Open Source Servers Brighten Weather Channel's Outlook

All-weather cable network reduces server count and deploys apps more quickly.

September 7, 2004

3 Min Read
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In recent days, the Weather Channel has not been busier. The hurricane season has hit hard, and that's meant going into overdrive at the all-weather cable channel. Thanks to open source's delivery of huge cost savings, easy management and simplified deployment, the Weather Channel forecasts clear skies ahead for its IT infrastructure.

"Our decision to go to open source was based mainly on the issue of operating costs," said Kevin Gungiah, director of systems administration at Weather Channel, Atlanta. "We had high operating costs on the RISC-based system and we wanted to be able to scale our environment without being locked into a particular vendor's system. We will obtain an actual savings of $200,000 per year over the next three years in hardware maintenance costs."

The Weather Channel, which is the only national all-weather cable network, provides 24-hour-a-day weather coverage to more than 87 million homes in the United States.

In this first phase, which it began in October 2003, the company replaced its proprietary RISC-based platforms with Intel Itanium 2 processor-based HP Integrity servers. The Weather Channel considered several vendors, but chose Hewlett Packard in light of its strong commitment to the Itanium technology, Gungiah said.

"HP showed us that they had a strong commitment to Itanium, since they had released a range of Itanium products, from two-way to eight-way configurations, as well as Superdome," he said. "That gave us sense of the direction that HP was going, compared to other vendors that were testing the waters with a single two-way box."In its new configuration, the Weather Channel is using 17 two-way HP Integrity rx2600 servers and two four-way HP Integrity rx5670 servers running RedHat Enterprise Linux 2.1 and 3.0 and Oracle 9i Real Application Clusters.

These servers run mainly backend applications, including corporate databases, transportation logistics, budgeting software, supply chain management, Web systems, asset management, and a file and print system. The corporate databases support customer applications such as WeatherFacts, which currently provides local forecasts to 15,000 hotels and other outlets nationwide, and Weatherscan, a 24-hour all-local weather information network that today services 8 million TV subscribers.

So far, the company's predictions about the savings have been right on track: physical server count has been reduced by 48 percent while server utilization has gone up by more than 50 percent, according to the Weather Channel. "By moving to a commodity-based architecture, we scaled down the number of CPUs from 138 RISC-based processors to 42 Itanium 2 processors for a significant soft dollar savings for software licensing costs," said Gungiah. "This model also allows for us to plan for more cost-effective disaster recovery since we have fewer points of failure."

The company also realizes further savings since fewer servers also reduce its facility usage. In addition, IT staff now are able to deploy applications on the servers in two hours rather than two days. As a result, The Weather Channel also cut its three-year maintenance contract costs to one-tenth of the costs associated with RISC-based servers, the company said. The company estimates the new servers give them double the performance at an overall solution cost that is about 75 percent less.

In the coming months, the Weather Channel plans a second phase of its data-consolidation initiative and intends to migrate the databases used for core weather forecasting from RISC processors to Itanium 2 processor-based servers. "It is our intention to move our core Weather Channel products over to Linux, although they may require some rewriting," said Gungiah.Its technology forecast on-target, The Weather Channel predicts sunny skies on its horizon as it heads into the open source horizon. "We produce 13 [million] to 17 million forecasts per day and we were initially apprehensive about putting Linux in that sort of enterprise environment. However, the ease of this first phase has solidified our direction, and I am committed to having us totally on Linux by 2005."

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