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Met Office prepares for 1.5 million processor, 60 petaflop supercomputer

Azure, Cray supercomputers and Epyc core are the key ingredients inside weather forecasting service’s latest development to improve data

The Met Office has signed a deal with Microsoft to build one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. 

The system is built around four quadrants, each comprising a Cray supercomputer and AMD processors, in a configuration designed to improve resiliency.

The initial phase of the machine, due to go live in July 2022, will be built on an HPE EX Cray supercomputer and third-generation AMD Epyc processors, giving a combined total of more than 1.5 million processor cores and over 60 petaflop.

According to Microsoft, Azure’s supercomputing-as-a-service will enable the Met Office to leverage the best blend of dedicated and public cloud services with the Cray supercomputers to provide a high-performance active data archive system.

Microsoft said the active data archive system will support nearly 4 exabytes of data with high-performance data storage, query and retrieval capabilities. It said the Met Office will also use Azure high-performance computing (HPC) cloud services such as HB-series InfiniBand clusters powered with AMD Epyc processors.

The new supercomputer is expected to enable the Met Office to use more detailed models, combined with a greater number of model scenarios and growing amounts of environmental and social data. This could help it to improve weather forecasts, and projections for risk-based planning will be significantly improved.

One example of how this will be used is in creating very detailed city-scale simulations to provide localised climate information to improve city design, such as public transport infrastructure.

Using very high-resolution simulation, the supercomputer will also be deployed for better forecasting of local-scale weather. According to the Met Office, this will enhance emergency preparedness for local storms, heavy rain and flooding.

The supercomputer will also enable the Met Office to deliver more climate and weather data services, with increased access to ever greater amounts of weather and climate data. One example is in the aviation industry, where more accurate forecasts of wind and temperature can help drive greater fuel efficiency and safety. 

Along with providing climate-change modelling to help inform government policy, the Met Office said the supercomputer will be able to offer a step-change in the precision of forecasting severe weather to help protect citizens, businesses and critical national infrastructure.

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Penny Endersby, chief executive of the Met Office, said: “We are delighted to be working in collaboration with Microsoft to deliver our next supercomputing capability.  Working together, we will provide the highest-quality weather and climate datasets and ever more accurate forecasts that enable decisions to allow people to stay safe and thrive.

“This will be a unique capability that will keep not just the Met Office, but the UK at the forefront of environmental modelling and high-performance computing.”

It is also estimated that the supercomputer could contribute £13bn to the UK’s socio-economic growth over its 10-year lifespan.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “This partnership between the Met Office and Microsoft to build the world’s most powerful weather and climate-forecasting supercomputer is a ringing endorsement for the UK’s credentials in protecting our environment, as we prepare to host COP26 later this year.

“The new supercomputer, backed by a billion-pound UK government investment, will act as a catalyst for unlocking new skills, technologies and jobs right across our economy – from data scientists to artificial intelligence experts.”

Based in the south of England, the new supercomputer facility will be powered with 100% renewable energy. According to Microsoft, the facility would reduce CO2 emissions by 7,415 tonnes in the first year of operational service, Erin Chapple, corporate vice-president, Azure Core, wrote in a blog post.

“This collaboration with the Met Office builds on Microsoft’s commitment to a more sustainable future by reducing our environmental footprint, accelerating research and helping our customers create sustainable solutions,” she said.

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