SAP and Bradmark Help the European Southern Observatory to See the Stars

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe and the world's most productive astronomical observatory.

ESO provides state-of-the-art research facilities to astronomers and is supported by Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile.

The organization depends on SAP and Bradmark technologies to power its astronomy technology.

Bradmark is a full-service provider for SAP database and technology providing SAP database products, database monitoring technology, and consulting services.

The SAP database is at the core of ESO’s operations, said John Lockhart, critical applications support group leader, ESO. It currently sits at the center of the dataflow for the current suite of telescopes. 

“It’s embedded into what we do,” said Lockhart. “Everything is built around it.”

ESO allows astronomers to submit a request for telescope time via a series of web applications that are hosted in Garching, Germany, which if granted allows him or her to upload specifications for one or more telescope observations to the primary server in Garching. The specifications are then replicated to the database server at either of the observatory sites in Paranal, Chile, or La Silla, Chile.

 A server at either site picks up this information and uses it to position the telescope and time the observation. 

When the observation has been taken, the database is automatically updated to reflect the fact that the request has been carried out and the information is replicated back to the server in Garching. 

The image that is the result of the observation is then synchronized with  the server in Garching where it is ingested into the ESO archive, keywords are extracted, and it is then loaded into SAP Sybase IQ, a columnar relational database management system. The data is then checked before being made available to the requesting astronomer, and—after a proprietary period—all interested astronomers.

ESO has been utilizing Bradmark Technologies since 2008 and the company provides ESO with Bradmark Surveillance DB.

“Bradmark has allowed us to monitor real-time critical periods,” Lockhart said. “Now, with bidirectional [monitoring] we can keep critical information moving.”

ESO started with Sybase ASE on Solaris, and then migrated to Linux, subsequently moving  to IQ. Eventually, the agency added bidirectional monitoring which is critical to its  workflow.

The use of Sybase (now SAP) technology began in the 1990s, Lockhart explained, when the agency needed to power a space telescope and archive solution for Hubble.

The technology was included into ESO’ telescope dataflow and, in 1997, EDO added SAP Replication Server and later a mechanism to transfer metadata.

As SAP Sybase grew, so did ESO, according to Lockhart. “We’re really happy with the support,” Lockhart said. “We’re really happy with everything because they listen to us and provide for us.”

SAP is currently assisting ESO in transferring metadata into telescopes in real time, Lockhart explained.

What keeps Lockhart up at night is anxiety surrounding these data transfers. SAP makes sure the data is flowing back and forth.

“If we lose a night, those images will never come back. The sky always changes,” Lockhart said. “What if the telescope caught a supernova but the tech failed? That would be lost.”

With Bradmark and SAP, ESO is able to have everything monitored together, Lockhart said. ESO team did not  want separate products for each of the database engines.

The flashback capability is a powerful feature that allows ESO to browse the historical SQL transactions and more easily cross-collate events such an unexpectedly high load on a server with the actual set of transaction being run.  Even though this feature is new, Lockhart said ESO expects to be using it frequently to troubleshoot performance bottlenecks or unexpected behavior in the application.  

“We are running the complete suite of metrics with only a few exceptions. Besides that, we have currently configured over 20 alerts,” said Lockhart.

 In the future, he added,  ESO will be expanding the number of alerts to include full end-to-end monitoring of the bi-directional replication environment.

“Bradmark have been very supportive and Surveillance has been a great tool for us to monitor things in real time and forecast what can go wrong,” Lockhart noted.