. We also:
  • Arranged special telecom services for the MSL science community.
  • Worked with AT&T and Verizon to offer improved cell phone coverage through the use of Cell On Wheels (COWS) in project spaces, the main JPL auditorium, and the central mall area.
  • Established mini call centers using VoIP phones to accommodate the increased calls into JPL.
  • Installed phones in strategic locations for guests and VIPs.
  • Installed analog lines for the satellite JPL Store locations.
Jonathan Chiang, IT Directorate Engineer: 8 million hits in one minute!
With less than four months to the MSL EDL event, our team had to engineer and migrate a legacy content management system and the Mars public outreach Web sites to Amazon Web Services. Working with the Ground Data Systems, Public Outreach and contractor teams we developed a solution that would download raw images and telemetry directly from Curiosity and place them into Amazon S3 storage buckets. Now the content managers for the Mars Web sites can easily create informative Web pages with powerful real–time images. We dealt with shifting requirements, including implementing live streaming of NASA TV and migrating the Eyes on the Solar System Web sites two weeks before EDL.

In short, we successfully met a high volume of traffic and took a legacy application and completely ported it to a new platform in the cloud. We delivered 120 TB of throughput during the night in video streaming alone. Adding the static content, we exceeded 150 TB. In one minute the websites served 8 million hits.