Met Office says open source is ‘backbone of our operations’

Open source has become critical to the operations of the Met Office with Linux used in the organisation for a decade.

Open source has become critical to the operations of the Met Office with Linux used in the organisation for a decade.

The government agency said the use of open source is critical to its operations. “Open source and Red Hat is the backbone of our operation capability,” said Graham Mallin, head of IT infrastructure at the Met Office.

Speaking at the Open Gov Summit, Mallin said the agency has used Linux for 10 years.

He said most of the Met Office's website runs on open source, with some proprietary software, such as an Oracle database.

Mallin said the Met Office used IBM’s AIX proprietary operating system on its supercomputers, but was running Python internally for programs, with Red Hat also running on its IBM mainframes.

“The desktops are also a mixed economy, we have 1,800 people working at the Met Office and 1,300 have Windows. But 500 of our scientists use Red Hat, as they find it a faster way of doing things.”

He said: “We are all about producing forecasts and getting them out on time, to very tight deadlines. So we do a lot of that running on Linux.

“Where we use open source it has also meant we have been able to bring in contractors quickly, and getting them up to speed in a month as opposed to three months on proprietary software.”

Also speaking at the event, Mark O'Neill, proposition director for innovation at the Government Digital Service (GDS) in the Cabinet Office, said open source provided more flexibility for testing and developing.

O’Neill said he was working with one government agency to transfer its paper-based customer processes  online. In order to see if a CRM system worked in that environment, it opted for an open source package to allow them to test the software. “Often [government IT] has started on a journey without testing if it is desirable or achievable,” he said.

The government’s e-petitions website was also built on an open source.  O’Neill said he was able to make a change following a user’s feedback to the site within a day, because of the in-built flexibility. 

He said using system integrators (SIs) to create e-petitions wasn’t an option as the £60,000 cost of the project was too small a sum for them, and SIs lacked the necessary skills.

O’Neill said the CloudStore would eventually move to an open source platform, but at the moment GDS was taking a pragmatic approach. “So if there is something working we will use that,” he said.

Read more on Open source software