Microsoft to help Met Office build world’s most advanced climate forecasting supercomputer

The new supercomputing capability, worth £1.2bn, is expected to become operational in July 2022

The UK’s Meteorological Office has signed a multimillion-pound agreement with Microsoft for the provision of a new supercomputing capability designed to protect the public and infrastructure from the effects of severe weather brought on by climate change.

Part of a £1.2 billion investment fund announced last year, the new supercomputer will be built using HPE's Cray supercomputer hardware and will place it in the top 25 supercomputers in the world, and twice as powerful as any other in the UK.

Apart from providing highly-accurate weather forecasts, it will also be powered entirely by renewable energy and will use market-leading energy efficiencies, saving 7,415 tonnes CO2 in the first year of operational service alone.

With work on the supercomputer already underway, it's expected to become operational in July 2022.

The liquid-cooled HPE Cray EX supercomputer will be used to create elaborately detailed city-scale simulations, designed to improve the accuracy of localised weather predictions. The data will also be used to improve city design and help reduce risks associated with the rollout of new transport networks.

The deal will see Microsoft provide the Met Office with Azure’s supercomputing as a service platform, including those across its artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance data archive systems.

In order to be able “to make progress with the ecological challenges we face, [this] requires innovation, technology, and partnerships”, according to Microsoft UK CEO Clare Barclay.

“The potential of the deep expertise, data gathering capacity and historical archive of the Met Office, combined with the sheer scale and power of supercomputing on Microsoft Azure will mean we can improve forecasting, help tackle climate change and ensure the UK remains at the forefront of climate science for decades to come,” she said.

Met Office chief executive Penny Endersby said that, by working with Microsoft, the Met Office “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 which will keep not just the Met Office, but the UK at the forefront of environmental modelling and high-performance computing,” she added.

The news comes as the UK government signed a new three-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Microsoft, which provides public sector organisations with discounts and beneficial terms for Microsoft 365, Azure, and associated consulting services. The new MOU, titled the Digital Transformation Arrangement 2021 (DTA21), is the first to also include Dynamics 365 and Power Platform cloud services.

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