National Weather Service (NOAA) puts Legacy Data On the web Using OpenInsight

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Sprezzatura and The Unites States National Weather Service

"There's an old joke about a Revelation database having a half-life of plutonium," says Andrew McAuley, President of The Sprezzatura Group, one of the world's leading Revelation System Integrators. "Of course, that's actually a compliment. When you've made a major investment in a database application and your entire operation has come to depend on it, then naturally, people want to stick with it. That's why many of our clients are still using DOS applications we helped them build using Revelation as far back as ten or even fifteen years ago."

But what about when you need to take that ol' tried and true DOS application, put it up on the Web and open it up to the wide world of Windows? Time to scrap it and start all over? No way! With Revelation's OpenInsight, those beloved legacy applications are reborn with full Web and Windows functionality.

Sprezzatura – Making Databases Happen
Internationally recognized as leading Revelation Software experts, the Sprezzatura Group has worked with hundreds of businesses and large-scale enterprises to develop database solutions and guide them onto the Web with OpenInsight. And true to their name, they always make it look easy. (Sprezzatura is an old Italian term describing the art of completing difficult actions with a nonchalance that belies the difficulty.) Sprezzatura's history goes all the way back to 1983, when dinosaurs roamed the Silicon Valley and the first Revelation product was introduced. Based in London, Sprezzatura has grown to become an international service with offices in Australia and the United States.

To appreciate the value of Sprezzatura's expertise, and to understand why Revelation is their chosen platform, consider the case of one of their major clients, the U.S. National Weather Service.

NWS: From Sneaker-Net to the Web
Everyone makes small talk about the weather, but there's nothing small about the work of the National Weather Service (NWS). As the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States, NWS is a critical resource for decision-makers in agriculture, transportation, power, construction and other industries. And when you're talking about accurately forecasting hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, you're talking about matters of life and death. 

NWS uses sophisticated radar systems, satellites, computer models, and high-speed communication networks to carry out it's mission. Keeping it all running are 4,800 employees working from 156 field offices and over 200 support offices, powered by a budget of nearly $750 million per year. Planning and managing those hard-earned taxpayer dollars is a huge job in itself – and that's where Sprezzatura and Revelation come in.

Back in 1988, NWS undertook a multi-billion dollar modernization program that introduced new technologies and reorganized field offices. “Implementing the changes they were attempting required intensive budget planning,” McAuley explained. "Plus, they had to bring in new staff to handle the new technology. With people and equipment spread out in hundreds of offices and stations around the country, building a detailed budget from the bottom up was a real challenge.” 

To do it right, NWS needed a dynamic budgeting application that would let them enter all the costs for upgrading a weather forecast office, and then easily recalculate everything and keep it all in sync as the inevitable changes occurred on the project. They tried to do it with a spreadsheet at first, but quickly exceeded its capacity.

NWS decided to create their own budget database application, and they chose to build it with Advanced Revelation (AREV), the award-winning development environment for DOS. The main attraction was AREV's MultiValue architecture. McAuley points out that "MultiValue architecture lends itself very nicely to budget applications. You can easily put together all of the data you need, and then just as easily generate any kind of report you want. And of course, it's very flexible and easy to change. " 

Back in early days, NWS relied on a "sneaker-net" system to shuttle disks back and forth between regional offices and headquarters. By 1997, their budget application proved so successful that management wanted to expand its use beyond the modernization program to encompass the entire NWS budgeting process. Sneaker-net wasn't going to cut it anymore, so the time had come to put the application up on the Web.

But can you get a legacy application with a DOS database to integrate with Windows? You can if you're using Revelation Software!

Sprezzatura and Revelation Make It Easy
NWS contracted Sprezzatura to help them move onto the Web. "NWS did something smart," Andrew McAuley remembers. "They said, 'Our database does exactly what we need it to do, and our staff is quite happy using our familiar DOS application. So don't rewrite it in Oracle or anything else. Just use it as is, and move it incrementally towards Windows and the Web.' You can do that with Revelation.”

"One of the things that sets Revelation apart as a database is that the file structures employed by the DOS package are identical to the file structures employed by the Windows package," McAuley explained. "This means that while some people are still using the DOS based system, the new users are on the Windows based system – but they're all using the same data. It's not like we're duplicating or data warehousing it. They're actually taking the same data and using it at the same time. Traditionally, the big problem with these legacy-based apps is you say 'OK, we're going to rewrite this for you in Windows, and we're going to come back in and cut off the DOS based system.' But with Revelation, the DOS and the Windows version share data. I think that was the attraction for NWS – that they could incrementally move forward towards Windows, instead of having to do everything in one fell swoop."

Flexibility is another key benefit of a Revelation database. "It's a dynamic database," says McAuley, "and it can be dynamically added to or subtracted from as you're using it live. So when we worked on the web enablement for NWS, if we needed to update the application by adding extra fields or columns into the database structure, we could just keep using the system as we were developing on top of it. That meant there was no down time or complicated database maintenance. It just continued working as we added to it – and that always makes the client happy."

Sprezzatura and Revelation have been keeping clients happy for over 20 years. And with flexible solutions like OpenInsight, they'll keep them happy for many more years to come.

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