The Met Office has abandoned Google's App Engine platform-as-a-service (PaaS) cloud hosting and development service for Microsoft's Azure platform in a bid to "future proof" its Weather Observations Website for the Internet of Things (IoT).
The project is an example of the Met Office's big data-led initiatives as recently outlined during an interview with acting CISO Tim Moorey.
Mark Burgoyne, CIO technical advisor at the Met Office, explained that the Weather Observations Website, a crowdsourced site for public weather observation submissions, is keeping its original aim of gathering data from the weather enthusiast community.
But it is now looking to extend this reach beyond the specialised devices of old, and integrate data from everyday technology such as mobile phones and cars.
"The Google App Engine platform at the time was pretty much the only solution that allowed you to have that PaaS programmable functionality. It was the only major vendor out there," Burgoyne told V3.
"Other people were offering infrastructure-as-a-service, but we really wanted some sort of PaaS in order to lower the overhead without any requirement for patching. You're just running your software in something that automatically scales up."
The Met Office decided in 2015, as a part of a wider project, to "refresh the look and feel of the site", and the search for a new cloud platform provider that could extend the scope of data "in an affordable and scalable manner" was put out to tender.
"There's a community out there generating the same sort of data we've always collected from our own formal network, but it's now a lot denser and there's a lot more of it," said Burgoyne.
"We also want to be able to cope with the ever-growing variety of new sources of data. There are lots more devices out there that are recording information that might be useful to us, things like temperature readings from cars or pressure sensors in phones, so we wanted a platform to take account of that."
Greater flexibility was also a factor. "We wanted to be able to easily configure new types of data and have that built into the platform," said Burgoyne.
"There are other options now as well, going beyond just PaaS. You've got software-as-a-service options in there. So the Azure platform solution came along and fitted quite nicely with that combination of PaaS, where we or our partners write their own logic modules and reuse software functionality, all scalable and really reducing our management overhead.
"Looking at the various options that came along, Azure was just the match for what we were trying to do."
Maria Dorothy, project manager for observations, added that there have been over 850 million observations sent to the Met Office since 2011.
"That's an average of 20 to 30 million observations a month, and these are now increasing month by month, and this is just from specialist weather station data alone before the addition of IoT-enabled everyday devices," said Dorothy.
The data also includes the venerable 0900 service that lets hobbyists phone in their daily observations.
"The main aim here is to try and future-proof ourselves, but it needs to be relatively easy for us to add new types of information quite quickly," said Burgoyne.
Azure Machine Learning and Power BI are also on the table for the Met Office and the Weather Observations Website.
"That's the next stage. Once we have a large volume of information those sorts of tools offer us some really interesting possibilities for things like identifying station quality and the quality control side generally," said Burgoyne.
"The large amount of variables involved, and how easily they can be integrated, is one of the things we like about the Azure platform.
"The Google App Engine we used before was something you wrote software for yourself on, and it could scale your code. [But] I think Azure, and its PaaS model, offers lots of off-the-shelf functionality we could bolt on as and when we need it, which is where the cloud benefit comes from."
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