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When storms hit, the Weather Company needs the cloud

Sharon Gaudin | Oct. 20, 2015
The company behind the Weather Channel saves money and scales with the cloud.

If Amazon had a major outage, the Weather Company's traffic would automatically shift to Softlayer. If Softlayer goes down, its work would shift to AWS.

"We don't force traffic in one direction," said Williams. "It's all automated where traffic should go based on rules and logic."

For instance, when a big storm, like Hurricane Joaquin, which battered the Carolinas earlier this month, is coming, the Weather Company might contact AWS and Softlayer and warn them that they likely will have to deal with some scaling of their systems.

"That's about it, and then we get ready to watch the performance of all the systems," Williams said.

Robert Mahowald, an analyst with IDC, said that's a solid plan when uptime is critical for a company. "In the non-cloud world, we've talked about strategic safety -- not putting all your eggs in one basket," he added. "If uptime is super important, you put a mirror image on two different providers so you're protected if something goes down."

The Weather Company had already begun its move to the cloud when Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012.

According to Williams, without the cloud, the Weather Company would have struggled to handle the bombardment of web traffic it received.

master control weather company
The Weather Company, parent company of the Weather Channel, is using the cloud to meet the heavy demands on its systems when major storms occur, boosting traffic. Credit: The Weather Company

"We would have made it through Sandy," said Williams. "We would have had to downgrade the site to more static and limited content, and disable a lot of the other site features. We would have changed our normal day-to-day communications to something smaller but able to serve that scale.

"We would have not been able to have as valuable a conversation with our users," he added. "We would not have been able to give them the insights and the valuable information they needed."

Cloud obstacles

While migrating to the cloud has offered many benefits for the Weather Company, it hasn't always been easy. One obstacle was a change in the tech culture.

The company has about 400 tech workers, and all of them had to update their skills and take on new jobs.

When a company moves to the cloud, IT workers who had been storage specialists, for example, have to update their skills and move to new roles because the cloud service takes over the storage work. Suddenly, workers have to be retrained to handle DevOps, mobility, big data and automation.

That's not an easy change, and the company had to address resistance and unhappiness among some of the staff.


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