Met Office gets £97m supercomputer upgrade to keep tabs on the weather

The country's weather service looks to Cray supercomputers to improve forecasting while the rest of us will, no doubt, continue to cross our fingers and look to the skies.


Met Office
The Met Office looks to Cray supercomputer to improve its outlook. Photo: Colin Barker

Every five or ten years the Met Office buys a new supercomputer that is bigger, faster and better than the previous one to improves weather forecasting. If only the weather had the predictability of a supercomputer everyone would be happy, but it doesn't and that helps keep the supercomputer companies in business.

This time it is Cray Inc which has benefitted from the £97m ($128m) purchase of a Cray XC 40 supercomputer and Cray Sonexion storage systems. The XC40 will have a performance of 16 Petaflops and installation - which Cray says will be in three phases - is due to be completed next year.

The Cray will replace an array of IBM Power 6 systems that have a 140Tflops performance. The Met Office last used a Cray system back in 1997 when it installed a Cray T3E.

The new Cray will be headquartered at the Met Office in the Exeter Science Park. According to Cray it will be their largest supercomputer installation outside of the US. Cray estimates that the upgrade will give the Met Office 13 times the power it currently has.

Multiple system deliveries are expected between 2014 and 2017, said Cray in a statement, "with the major deliveries expected between 2015 and 2017".

When completed the Cray will weigh 140 tonnes, have no less than 480,000 cores (compared to 40,000 in the IBM system), have 2 Petabytes of RAM (compared to 80,000 GB) and 17 Petabytes of storage. The Met Office estimates that at peaks it will manage 16,000 trillion calculations per second.

Special features of the Cray XC40 supercomputers include the Aries system interconnect along with a Dragonfly network topology that, Cray says, "will frees applications from locality constraints". The DataWarp applications I/O accelerator technology will also be included along with a cooling system that Cray claims will lower customers total cost of ownership. The operating system will be Cray Linux.

Commenting on the deal the Met Office chief executive Rob Varley said: "This will lead to a step change in weather forecasting and climate prediction, and give us the capability to strengthen our collaborations with partners in the South West, UK and around the world".

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