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Opteron servers handle growth of Weather.com

By , Network World
May 03, 2004 12:01 AM ET

Network World - Traffic to Weather.com, the Internet arm of cable television's The Weather Channel, has been snowballing, as the company's management continues to push for more robust and customized services.

Those facts are keeping Dan Agronow, the Web site's vice president of technology, on his toes as he searches for the best infrastructure to support the content, without breaking the bank.

It's Agronow's never-ending quest for "the best price-performance" that led him to be one of the first IT executives to deploy 32-/64-bit Opteron servers to run a database application. Advanced Micro Device's (AMD) multi-platform chip has been quick to take off in the year since it was introduced, but in most cases servers based on the microprocessor have made their way into high-performance computing deployments, not into corporate data centers, IDC researchers say.

According to IDC, the number of Opteron servers shipped last year doubled each quarter, with some 35,000 Opteron-based systems shipping in 2003 after AMD introduced the chip on April 22. Still, that represents a small fraction of the x86 market, which Intel dominates.

While Opteron is now being targeted at high-end computing, analysts note that when IBM became the first major systems vendor to roll out an Opteron-based server last summer - since then HP and Sun also have introduced Opteron systems - it targeted the box at the same market. It's those IBM eServer 325 systems that Atlanta's weather.com now is using to run its Oracle 8i database.

The Opteron servers give the Web site the capacity it needs to deliver increasingly customized information, as well as handle spikes during severe weather events. The site averages 18 million unique visitors per month, but during a winter storm in January, for example, about 7 million unique visitors accessed the site in one day. In the past few months, the number of visitors has been higher than normal, with about 25 million visitors in March.

Weather.com continues to roll out customized services, meaning more database queries. In April, for example, it began offering customized home pages so that visitors could view weather for up to 10 cities and for specific dates when they log on to the Web site.

"It's important for us to make sure we have the capacity to deliver all of the relevant information and not just when there is a severe weather event," Agronow says. "We want to make sure that everyone can get their weather any time."

He concedes that he was a bit cautious before deciding to put the eServer 325 systems into production earlier this year because it was a new platform from AMD, which is not typically considered an enterprise server chip maker.

"At that time we wanted to test a variety of platforms from different vendors and to us it's important that we can see it in production. IBM let us have [an Opteron] unit that we actually put in production so we could do an apples-to-apples comparison," Agronow says.

He liked what he saw.

"Here was a two-way [Opteron server], and it performed at about 25% higher capacity than the four-way IBM [Intel Pentium III Xeon]," Agronow says. "There's a significant price difference between a four-way and a dual CPU server."

He wouldn't be specific about savings.

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