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By Network World Staff, Network World
July 26, 2004 12:10 AM ET

The weathermen's WAN man

Jerry Janssen's role as a network guru for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration makes for sunny, technology-filled days.

Network World -

Every day is the stuff of Hollywood dramatizations for Jerry Janssen, network manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo.

The movie "Twister"? That was about the work of NOAA scientists. Global-warming statistics? They're from NOAA. Your seven-day weather forecast? Chances are it comes from NOAA's National Weather Service or from NOAA-created weather forecasting equipment. The folks at this federal agency issue tornado, thunderstorm and hurricane warnings, monitor carbon dioxide levels, manage fisheries, collect solar flare data - and the list goes on. If something affects the air or water, NOAA is gathering data on it, and the scientists in Boulder are inventing even better ways to do so.

"At the end of your life, if you've spent your career at NOAA, you can feel good about what you've done," says Janssen, 41, about the organization where he has worked for 20 years. "We save lives."

The science all around Janssen is one of the great joys of his job - which is to build and maintain a state-of-the-art network that can support everything from the squadron of satellites on the roof to a first-of-its-kind sphere projection system in the basement. (Not to mention the 2,100-node Beowulf Linux-cluster supercomputer on the fourth floor.)

A walk through the 5-year-old, pink, curved, stone building (a 37,200-square-foot showpiece among NOAA's 400 nationwide sites), feels like a trip through a world-class school. Windows frame the majestic Flatirons to the west, while high-tech visual displays dot the interior hallways. These illustrate wind movements, carbon monoxide readings, aircraft outfitted with NOAA instruments and more.

The hallways lead to rooms with more amazing devices. Science on a Sphere is the world's first to-scale globe projection system. It uses a sphere-shaped projection screen, four synchronized projectors, custom software and data gathered from NOAA, NASA and other federal departments to model Earth's climate in its natural shape. It can display canned loops (the devastating effects of global warming, for instance) or tap into the network to present live datastreams.

Upstairs in the Forecast Systems Lab, National Weather Service meteorologists gather for daily weather-forecasting sessions. Using homegrown software, a cluster of PCs functioning as a mini-computer, the calculation power of their Beowulf supercomputer and a movie-screen projection system, the meteorologists slice and dice thousands of bits of weather-related information received in real time from monitoring devices located worldwide.

All of this depends on the Boulder Network Operations Center (NOC), which operates under the watchful eyes of Janssen and his three-member team. The Boulder NOC provides the backbone and WAN connections for the organizations on campus: eight NOAA research labs, two NOAA data centers, a National Weather Service Forecast office, the Boulder laboratories for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and various other U.S. Department of Commerce offices. (NOAA and NIST are Commerce agencies.)

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