Information Technology, Control Systems, and Data Systems teams contribute to NIF’s 400-shot milestone
NIF target chamber
Mission Support: National Ignition Facility

Harnessing Laser-Like Focus to Improve System Efficiency and Reliability

Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) is comprised of 192 laser beams that travel nearly one mile on their journey to the center of the 10-meter-diameter spherical target chamber. Each beam’s journey is completed within the blink of an eye, about 5 microseconds. However, the planning and execution of that journey often takes many months. The process to prepare, design, execute, analyze, and store the results of each laser shot is the focus of the NIF Information Technology (IT), Control Systems, and Data Systems teams. These teams’ contributions enabled operational efficiencies in all phases of the NIF shot cycle, leading to the completion of more than 400 laser shots in FY2016.

Supporting national security objectives, developing clean energy solutions, and advancing scientists’ knowledge of the fusion process that occurs within stars are not trivial tasks. As the world’s only laser system capable of achieving the temperature and pressure conditions found in stars, lofty goals were set for increasing NIF’s shot rate.

“Through continued attention to efficiency and improvement, the team at NIF has made impressive progress in increasing both the shot rate and experimental access to this one-of-a-kind facility,” says Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz (Ret.), Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). “This growth—achieved on a fixed budget—further solidifies NIF’s role as a crucial tool for the Stockpile Stewardship Prog ram and a world-class resource for learning and progress.” NIF complete d 417 shots in FY2016, surpassing NNSA’s ambitious goal of 400 shots. By comparison, the facility completed 356 and 191 shots in fiscal years 2015 and 2014, respectively.

As a research and development facility, NIF provides unique learning capabilities for the scientific community. Those capabilities rely on the high availability of NIF’s many laser subsystems and require lo ng-term access to the data collected during the experimental campaign. The core services provided by the NIF IT team are essential. In fact, the only lasting product of the laser shots is the data the team is tasked to collect and store. The IT team set out to determine which IT services (e.g., network switches, servers, databases) had the highest likelihood of failure. By interrogating its data repositories and system logs, the IT team sought ways to increase the reliability, availability, and maintainability of its systems. In coordination with the Data Systems and Control Systems software development teams, IT restructured workloads to run on the more reliable equipment. As a result, system errors were reduced by nearly a factor of four. These improvements are part of an ongoing effort to complete a network re-architecture and hardware refresh that will provide higher reliability and predictability during shot operations.

One of the IT hardware project refreshes in FY2016 included efforts to migrate the shot-critical Laser Performance Operations Module (LPOM) software onto new hardware that is faster and can be easily replaced if the need arises. The IT team worked closely with the LPOM development team to migrate code from legacy Hewlett-Packard servers into a new virtualized cluster.

About the leaderboard image: This rendering of the inside of the National Ignition Facility’s (NIF’s) target chamber shows the target positioner moving into place. Pulses from NIF’s high-powered lasers race through the facility at the speed of light, and arrive at the center of the target chamber within a few trillionths of a second of each other, aligned to the accuracy of the diameter of a human hair.

The Control Systems team focused on providing novel functionality and adding automation to the alignment of targets and diagnostic systems that collect data while the shot is occurring. Software test frameworks were created to ensure a high level of reliability of the existing code base as NIF’s Integrated Computer Control System (ICCS) continues to support new capabilities and the Ada-to-Java code-porting effort. These frameworks are divided into two distinct categories: continuous integration and automated functional tests. The continuous integration environment allows the ICCS Java developers to quickly augment a broad suite of automated unit tests that are run following every software build. The frameworks are integrated with the ICCS build status to allow team leads to review test failures each morning. The Automated Shot Tester allows testing of higher-level interactions between ICCS components in the context of simulated NIF experiments. Both frameworks have been effective at finding subtle bugs prior to deploying software, providing more complete testing, and reducing the overall testing effort with the additional of repeatable, automated regression tests.

FY2016 marked a year of additional features and significant performance improvements for the NIF Data Systems applications. Improvements to the NIF User Portal and Shot Planning tools provided a more intuitive experience for NIF’s scientific and operations communities. The year also marked the end of a decade of operations for the Campaign Management Tool, which was used to specify the parameters of each NIF experimental campaign. The replacement product, the Shot Setup Tool, is making its debut in the first quarter of 2017.

The process improvements and new capabilities contributed by the NIF IT, Control Systems, and Data Systems teams were an integral part of the multidisciplinary effort to achieve the 400-shot milestone. More than 80 LLNL employees from NIF Computing, Computer Systems Support, Center for Applied Scientific Computing, and Engineering constitute these highly performant teams.