Weather on SGI's 'big data' horizon

Because Silicon Graphics Inc.'s federal business includes products ranging from workstations to servers to supercomputers, "big data" is its realm—and weather is in its forecast, according to the company's leader.

"We are supplying and totally focused on the big data markets, storing and using vast amounts of data in real-time," said Bob Bishop, SGI's chief executive officer. "That's our world: big data. And ultimately we can visualize that data ourselves, including engineering, scientific and analytical applications."

SGI has been active in supercomputing applications related to weather monitoring and prediction in agencies. Recent initiatives include:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., is installing SGI Origin 3000 systems to concentrate on the modeling of hurricanes and other large-scale weather phenomena. NASA's Ames Research Center is using a 512-processor SGI Origin 2800 system called Lomax, which has helped Ames technology research in areas such as computational fluid dynamics, global climate modeling and computational astrobiology. The Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey, Calif., has installed a 128-processor SGI Origin 3000 series system, with a 512-processor machine to follow later this year. The center is the Defense Department's primary supercomputer processing center for weather and ocean prediction. The Federal Aviation Administration has purchased more than 100 SGI Origin 200 servers as part of a modernization program designed to upgrade terminal Doppler weather radar systems at major airports across the country. "Weather has been a strong focal point across government agencies since the annual [gross domestic product] fluctuates based on the weather," Bishop said. "So they want to model the weather better and bring together systems to share knowledge between different centers."

Bishop said SGI has stayed competitive in the workstation market by incorporating the Linux and Microsoft Corp.'s operating environments into its IRIX-based machines.

In supercomputing, SGI has had a long-standing relationship with the Energy Department, but Bishop is skeptical about the department's recent move to high-powered clusters.

"Only time will tell about clustering because it puts a lot of stress on the software," he said. "It's low-cost, but high-risk."

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