Met Office CIO Charles Ewen has detailed plans for launching a new, mass-crowdsourced open platform for weather and climate data – making the most of APIs and the internet of things.
“About five years ago we learned the significance of crowdsourced observations,” Ewen says. “We created a website, the Weather Observation Website (WOW), which is an open, big data, environmental data collection platform.”
It’s similar to the services of other companies– in fact, it “shamelessly plagiarises” Weather Underground, but with the difference that it’s “very open”.
The Weather Observation Website allows users to plug their data in and interact with other data sets in an open and public way, but getting relevant data out was a little trickier.
“It’s a bit rubbish,” Ewen says. “And the reason it’s a bit rubbish, is that it was built five years ago, when we hadn’t got our heads around APIs.”
Now the Met Office plans to re-launch the platform in April.
“The rebuild is all about building on the concepts of the internet of things,” he says. “The platform is done.” Businesses and organisations will be encouraged to funnel data through WOW, and the platform will include a full set of APIs, so users can grab and manipulate weather data through an API, available in an open forum.
“There will still be a website, it will still be called WOW,” Ewen says. “However, it opens the opportunity for others to develop new, innovative applications.”
“It’s a plea, really,” he says. “If you’re out there and involved in smart cities, do what you’re going to do with your closed network, but if you can pump it into the open network it won’t cost you anything other than getting the data there.
“Because environmental data has huge equity, to the benefit of the UK and the world,” he says.
The Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, first opened its doors more than a century ago. These days it is in the process of installing the world’s most powerful operational supercomputer – and with the amount of data it sifts through, it makes little sense to move to a cloud model.
According to the CIO, the re-launch is one part of the way in which the Met Office now understands itself.
“We see ourselves less and less as use case by use case solution providers, and more and more as a platform,” he says. “We’re reshaping everything we do to make sure we create that common base of platform capability, which is ubiquitous and largely done, with some featured APIs that exploit that platform to do new and innovative things.”
“Because of the nature and size of the operation we do, the maths itself expresses that a supercomputer is the only thing that can do the job,” Ewen explains. “I could rent a supercomputer to the cloud, but [the Met Office] can run a supercomputer more effectively than the cloud vendors can.”
“Because of the size of the data, I can’t actually move to the cloud, so I’ve got to be seen as part of the cloud infrastructure.
“Increasingly you’ll see the Met Office pitch itself as a cloud vendor, and we will fulfil that role because it can’t be fulfilled in any other way.”
He says the organisation is trying to turn itself into a “platform as a service” – but always through an environmental lens. That will involve “lots of work on web service API enablement and towards creating a kind of open, international infrastructure.”
“Our big future-looking plans are what are these technologies that allow us to safely, in a way the private sector is comfortable with, take their IP back to this big data, operate the algorithm, lock it up again, and get the answer back to them – as an alternative to firehosing data into the cloud.”