Cloud transformation and weather prediction with IBM

By William Smith
Cameron Clayton, General Manager, IBM Cloud Ecosystem and Weather, tells us about his work at the company from cloud paks to predicting rain clouds...

Cloud transformation and weather forecasting may at first seem linked purely by vocabulary. IBM’s Cameron Clayton, however, demonstrates they may be closer than they first appear. “I'm the general manager of IBM's cloud ecosystem, so I support our global partners, helping them access the best IBM public cloud and Red Hat OpenShift capabilities,” says Clayton. He joined IBM through the acquisition of The Weather Company, of which he was CEO. “I'm also responsible for The Weather Company as part of IBM, which is our global business to help people and businesses make better decisions through weather data and AI insights. We serve a few hundred million people every week around the world through The Weather Channel, and our Weather Underground properties.”

Clayton sees open technologies such as Linux containerisation and Kubernetes as guiding the evolution of cloud. “IBM's acquisition of Red Hat last year completely transformed our software portfolio to be cloud-native and optimised to run on Red Hat OpenShift.” That’s a benefit IBM is now bringing to customers with its IBM Cloud Pak solutions. “We have Cloud Paks for applications, for data, for integration, for automation, for multi-cloud management and critically a Cloud Pak for security. And they all work on this thesis that containerised software solutions which are open, are more secure. They let you move your business applications as you modernise to any cloud, agnostically, and they’ll run anywhere, whether its mainframe, bare metal in a data centre or private and public cloud.”

Clayton also emphasises the security benefits the solution brings, thanks to being open and certified by IBM to have the most up to date certifications fully supported. He’s finding that the kind of cloud transformation which they enable has become increasingly imperative in the age of COVID-19. “We're all moving to digital faster than ever before. And so businesses are looking to migrate their workloads to the cloud and adapt to this dynamic, remote working environment. It's happening fast. Restaurants aren't serving people food, but they’re becoming ecommerce food delivery stores overnight, for instance. It’s the same all the way up to Fortune 500 companies.”

That rapid pace of cloud transformation isn’t without its roadblocks preventing companies from making the leap. “We're seeing two challenges develop, one around security and then the other around regulated markets,” says Clayton. “Security is particularly important in regulated markets such as financial services, healthcare, insurance and telco. Last year, along with Bank of America, we announced our financial services ready public cloud, built around the key controls and compliance and security features that financial services organisations need.”

The other half of Clayton’s responsibilities involves clouds in a different sense. Having acquired The Weather Company, IBM has bolstered its capabilities with systems such as IBM GRAF. “Scale and resolution was a problem we'd been working on for awhile, and it's a problem that only IBM could help us solve on the weather side. So IBM GRAF was really designed to try and democratise weather forecasts around the world.” While Western countries such as the US and UK can be generally confident in the resolution and quality of forecasting data, emerging countries located in places such as Africa and South America have no access to the same level of forecasting. “This is a true digital divide that helps perpetuate the economic divide that also exists,” says Clayton. “At best, their forecasts might update every six to 12 hours with a resolution between 25 and 30 kilometres.”

IBM GRAF, in comparison, updates hourly with a three kilometre resolution across the entire planet. “It's the first globally updating model at this resolution and fidelity to be able to predict individual thunderstorms,” says Clayton. That’s made possible by an astronomical 12 trillion pieces of forecast information generated daily, producing 1.46 billion individual points around the world.” That sheer volume naturally requires the use of supercomputing, and IBM partners with, among others, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Washington and NVIDIA on a GPU-based computing architecture. “That means a farmer in Kenya can have access to the same quality forecast as a farmer in Kansas. That's a big deal and we're super excited about the impact that will have on people, on businesses, on governments and on trade and efficiency around the world.”

Marshalling that data requires innovative approaches that mesh with Clayton’s work in IBM’s cloud portfolio. “The forecast is only as good as the inputs you put into it,” he says. “We're using AI and IoT sensor networks, hybrid cloud analytics and all these things to get a better answer. The more data we can collect, the better, whether it's from smartphones, from vehicles, from tractors, from planes, etcetera. We're pulling all of that together at this tremendous scale, and distributing it out as an IBM hybrid cloud.” 

Clayton sees the organisation’s work across both his portfolios as only being more necessary in the face of global threats such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. “Climate change is creating this volatility in the atmosphere. We go from snow and flooding to hurricanes and heat waves in places we've never seen them before. Whilst we're living right now with this pandemic, climate change remains this larger challenge. How we can help address that lies with health care, with agriculture, with food security, water, and so on and reliable weather prediction is at the heart of that.”


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