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Enterprise All-Stars: Honoring 50 companies and their groundbreaking network projects

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Companies in this segment span a variety of vertical markets, such as media and energy. Like the other winners, these six companies demonstrate how cutting-edge technology is altering business. A new data warehouse or converged network is not only a faster way to accomplish a task but offers the means for new and better business processes.

By , Network World
November 21, 2005 12:05 AM ET
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The Weather Underground | | Intellidyn | Reliant Energy | The Weather Channel | United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast

Besting the storm

Weather Underground uses Linux clusters and low-cost bandwidth to keep from being pelted by traffic storms.

Network World - For storm chasers, the excitement is in facing Mother Nature's wrath and coming out unscathed. The paradigm is similar for the IT team at Weather Underground, a Web-based weather service that experiences internal storms whenever bad conditions hit. For example, the number of page views on Weather Underground topped more than 14 million - triple the average - on Aug. 29, the day Katrina hit New Orleans. With users requesting animated radar maps that can be as large as 800K bytes, bandwidth requirements surged to more than five times the average, says Chris Schwerzler, IT operations manager at the San Francisco company.

To survive such traffic storms, the IT team devised a flexible infrastructure that can scale easily and deliver cost-effective bandwidth-intensive data as needed. Computing clusters built out of low-end, Intel-based servers running Linux give the Weather Underground processing oomph, while connectivity from Cogent provides big bandwidth at reasonable cost. Without this infrastructure, Weather Underground would not be able to deliver high-quality weather content and still be profitable, Schwerzler says.

"It would be hard to advertise and break even for the cost of the bandwidth," he says.

Weather Underground's efforts to create an inexpensive, scalable infrastructure to deliver weather data via the Web began in early 2000, coincident with a National Weather Service (NWS) policy change. Rather than restrict availability of that information to a few companies through private contracts, the NWS made the data widely accessible. "There was suddenly the availability of a lot of interesting radar data, and it was our project to develop an infrastructure that could scale and bring that data to a large number of end users," Schwerzler says.

With this 2005 Enterprise All-Star Award, Weather Underground earns recognition for creatively using network technology to capitalize on a new business opportunity.

From the sky to the Web

To take advantage of the newly available weather data, Weather Underground installed a large satellite dish at its headquarters in San Francisco. The dish receives weather data retransmitted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 144 NWS field offices. It uses the Digital Video Broadcast-Satellite standard to convert the satellite data into packets, which travel via fiber to the Linux clusters running in the company's data center, also in San Francisco. Weather Underground uses the User Datagram Protocol to broadcast the data to what Schwerzler calls radar servers.

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