back to article Atos, UK government reach settlement on $1 billion Met Office supercomputer dispute

A court case which would have seen Atos take on the UK government over a £854 million (c $1 billion) supercomputer contract for the Meteorological Office has ended before it began. The case, Atos Services UK Ltd v Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy and The Meteorological Office, concerns an …

  1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    "The terms of the settlement are not being disclosed."

    So we've no idea how much the government have spaffed as a result of yet another mismanaged procurement fiasco.

    1. Natalie Gritpants Jr

      Correct, I guess it's somewhere between zero and $1b. Bit premature to call it another mismanaged procurement fiasco. It might well have been Atos chancing a few attack lawyers.

  2. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Fill them disks

    > an active archive system capable of storing nearly four exabytes of data.

    Crikey! Just under half a day's internet traffic in 2021.

    I wonder how many years worth that is when you take out advertising, streaming and pr0n?

    1. Ozan

      Re: Fill them disks

      Couple of GB.

  3. dvd

    Weather Forecasting

    A meteorologist once told me that statistically the best weather forecast for 'tomorrow' was 'same as today'.

    1. Martin Gregorie

      Re: Weather Forecasting

      A meteorologist once told me that statistically the best weather forecast for 'tomorrow' was....

      I think that's a fairly well known story from the time of the first Met Office computer forecasting system.

      When their first forecasting model was up and running, they ran a trial, pitting the new system against their existing 'traditional' forecasting methods and, as a control, threw in the assumption that "tomorrow will be much the same as today". The test results showed the computer and 'traditional' forecasting to both be correct around 50% of the time while the 'about the same as today' control case was right 66% of the time.

      IOW, UK weather changes roughly every three days. I got that story from a friend whose brother was a Met Office man, but the computer models will have changed quite a lot since then.

      The last comparisons I know about, made a few years ago, were that the Met Office was sufficiently far ahead of the US equivalent for the USAF to be using it rather than their equivalent and that the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts was pretty good as well.

      1. luis river

        Re: Weather Forecasting

        The better weather forecasting is the answer of old man with degenerative osteoarthritis and ask it. How are you?

      2. Len

        Re: Weather Forecasting

        Here is an interesting piece on how Americans living in hurricane prone areas started using the ECMWF forecasts years ago. Ars Technica: 'The European forecast model already kicking America’s butt just Improved'.

        For most of us, myself included, probably the most important thing to get out of a a weather forecast is knowing whether to take a coat because it may rain on the way back. If, however, you're in shipping or aviation you want to look a bit further ahead. If you work in agriculture knowing if it's going to rain next week can be the difference between a wasted crop and a bumper harvest. If you're in a potential path of a hurricane it can be a matter of life and death.

        What I understand from analysis is that the gains in meteorological accuracy the last three decades have been huge, particularly for a few days out. And old man looking at the sky might be able to tell you it's going to rain overnight, he definitely can't tell you if it's going to rain next week.

        A lot of the computing power of the ECMWF has moved from Reading in the UK to Bologna in Italy and once their new supercomputer is fully operational some of the expected improvements are in the two to four weeks range. Predicting the likelihood of a storm in a certain area four weeks before it happens! One of the ways this is achieved is a higher resolution using much smaller 'tiles' and therefore much more data to work with.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Weather Forecasting

          One of the ways this is achieved is a higher resolution using much smaller 'tiles' and therefore much more data to work with.

          Presumably that means collecting a lot more data and so a lot more monitoring stations. Back in the 90s I did some work with the guys at Reading on the systems preparing the collected data before feeding it onto the Cray for analysis. All the other customers using these machines who were also using Crays were mad keen on extracting the last possible bits of performance out of the boxes. The ECMWF team didn't seem to interested in the performance, "Why not" I asked. "Coz this box is processing every incoming record in plenty of time and could easily cope with 5 times our most optimistic request of monitoring stations so it doesn't need to go any quicker. The analysis system is another thing."

          I guess a lot of the increase in data now compared with 25 years back is the amount of satellite data available to them.

          Interesting bunch, I enjoyed working with them and also the Met office guys when they were in Bracknell.

          1. Len

            Re: Weather Forecasting

            Yes, they'll probably supplement it with weather monitoring stations but, from what I understand, most of the data is from satellites these days. And satellite resolution has improved enormously.

          2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: Weather Forecasting

            Back in the '80s, ECMWF used IBM mainframes as the systems to collect the data. In 1978, I was at a presentation where I was told that NUMAC's IBM 370-168 was the same as the system they used as a FEP to the Cray 1 at ECMWF.

            For the seven years I worked at the Met Office in Exeter, they upgraded their mainframes from a sysplexed z990 to a sysplexed z196 to a cluster of two z14s.

            They use mainframes as data gathering and forecast distribution systems, not because of the computing power, but because they don't crash.

            During a critical power problem while I was there, we had to do a load shedding operation in order to prolong the critical environment as the UPS ran out of power (can't remember why the diesel generators wouldn't start up, but we were just on the UPS). Surprisingly, the supercomputers were the first to be shutdown, in the sequence test, collaboration, non-forecasting and then the forecasting computer (they used to keep two systems, one running the live forecasts, and the other able to pick up the live forecast, but normally running research work - it's a bit different now since they installed the current Crays). The last systems shutdown was to be the mainframe.

            The reason for keeping the mainframe, storage and comms systems running was that some data cannot be gathered later if it is missed.

          3. Len

            Re: Weather Forecasting

            I found more details on the resolution improvements.

            The new supercomputer capacity will enable a number of important changes for the ECMWF’s operations, including crucial progress towards its goal of improving the horizontal resolution of its forecast from 18km to 10km and increasing the number of vertical resolution layers from 91 to 137. The ECMWF also has an ambitious goal of a 5km ensemble forecast set for 2025.

            ECMWF Opens Bologna Datacenter in Preparation for Atos Supercomputer

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Weather Forecasting

          A lot of the computing power of the ECMWF has moved from Reading in the UK to Bologna in Italy

          Yay! Another Brexit dividend. Still, the UK then gets to buy its own meteo supercomputer and also pay the unsuccessful bidders (and lawyers) for any procurement fur cups. Anyone who can count: How are we doing net from the pot of 350 million for the NHS, I wonder?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Weather Forecasting

            > Yay! Another Brexit dividend.

            The ECMWF hasn't got anything to do with the EU it's yet another European institution.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Weather Forecasting

          Perhaps the European model works OK for northern hemisphere. During recent Oz eastern coast floods the local Met office was uncertain because none of the models, USA, Oz, Japanese or European were close. Japanese and Oz ones were usually closest, but some days weather was highly unpredictable. European model was the most inaccurate ITIRC. Any improvement in code and models has to be A Good Thing.

      3. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Weather Forecasting

        The last comparisons I know about, made a few years ago, were that the Met Office was sufficiently far ahead of the US equivalent for the USAF to be using it rather than their equivalent

        Yet BBC dumped Met Office for Meteo.

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Weather Forecasting

      the best weather forecast for 'tomorrow' was 'same as today'

      In terms of being more right than not it feels correct and what most people anticipate. The limitation of that is when there's a drastic change coming over the horizon or when one wants to look more than a couple of days ahead.

      The other rule of thumb is; if it's been gloriously hot all week it will rain at the weekend. In the UK anyway.

      1. JDPower666

        Re: Weather Forecasting

        If its been gloriously hot all week you're probably not in the UK

        1. Snowy Silver badge

          Re: Weather Forecasting

          Depends on how to define "gloriously hot" if by that you mean over 15c and not raining much then yes it has been.

          1. TimMaher Silver badge

            Re: not raining much

            But... are the cows lying down under the trees?

            I'll get my mack.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Weather Forecasting

          It's been reaching above 25 C all week and expected 32 on Friday in my part of UK.

          It has been warm and sunny and very nice in my garden. Though a little over cast now.

          For me there is nothing glorious about hot weather. Pleasantly warm wins every time.

    3. katrinab Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Weather Forecasting

      Unless “tomorrow” is a bank holiday, in which case, it is going to rain.

      Usually it rains on the last Monday in May, because it is a bank holiday. It didn’t this year, because it wasn’t.

      Usually the weather is very good at the beginning of June, and I know that to be the case because I have two family birthdays then. It wasn’t this year, because it was a bank holiday.

    4. philstubbington

      Re: Weather Forecasting

      I interviewed Jack Scott for my school magazine in the late 1970s/early 1980s and first hand his comment was two-fold - remember what it was like yesterday, and it'll be mostly like that, or look out of the window and it'll be mostly like that. According to Jack, covers the vast majority of cases.

  4. LordWilmore


    How much do we really need to know if it's going to rain?

    1. Pantagoon

      Re: Seriously

      Farmers find it pretty helpful, especially around harvest time.

      Aircraft operators find it quite useful to know when to use wing de-icers.

      Armed forces think it is useful to be able to predict and use atmospheric lensing to fool the baddies into thinking gun fire is coming from a different direction.

      Good weather forecasting is really quite useful.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Seriously

        Without reasonable accurate weather forecasting most outdoor events would be local. Weather insurance for events is vital - apart from Glastonbury.

    2. GrahamRJ

      Re: Seriously

      If that rain is accompanied by 100mph winds, it'd be nice to know. Especially if you'd have a chance of travelling on a plane, ship or lorry, or going over an exposed bridge when it happens.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seriously

      Well, I do charity food collections from a number of local shops. The weather is pretty important to them, get it wrong and the homeless shelter can get a bumper supply of barbeque food...

  5. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    More use = more value for money?

    I still query why the UK state broadcaster (the BBC) are the only state broadcaster in the world to use a foreign weather forecaster (the Meteo Group)

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: More use = more value for money?

      It was "forced" to put the service out to tender.

      What I've not identified the exact circumstances that "forced" the service to be put out to tender in 2014. However, I suspect there was (Conservative) government interference, given the wording of the tender announcement:

      "Provision of a service and system to enable the creation of high quality weather forecasts for UK (both national and regional) and global output."

      [ ]

      I suspect the Met Office would have to partner (with MeteoGroup?) to satisfy this requirement (doubt a Conservative government would permit a publicly funded agency to fully compete with (foreign) commercial entities as that just wouldn't be cricket.

      Although this raises the question as to who was shortlisted, as suspect the tender was biased towards one company...

      However, as MeteoGroup are a customer of the Met Office, the BBC are effectively still using Met Office data for their UK weather forecasts.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: More use = more value for money?

        Meteo and MetService New Zealand were shortlisted.

    2. Fr. Ted Crilly Bronze badge

      Re: More use = more value for money?


  6. Tubz Bronze badge

    So in English, BEIS and The Meteorological Office screwed up and more tax payers money used to pay off ATOS with a nice little earner for no creating a tender document and before any gets on the bash Boris bandwagon, this will have been done by faceless bureaucrats and civil service mandarins who can barely claim to breathe and cash their pay cheques at the same time.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wait, Microsoft does supercomputers?

    Surely they won't try to run Windows on it, will they?

    1. Dwarf

      Re: Wait, Microsoft does supercomputers?

      Hey, Windows clustering was always easy to configure and run wasn't it ?.

      and that was only on two nodes or so.

      I've never seen any HPC type systems running Windows though.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wait, Microsoft does supercomputers?

      Talking to some Cray engineers over the last few months and they seem to have a few systems running MS Azure Cloud SW but the instances inside the cloud are running Linux.

      Didn't MS add a whole lot of code the Linux kernel a year or so ago to allow Linux to run the back end parts of Azure as well as running as nodes within the cloud (oh and doing various bits of the networking too).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wait, Microsoft does supercomputers?

      HPE/Cray does supercomputers, all M$ does is stuff them in a datacentre and calls it a Cloud.... When it rains...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Save a bunch of money

    And re-write the Python in C++. Then you won't need all that extra CPU.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Save a bunch of money

      Been a few (OK, lots) years but when I last worked with the Met Office programmers it was all being written in Fortran.

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Re: Save a bunch of money

        > written in Fortran.

        They were planning on refactoring it in Ironpython. But it rained, so they used Rust instead.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Probably didn’t get that much

    As an ATOS uk customer I can tell you that they are very short of money. So I expect they settled for not that much and it was an offer too good to refuse for the met office to make them go away.

    They’re constantly invoicing us for work not yet complete and we waste a load of time and money arguing so after a while people less resolute than me just cave in and cough up. Otherwise they just threaten to down tools and kill already overdue projects stone dead

    Even without their proposed split they don’t seem to be long for this world given their constant cash flow issues and chronic slowness to complete billable work.

    I guess the lesson they can take from this is that in future it’s better to submit feeble bids and sue for compo than to actually win and do the work.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like