IBM AlphaWorks to host weather forecasting apps

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of its alphaWorks Web site for experimental technologies, IBM on Monday will begin hosting projects including a precision weather-forecasting application and two offerings for developers.

Being offered via a new effort called alphaWorks Services, the projects stray from the previous format in which users have been able to download prototype technologies. This time around, IBM is offering what amounts to hosted online applications, Chris Spencer, emerging technology strategist at IBM alphaWorks, said. The alphaWorks Services platform leverages the software-as-a-service delivery model, IBM said.

One project, Deep Thunder, provides high-resolution, localized weather forecasts for businesses, down to the hour and specific square mile. "We actually have two meteorologists who are on staff and this [effort] is out of IBM Research, Spencer said.

With Deep Thunder, a business could learn if snow is falling in an area or what the weather is like at a manufacturing center. Or, a transportation department could find out which streets need plowing.

Although Deep Thunder sounds suspiciously like an application rather than middleware, a development tool, or a platform, Spencer would not characterize it as an application. IBM says it isn't in the applications business.

"What we're offering here is a prototype of an idea," Spencer said. "I would not say this is an application."

An IBM representative later described Deep Thunder as a demo. An industry analyst agreed with IBM's assessment that Deep Thunder does not move Big Blue into the application business.

"I think of Deep Thunder more as a great demonstration of both making the results of a high computational problem available -- most of us don't have that much computing power available -- and then using mashup-type technology to interface it to a Web-based application," said Amy Wohl, editor of the Amy Wohl's Opinions newsletter, in an e-mail response to question. "I don't think IBM is going into the weather forecasting business but you have to use some application to show how this sort of thing works.

"I'm fairly sure that IBM intends to stay in the middleware and infrastructure part of the software business and leave the applications to their partners," Wohl said.

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