Met Office tests £27.5m supercomputer upgrade

A better system for the generation of severe weather warnings should be the end product of the multi-million pound operation

The Met Office has completed a £27.5m project that aims to improve the accuracy of severe weather warning forecasts by doubling the power of its supercomputers.

The new supercomputer has the performance of around 8,000 home PCs, with a theoretical peak power of 16 Gigaflops per processor, and it will allow the Met Office to put more data into higher resolution weather forecasting prediction models.

Steve Forman, group head of IT and service delivery at the Met Office, told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com the new system will be able to produce more detailed local weather reports, especially around severe weather warnings.

"We'll be able to increase the resolution [of forecasts] by reducing the spacing between geographical points. Over the next year, we will be moving from 12km spacing to a 4km spacing following trials planned later this year," he said.

The first part of the NEC supercomputing system was installed in 2003 and the Met Office has this week gone live with the first 128-processor SX-8 off NEC's production line, after it passed a 28-day reliability acceptance testing period where a normal daily workload was thrown at it.

But the system is not just a shiny new toy for the Met Office's forecasters to play with.

"The big thing is going to be the improved service on weather forecasts that will allow us to give more specific guidance for customers," said Forman.

Forman was also quick to point out that this was a public sector IT project that had been delivered "slightly early and on budget".

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