Ranch User Guide

Last update: June 12, 2023


The XSEDE project concluded formal operations as an NSF-funded project on August 31, 2022. Similar services are now operated through NSF's follow-on program, Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Coordination Ecosystem: Services & Support, or ACCESS. Find out more at the ACCESS website. (09/01/2022)


TACC's High Performance Computing (HPC) systems are used primarily for scientific computing and while their disk systems are large, they are unable to store the long-term final data generated on these systems. The Ranch archive system fills this need for high capacity long-term storage, by providing a massive high performance file system and tape-based backing store designed, implemented, and supported specifically for archival purposes.

Ranch (ranch.tacc.utexas.edu), is a Quantum StorNext-based system, with a DDN- provided front-end disk system (30PB raw), and a 5000 slot Quantum Scalar i6000 library for its back-end tape archive.

Ranch is an allocated resource, meaning that Ranch is available only to users with an allocation on one of TACC's computational resources such as Frontera, Stampede2, or Lonestar6. ACCESS PIs will be prompted automatically for the companion storage allocation as part of the proposal submission process and should include a justification of the storage needs in their proposal. UT and UT system PIs should also make a request and justify the storage requested when applying for a Ranch shared "Project" (non-user) allocation. The default allocation on Ranch for users is 2TB. To request a shared Ranch project space for your team’s use, please submit a TACC user portal ticket.

Intended Use

Ranch is fundamentally implemented using long-term tape storage and as such is designed for archiving data that is in a state wherein the data will not likely change, and will not likely need to be accessed very often. Obviously, Ranch is to be used only for work-related data. In addition, and most importantly, Ranch is not meant for active data and is never to be used as a replication solution for your /scratch directory. Ranch is also not suitable for system backups, due to the large number of small files that backups inevitably generate.

Ranch is a single-copy archival system. Ranch user data is neither backed up nor replicated. This means that Ranch contains only a single, active, instance of user data. While lost data due to tape damage or other system failure is rare, please keep this possibility in mind when formulating your data management plans. If you have irreplaceable data and would like a different level of service, let us know via the ticketing system, and we may be able to help you find a solution.

System Configuration

Ranch's primary disk storage system is a DDN SFA14K DCR (Declustered RAID) system which is managed by Quantum's StorNext file system. The raw capacity is approximately 30PB, of which 17PB is user-facing. File metadata is stored on a Quantum SSD-based appliance. The back-end tape library, to which files automatically migrate after they have been inactive (neither modified nor accessed) on disk for a period of time, is a Quantum Scalar i6000, with 24 LTO-8 tape drives. Each tape has an uncompressed capacity of approximately 12.5TB.

Previously, the Ranch system was based on Oracle's HSM software, with two SL8500 libraries, each with 20,000 tape slots. This Oracle system will remain as a legacy system while we migrate relevant data from Oracle HSM to the new Quantum environment.

System Access

Direct login via Secure Shell's ssh command to Ranch is allowed so you can create directories and manage files. The Ranch archive file systems cannot be mounted on any remote system.

stampede2$ ssh taccusername@ranch.tacc.utexas.edu

Ranch Environment Variables

The preferred way of accessing Ranch, especially from scripts, is by using the TACC-defined environment variables $ARCHIVER and $ARCHIVE. These variables, defined on all TACC resources, define the hostname of the current TACC archival system, $ARCHIVER, and each account's personal archival space, $ARCHIVE. These environment variables help ensure that scripts will continue to work, even if the underlying system configuration changes in the future.

Accessing Files from Within Running Programs

Ranch access is not allowed from within running jobs on other TACC resources. Data must be first explicitly transferred from Ranch to your compute resource in order to be available for running jobs.

Organizing Your Data

After over a decade of operation and servicing more than 60,000 user accounts, what has been revealed after running Ranch for so long, with so many users, is that limiting total file count, total file size, and possibly enforcing explicit data retention periods, are the keys to continued sustainable Ranch operation over the long-term.

When organizing your data keep in mind that reducing file count is at least as important as reducing file space. Ranch performs best manipulating large files and performance will suffer severely if Ranch is kept busy working against many small files rather than against a few large files.

For this reason, users must bundle up their small-file-filled directories into one or more single large files. This bundling is best done on the computational resource prior to migration of the data to Ranch.

The best way to bundle files is to use the UNIX tar or gtar commands to create single large files typically called "tarfiles". We include several examples below. Consult the tar or gtar man pages for detailed information on these commands.


From careful auditing of past performance (predominantly the total retrieval time for a given data set until completion), we strongly recommend an average file size within Ranch of between 300GB to 4TB.

Users should be using tar or gtar to achieve file sizes in this range before placing them in Ranch. Manipulating smaller files will detrimentally affect performance during both storage and retrieval. For example, retrieval time of a 120TB data set comprised of tar files of 300GB can be an order of magnitude faster, or more, than the retrieval of the same data stored in its original form as individual files of 1GB or less.

The new Quantum-based environment is designed to meet the demand of retrieving multi-TB to PB-sized data sets in hours or days, rather than in weeks, which is possible only when the data set is stored into files with an average file size set optimally as described above.

Ranch Quotas


File Count Quota: Users are limited to 50,000 files in their $HOME directories.
File Space Quota: Users are limited to 2 Terabytes (TB) of disk space in their $HOME directories.

You can display your current Ranch on-disk file space usage by executing the following UNIX command while the current directory is either the user or Project directory:

ranch$ du -sh

Keep in mind the above commands only display file space used, not a total file count. File count can be found using the UNIX find and wc commands, again while the current directory is either the user or Project directory:

ranch$ find . -type f | wc

It is your responsibility to keep the file count below the 50,000 quota by using the UNIX tar command or some other methodology to bundle files when necessary. Both the file space and file count quotas apply to all data copied from the Oracle archive and all new incoming data.

Monitor your Disk Usage and File Counts

Users can check their current and historical Ranch usage by looking at the contents of the HSM_usage file in their Ranch user directory. Note that this file contains quota, on-disk, and on-tape, usage information for the directory it is in and all those beneath it.

ranch$ tail ~/HSM_usage

This file is updated nightly as a convenience to the user. Each entry also shows the date and time of its update. Do not delete or edit this file. Note that the format of the file has changed over time, and may again as necessary, to provide better information and improved readability for users.

Ranch "Project" Storage

Ranch has implemented new "Project" storage which is a separate directory structure designed to support both shared and over-size data directories for users and/or projects for whom the fixed standard storage for each user of 2TB is inadequate, or in the case of shared storage, inappropriate. Submit a support ticket to request Project storage on Ranch. Note that each Project directory will also contain an HSM_usage file as described above.

Transferring Data

To maximize the efficiency of data archiving and retrieval for users, data should be transferred using as large a file as is feasible. See Organizing your Data above.

Ideally users should combine their data into large files in their source environment, TACC or otherwise, and transfer the data already in its final form into Ranch. If that is not possible, usually due to very large files (+5TB) files, then some technique should be used to create smaller files that transfer gracefully. This could be achieved merely by the judicious use of tar or gtar on the source system, a combination of tar/gtar and then split on the source system, or lastly, and least optimally, the transfer of the files, regardless of size, into Ranch, and then the immediate use of tar to create "tarfiles" sized as described above.

Manipulating Files within Ranch

Since Ranch is an archive system, any files which have not been accessed recently will be stored on tape. This is transparent to the user, as is, when necessary, the truncation of the file’s data to provide additional disk space. If a file has not yet been truncated, reading and manipulating the file will take place at speeds typical for the user-facing high performance disk array and file system wherein the file resides

However, for any file that is to be read or accessed that has been truncated, it must first be read, in its entirety, from tape. These retrievals from tape take time, from minutes to hours, and the time necessary is a normal aspect of file manipulation within Ranch. While these retrievals are transparent to the user, the user will notice that time lag during the access of the file or files. Again, the time lag, regardless of duration, is entirely normal.

Note that simply doing an ls -l to look at a file's attributes or an mv to rename the file will not provoke file retrieval from tape, as these are operations against the file’s metadata.

Data Transfer Methods

TACC supports two transfer mechanisms: scp (recommended) and rsync (avoid if at all possible).

Ranch also has two endpoints, one running Globus gridftp v5.4 software available for ACCESS (formerly XSEDE) users, and the endpoint running Grid Community Toolkit with CILogon authentication available to all. See Grid Community Toolkit at TACC for more information.

Secure Copy with scp Command

The simplest way to transfer files to and from Ranch is to use the Secure Shell scp command:

stampede2$ scp myfile ${ARCHIVER}:${ARCHIVE}/myfilepath

where myfile is the name of the file to copy and myfilepath is either the new name you want the file to have in Ranch, or is a directory into which you want to place myfile.

For large numbers of small files, we again strongly recommend you first employ the tar or gtar command to create an archive (tarfile) of files before transferring the data to Ranch. Then use scp to copy the tarfile(s) over to Ranch.

Alternatively, sometimes you can actually do this in one step as part of the transfer process as shown below:

To use tar, ssh, and cat to create a good tarfile in Ranch from a source directory on your compute resource, all in one command line:

stampede2$ tar cf - dirname/ | ssh ${ARCHIVER} "cat > ${ARCHIVE}/dirname.tar"

where dirname/ is the path to the directory you want to archive, and dirname.tar is the name of the tarfile to be created on Ranch.

To be very UNIX specific about what the command above is doing:

  • tar creates a stream of bytes in tar format of the directory "dirname/" (recursively) and writes that to its standard output.
  • The pipe (|) reads that stream of bytes and writes that stream to the ssh command which has started the cat command over on a Ranch login node.
  • The cat command reads its standard input, which is the stream of tar formatted bytes, and then redirects that stream of bytes to its standard output via the > symbol creating or overwriting the file dirname.tar.
  • When the tar command is complete and exits, the stream of bytes will stop, and cat will gracefully close the file dirname.tar, ssh will exit, and you will be returned to the command line on stampede2.

And in one simple command line, you have created a single tar file, dirname.tar, containing the entire data structure of the directory dirname/ over on Ranch, and ideally that tarfile is quite large as per the recommendations above.

Note that when transferring to Ranch, any destination directory specified must already exist. If not, scp will respond with:

No such file or directory

The following command-line examples also demonstrate how to transfer files to and from Ranch using scp, and renaming in the process:

  • Copy a tarfile from Stampede2 to Ranch:

    stampede2$ scp data_2020.tar ${ARCHIVER}:${ARCHIVE}/final_2020.tar
  • Copy a tarfile from Ranch to my computer, retaining the file modification time

    stampede2$ scp -p ${ARCHIVER}:${ARCHIVE}/final_data_2017.tar ./ranch_data_2017.tar

Remote Sync with rsync command

Please read carefully: The UNIX rsync command is a powerful command to both transfer data as well as keep identical copies of data in separate locations in sync. However, it MUST be used very carefully in any archive environment.

The rsync utility has several methods for checking to see if file data transfer and update is necessary during a synchronization of files. THE ONLY APPROPRIATE METHOD for use in any archive environment is the use of "last modification date" and the size of the file. ANY sort of checksumming of existing data file(s) in Ranch may provoke their complete file transfer from tape if they have been truncated and thus no longer entirely on disk. Needless retrieval of files off tape only to checksum them and discover they still are identical is a massive waste of resources, and puts that data at risk as it causes unnecessary reading of tape.

In addition, the retrieval of large amounts of data off tape simply to add "one more file" into a data structure, or into a tarfile, is also a massive waste of resources and puts more data at risk, a risk that also grows larger every time it is invoked.

Therefore, TACC Staff highly recommends to NOT use rsync for ANY kind of data synchronization with the Ranch archive system.

Using rsync, without synchronization, continues to be a viable method of transferring data into and out of Ranch.

Large Data Usage and Transfers

If you are moving a very large amount of data into Ranch and you encounter a quota limit error, then you are bumping into one of the limits on the amount of data you can have on Ranch's user-facing file systems. These quotas limit both file count as well as total file size. However, it is expected that these limits should only affect a small number of users. Again, the file "HSM_usage" at the top level of both users’ and Projects’ directories is updated nightly and should be consulted to see current usage with Ranch. If you encounter a quota error, please submit a ticket to the TACC user portal, and we will see what remediation may be possible.

Again, use the du -sh . and find . -type f | wc commands to see how much data and how many files you currently have on the disk or directory at that moment.


  1. Archive a large directory with tar, send the tar data stream to Ranch, splitting it into optimally sized tarfiles upon its arrival on the Ranch node:

    stampede2$ tar cf - directory/ | ssh ranch.tacc.utexas.edu \
        'split -b 300G - files.tar.'

    Ideally, you would create, then split large, output files, or tar files, on the Stampede2 side, then move them to Ranch. Large files, of more than a few TB in size, should be split into chunks, ideally between 300GB and 2TB in size.

  2. Use the split command on Stampede2 to accomplish this:

    stampede2$ split -b 300G bigfile.tar bigfile_tar_part_

    The above example will create several 300GB files, with the filenames: bigfile_tar_part_aa, bigfile_tar_part_ab, bigfile_tar_part_ac, etc.

  3. Then use scp to copy the files into Ranch:

    stampede2$ scp -p bigfile_tar_part_* ${ARCHIVER}:${ARCHIVE}/
  4. After ensuring that you are satisfied with the transfer, and the viability of the data over on Ranch, the split parts of the original data could then be carefully deleted on stampede2

    The split parts of a file can be always be joined together again with the cat command. See the split man page for more options.

    stampede2$ cat bigfile_tar_part_?? > bigfile.tar
  5. A subsequent tar tvf bigfile.tar should be used immediately to ensure bigfile.tar contains all the data you expect, and tar generates no errors.

    Or, if you don’t want to wait to actually create bigfile.tar, you just want to validate your data, just throw the stream of bytes from the cat at tar, and you’ll achieve the same result without actually putting anything new on disk:

    stampede2$ cat bigfile_tar_part_?? | tar tvf -
  6. If you like what you see, and tar returns no errors, you will have validated you have good data after having split it into manageable pieces.

Good Conduct on Ranch

  • Limit scp, ssh, rsync processes to no more than two processes.
  • Follow the guidelines for archiving data - file size, file count, transfer method
  • Store only data that was processed, or generated, on appropriate systems
  • Carefully delete all unneeded data off of Ranch whenever possible
  • Ideally store data that in its final form, such that it will be accessed only when truly necessary
  • No workstation or other system backups

Help Desk

TACC Consulting operates from 8am to 5pm CST, Monday through Friday, except for holidays. You can submit a help desk ticket at any time via the TACC User Portal with "Ranch" in the Resource field. Help the consulting staff help you by following these best practices when submitting tickets.

  • Do your homework before submitting a help desk ticket. What does the user guide and other documentation say? Search the internet for key phrases in your error logs; that's probably what the consultants answering your ticket are going to do. What have you changed since the last time your job succeeded?

  • Describe your issue as precisely and completely as you can: what you did, what happened, verbatim error messages, other meaningful output. When appropriate, include the information a consultant would need to find your artifacts and understand your workflow: e.g. the directory containing your build and/or job script; the modules you were using; relevant job numbers; and recent changes in your workflow that could affect or explain the behavior you're observing.

  • Subscribe to Ranch User News. This is the best way to keep abreast of maintenance schedules, system outages, and other general interest items.

  • Have realistic expectations. Consultants can address system issues and answer questions about Ranch. But they can't teach parallel programming in a ticket, and may know nothing about the package you downloaded. They may offer general advice that will help you build, debug, optimize, or modify your code, but you shouldn't expect them to do these things for you.

  • Be patient. It may take a business day for a consultant to get back to you, especially if your issue is complex. It might take an exchange or two before you and the consultant are on the same page. If the admins disable your account, it's not punitive. When the file system is in danger of crashing, or a login node hangs, they don't have time to notify you before taking action.