Nearly two years ago, the UK’s Meteorological Office (Met Office) announced a stunning £1.2 billion plan to deliver the world’s most powerful supercomputer dedicated to weather and climate applications. A little over a year later, the Met Office announced that Microsoft had won the bid, with plans to use AMD and HPE hardware, along with Azure cloud integration. Now, the system—which was, last we heard, scheduled for operation in July of this year—is becoming more of a reality, and Australian tape-to-cloud firm Tape Ark is being brought in to migrate over 220PB of Met Office tape data into Microsoft Azure. Tape Ark says that this will be the largest tape-to-cloud migration project to date.
Tape Ark, founded in 2017, bills itself as providing “customer-centered approach to multi-petabyte data migration using [its] virtual tape library and today’s technology to solve yesterday’s problems” (i.e., tape storage). Tape Ark’s customers have included major companies like Fox Sports, Chevron, BP and Warner Bros, and one of the main services it offers is tape-to-cloud virtualization, complete with integrations across Azure, Google Cloud and AWS—perfect for the Met Office’s Azure-enabled supercomputer.
The Met Office’s data comprises over 220PB of tape storage spanning several decades of weather and climate observations—a field known for generating massive amounts of data (increasingly so as the frequency and resolution of various instruments goes up over time). Just a few years ago, the Met Office was struggling to hold all of its data, contracting Oracle to increase its tape storage capacity by 13×, from 60PB in 2015 to 1,200PB in 2020. Now, it seems, the move is to the cloud, where Microsoft has claimed it will provide an active data archive system capable of supporting almost four exabytes of data. This cloud data system may be powered by Microsoft’s “Project Silica,” a method of storing archival data on fused-silica platters that can each hold over 75GB of data.
Tape Ark—which emphasizes sustainability in its marketing—seemed excited to work with Microsoft in support weather and climate-focused research efforts.
“We are extremely pleased to work with Microsoft on this project as we continue to move towards our greater purpose of liberating the most valuable data collections on the planet, so that new discoveries can be made,” said Guy Holmes, founder and CEO of Tape Ark. “To be doing this for projects related to climate change and global warming has given the whole team at Tape Ark a real sense of purpose.”
The new supercomputer, enabled by these decades of data, will consist of four “quadrants,” be powered entirely by renewable energy and help the Met Office to provide earlier, more accurate warnings of severe weather and conduct improved climate change modeling.