NOAA's no-cost plan to get more data into the cloud

The Commerce Department is one giant step closer its goal of unleashing its vast stores of environmental data to the public and further boosting the data-driven economy.  That expanded access, however, is likely to come with a price tag attached -- not for the agency, but rather for the data's end users.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced a big data project to bring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's vast datasets to the cloud and make them broadly available. In partnership with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM, Microsoft and the Open Cloud Consortium, NOAA will work to more effectively distribute its data to create new and innovative products and services.

This collaboration combines powerful resources –  NOAA’s volume of high-quality environmental data and advanced data products, and private industry’s infrastructure  – to create a sustainable, market-driven ecosystem that lowers the cost barrier to data publication, NOAA said.

NOAA gathers over 20 terabytes of environmental data every day from a wide variety of sources, including Doppler radar systems, weather satellites, buoy networks and stations, tide gauges, real-time weather stations, as well as ships and aircraft. However, right now only a small percentage of this valuable data is easily accessible to the public. The demand has increased, the agency said, making it imperative to find ways to effectively and efficiently distribute this data to decision makers and industries.

Accordingly, last year NOAA issued a request for information asking for suggestions on ways for NOAA to more effectively distribute its data. This process led the agency to sign Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, or CRADAs, with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM, Microsoft and Open Cloud Consortium.

“As America’s Data Agency, we are excited about these collaborations and the opportunities they present to drive economic growth and business innovation,” said Secretary Pritzker. “

According to a 2013 McKinsey Global Institute Report, open data could add more than $3 trillion in total value annually to the education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare, and consumer finance sectors worldwide. If more of this data could be efficiently released, the Commerce Department said, organizations will be able to develop new and innovative products and services to help better understand the planet and keep communities resilient from extreme events.

NOAA has been talking to industry since at least 2013 about ways to make more data available without incurring additional costs for the agency.  On the new project's web site, a frequently asked questions page states that the industry partners "are tasked with distributing the original data content, and may recover their costs for that distribution. They may decide to provide multiple data access and distribution methods, which could vary in terms of throughput, latency, connection type, or other parameters, and these different access methods could potentially result in different levels of cost for different offerings." 

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