The UK's national weather service, the Met Office, is embracing open-source software for major projects, including the prediction of so-called "space weather". However, the organistion is steering clear of the cloud due to security and cost concerns.
The Met Office's portfolio technical lead James Tomkins told V3 that open-source software was becoming an increasingly important part of the organisation's projects. "Open source has become an increasing opportunity for us," he explained. "The government was looking for a way to try and reduce its bills and that's something we really embraced over the last couple of years."
While adopting forward-thinking concepts such as open source, the Met is still unwilling to shift any of its complex computing solutions to the cloud, but Tomkins would not rule it out for the future. "We're limited a little bit by security and sometimes by the sheer volume of data that we're dealing with. The cost of storing a large amount of data on cloud is prohibitive but it's becoming more of an option," he explained.
In its most recent undertaking, the Met Office has been tasked with forecasting space weather events like the sun's solar flares and solar wind, which can have dramatic effects on Earth-based infrastructure such as electricity grids, GPS and mobile communications. To help with the task, the organisation has employed open-source NoSQL database MongoDB.
Because of the unique nature of the space weather project, much of the data produced, such as video, images and sensor readings, is non-sequential and thus difficult to fit into traditional sequential database software. Tomkins said the use of this software allowed the project's costs to be significantly cut. "We found we were no longer being constrained and having to go to special developers to create tables and writing complex software," he said.
Tomkins said open source was no longer a "no-go area" for the Met Office. "We have an ICT strategy within the office that puts open source as a first-class citizen amongst all our technologies," he explained, adding that the Met was actively trying to become a "good open-source citizen" by contributing to open-source projects such as meteorological analysis code library Iris.
The space weather project is being developed in partnership with NASA and, when finished, will be used to provide the public with advanced warning of strong and potentially disruptive solar activity.
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