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NOAA Speeds Access to Vital Data

The Problem

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had an abundance of satellite data that government and commercial organizations could use to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, but it was scattered across multiple offices.

With end users like the National Weather Service relying on the data it provides to accurately forecast life-impacting storms, heat and cold, the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) must ensure accuracy and availability — and accessibility.

“We need to make sure that our data is provided at low latency with a high level of quality to them and then out to the public as well,”said Kathryn Shontz, Deputy Director of the Satellite and Information Service’s Office of Ground Services within NOAA. “We do this through all of the offices across NESDIS.”

The catch there is that they do this through all the offices across NESDIS. That means that when end users need data, they have to get it from multiple sources. This takes time to aggregate, and it means each NESDIS office is managing its own system and data.

“Maybe you want something from the operational side, but you also want something that’s an innovative thing that the National Centers for Environmental Information is putting out,” Shontz said. “You have to know where to search, you have to know the type of data, and you have to be understanding of exactly the kind of data you want.”

Shontz and her team began exploring ways to provide a one-stop shop that would facilitate end users’ missions but also NOAA’s. Cloud was in the forecast.

Solution: Consolidation in the Cloud

The NESDIS Common Cloud Framework (NCCF) takes an enterprise approach to cloud adoption and uses an iterative development approach to piloting projects before operationalizing them.

“To take advantage of cloud’s scalability and flexibility, you need agile processes to underpin it,” Shontz said. To that end, they’re “bringing the pieces and associated workflows into the cloud and managing that migration from on-premises systems while building out new capability.”

The first service to be operationalized in the cloud was the ingestion of data, followed by routine production of satellite data products. “That basically means we are taking raw data and processing it to those pictures that you can download and making it available through our normal, on- premises route,” she said.

In other words, all end users know is they’re getting high- quality data or products, whether they were produced on-prem or in the cloud. “That’s the level of transparency and clarity that we want to have,” Shontz said.

Next on the operationalization list is an archive service by the end of this fiscal year and a science sandbox within the next three years.

The first NESDIS ground system to transition to the cloud was the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), NOAA’s premier weather, climate and oceanic observing system, the agency announced in March 2021. Previously, raw data that the satellites collected and received was consolidated at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Maryland. Now, it’s processed in the Amazon Web Services GovCloud, a transition that has reduced the JPSS hardware footprint at the facility and at NOAA’s Consolidated Back-Up facility in West Virginia by 40%.

Currently, Shontz’s team is migrating legacy on-prem systems into NCCF with a similar plan to shut some of those off later to realize similar benefits, she said.

“By bringing us to a common cloud, we can do more in a common environment than just having access to the data and then being able to provide things faster to our users, be they the public or the Weather Service, because we have a much more agile process,” Shontz said. “We don’t have to go buy new hardware. We can scale up to a new a product and meet their needs.”

This article appears in our guide, “Why Cloud Matters to You: A Reality Check.” To learn more about why cloud isn’t just the bailiwick of IT anymore, download the guide.

Photo by Magda Ehlers at pexels.com

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