AWIPS proceeds with workstation upgrades

About half of the 137 sites in the National Weather Service's severe-storm prediction system now have new workstations that run Linux.

The workstation replacement is part of a major upgrade to the weather service's ability to provide warnings of sudden storms and flash floods. Chuck Piercy, the bureau's program manager for the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, said that he expects the deployment to be done by the end of January.

The AWIPS project is one of the first mission-critical government applications to run on the open-source platform (Click for July 28 GCN story).

The weather service and its contractor for the $3.3 million AWIPS upgrade, GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va., are replacing single-processor Hewlett-Packard Co. workstations with two-way IBM IntelliStation M Pro and Z Pro desktop computers.

NWS forecasters evaluate the atmospheric models from the bureau's huge supercomputers and compare them to data from Doppler radar, satellite images and ground observations. The human workers decide, often on short notice, whether to issue severe-weather advisories, watches and warnings.

The previous systems contained Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC processors with clock speeds ranging from 100 to 120 MHz. Although those specifications aren't directly comparable to the 2.4-GHz clock speeds of the dual Intel Pentium 4 Xeon processors, the new workstations, which have 2G of RAM each, run the various AWIPS applications noticeably faster than their predecessors, Piercy said.

For instance, one AWIPS app that used to take more than 60 seconds to start up now loads in 18 seconds, he said.

Each IBM workstation connects three 19-inch flat-panel graphics monitors and one CRT monitor for commands and text, Piercy said.

Because the forecasters often work in fairly stressful situations, 'having these flicker-free monitors has been a great improvement in terms of eyestrain and general comfort,' he said.

'Seconds are very important to us,' said Brandon Bolinski, a forecaster in the weather service's Tallahassee, Fla., office.

The new workstations will 'really help us keep on top of these severe-weather outbreaks,' Bolinski said.

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