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Managing demand for Met Office weather services: a silver lining in the 'cloud'

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Commercial skills, More digital
Charlie Ewen, CIO and IT Director, Met Office
Charlie Ewen, CIO and IT Director, Met Office

The weather affects us all in countless ways. It influences our lives and livelihoods, how we work, how we play. It influences how industries operate. Every day, we make decisions based on the weather. So having reliable help in making those decisions from the most mundane (shall we go for a walk in the country?), to those which may protect us from harm can be vitally important.

The Met Office  is a world-leading provider of environmental and weather-related services to numerous public and private sector organisations. It delivers proven 24-hour often time-critical – weather-related services for many different types of industry.

To constantly improve the accuracy and efficiency of these services and pass on the benefit of advances in weather forecasting techniques to its customers, the Met Office is deeply involved in research and development in the fields of atmospheric and oceanic sciences and observations.

The service most of us are familiar with is the Public Weather Service, and the Met Office is also responsible for the National Severe Weather Warning Service. To meet its commitments, the Met Office needs to ensure the public has access to information that could  have an impact on their lives and property. It also needs to guarantee a level of service for its commercial customers.

As you would expect, demand for Met Office web-based services is highly dependent  on the weather. On a typical day, the public website sees over 2.5 million page views and serves over 100 gigabytes of data.  But on an extreme weather day – as during the snowstorms of January 2010 – demand can rise by more  than 20 times the usual level.

Met Office weather warnings 2So, we have to be certain that our systems and services can sustain this level of demand – and not fail when they’re most needed.

Seven years ago, significant investment would have been required in underpinning technology infrastructure to ensure the continuing availability of our digital services.  Instead, alternative options were researched and a new and, at the time, cutting-edge Cloud option was identified.

By offloading peak demand to an online third-party Content Delivery Network (CDN) service solution provider, we are able to ensure a high degree of resilience and responsiveness, while keeping the Met Office investment in underpinning infrastructure to a minimum. This reduces the cost, scale and complexity of the Met Office IT estate and the overall net costs, as well as increasing the availability of services. In fact, the cost of the CDN cloud option is estimated to be ten times lower than the equivalent on-premise option. To date, the system has not had a single major unplanned outage, ensuring that the UK public can always access weather information when they most need it.

The cloud and CDN market has grown significantly in recent years. This has enabled the Met Office to undertake a competitive procurement exercise, with a view to awarding a new and relatively short-term (2-year) contract.

This improved market awareness, together with our commercial and technical capability, has reduced costs further and will help drive innovation and value for money in the market. Engaging with suppliers ensures that we learn what the market has to offer and they, in turn, learn from us the critical importance of running a 24/7 weather-warning website.

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