NWS creates systems bridge

The network makes the
weather data available to multiple PCs simultaneously.

Delays in the Commerce Department’s long-planned, $520 million
Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System presented a National Weather Service field
forecast office with an operating system quandary in 1995.

The field office in Wichita, Kan., needed a multitasking operating system that could
run MS-DOS applications linked via PC serial ports to minicomputers hosting the Automation
of Field Operations and Services (AFOS) communication and display system, said Paul
Howerton, lead meteorologist.

The operating system had to bridge between AWIPS and the older AFOS, Howerton said.
AFOS was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agency’s main vehicle
for exchanging forecast charts and alphanumeric data with NWS field offices.

Howerton and his colleagues had found it difficult to make Microsoft Windows for
Workgroups 3.11 work for them. They were doubtful about the multitasking capacity and
stability of Windows 95, which Microsoft Corp. had not then released.

Following the lead of NWS’ Western region, the Wichita office decided to install
IBM OS/2 Warp 3.0 on eight PCs. Former Western region employee Matt Strahan, who now works
in the Southern region, helped with configuration, Howerton said.

“Before, we used PCs for standalone word processing and Lotus cc:Mail,”
Howerton said. He called it a giant step forward to link the PCs under OS/2 on a LAN
running Novell NetWare 3.12.

AFOS minicomputer features were replicated and improved at little cost, and the Wichita
users needed only minimal training. Noelle Runyan, a meteorologist, helped with database
configuration, Howerton said.

Until a year ago, the Wichita users had 33- and 66-MHz 486 PCs with 16M of RAM. Now the
systems are 133- and 166-MHz Pentiums with 32M or 64M of RAM. NWS’ Central region
also migrated its networks to Windows NT Server on Gateway Inc. servers.

Overall performance declined after the migration to NT Server 3.51 and later to NT 4.0,
according to NWS’ Web site at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ict/lan/lantoc.htm.

But the network makes the weather data available to multiple PCs simultaneously,
eliminating the need to schedule AFOS data requests individually over asynchronous

Twelve administrative PCs run Win95.

NWS replicates the weather data from one NT 4.0 server with multiple SCSI drives to a
second one, using NT’s directory replication service, according to NWS’ Web

The first system dials out to nearby NWS offices for additional weather data over a
dedicated telephone line, Howerton said. The second system acts as a backup and monitors
NWS’ forecasts, model outputs, graphics and warnings.

A third server, running OS/2 Warp Connect 3.0, copies the directory file structure from
the servers running NT. It also shares resources, such as names and directory permissions,
through OS/2 peer-to-peer services. It notifies the PC clients when the network goes down,
Howerton said.

The Wichita office defragments the server drives each week, using Diskeeper Lite
freeware. It has tried to tweak better performance out of NT by adding a page file to all
drives, changing cache settings and making equal foreground and background execution a

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