Since its founding in 1854, the Met Office – based in the UK – delivers weather services to the public, government, military and businesses throughout the UK and globally. With more than 1,800 employees in 60 locations worldwide, the organisation is recognised as one of the world’s most accurate forecasters. It uses more than 10 million weather observations a day, an advanced atmospheric model and a high-performance supercomputer to create 3,000 tailored forecasts and briefings a day. Its website – a key delivery channel for its services – sees an average of 50 million visits per month from 4.3 million unique visitors, who access 45 million page views on average.
For more than a decade, the Met Office has relied on the web to deliver its services, including warnings of extreme weather. Featuring highly interactive content, the organisation’s site – hosted out of the UK – was increasingly challenged to keep up with higher levels of peak traffic. “When there’s bad weather, people flock to our site. Though we continually enhanced our infrastructure, people still struggled to access the site due to poor performance,” explains Pam Dickinson, IT Channels Manager for the Met Office. The organisation knew it had to find a better way to handle Internet traffic surges during times of severe weather.
The Met Office needed to meet three key requirements to support the company’s objectives:
The Met Office analysed the market very carefully to find a web performance solution that met its requirements. Of particular importance was to identify a solution that could ease the pressure on the organisation’s infrastructure by scaling capacity on demand to meet peak-load events. While the Met Office was aware of its infrastructure’s limitations, it could never predict how much Internet traffic would hit the site for any given event. “We knew website performance and availability would suffer due to traffic surges during bad weather, but we could never foretell the scope of problems,” explains Dickinson.
It’s vital that the general public is able to access critical weather information during a significant event and Akamai impressed the Met Office with its proven experience delivering other mission-critical sites. “Expanding our infrastructure to keep up with growing traffic volumes would have been extremely expensive. Besides, we experience peaks only three or four times per year, so it’s not a wise investment to continually build out our infrastructure,” continues Dickinson.
Since deploying the Akamai Dynamic Site Accelerator solution, the Met Office is able to ensure uninterrupted delivery for its millions of site visitors. In fact, Dynamic Site Accelerator was quickly put to the test in February 2009, when the organisation went live with the solution. “We were aware of impending severe weather, which is why we accelerated deployment of the solution,” says Dickinson.
During February’s extreme weather conditions, the worst recorded in 18 years, a number of other UK weather and travel-related sites went down. However, with Akamai, the Met Office was able to maintain normal site availability during the event – despite a 500% increase over previous peak-traffic volumes. According to Dickinson, “Were it not for Akamai and its ability to provide scalable capacity on demand, 80% of visitors would not have been able to access the site.”
At the peak of the traffic surge in February 2009, the Akamai CDN platform delivered more than 6,500 requests per second for the Met Office, and continues to offload 95% of total bandwidth. Since then, the Met Office’s website supports other traffic spikes with ease. In January 2010, the site handled a 30% higher volume of traffic – spurred on by unusually large amounts of snow – than at the peak in February 2009. At the same time, the site has been able to support a larger number of visits from outside of the UK. During the volcanic eruption in Iceland in March 2010, the number of international visitors surged by 45% over average.
Because the Met Office is seeing growing interest in its services from a global customer base, the development of its web capabilities is central to its corporate strategy. As part of its forward-looking technology portfolio, the Met Office also selected Akamai for its ability to deliver faster website performance of increasingly interactive content, including UK region and location-specific weather maps and forecasts, an online shop, historic station data and climate change-related resources. “While delivering dynamic content has its challenges as such, the challenges become magnified when you’re trying to serve a global audience. With Akamai, we are confident that all site visitors can access our content quickly and reliably,” says Dickinson.
The Met Office is planning to expand the services it delivers to commercial entities. “Because we’re building Akamai capabilities into our new web delivery system, we’re confident about handling large amounts of traffic. Just as important, we know that site visitors are confident in our ability to deliver,” concludes Dickinson.
The Met Office is the UK’s National Weather Service, providing 24x7 world-renowned scientific excellence in weather, climate and environmental forecasts and severe weather warnings for the protection of life and property. The Met Office supports many people and organisations, from the general public, government and local authorities, to civil aviation, utilities, transport and almost every other industry sector. The Met Office is a Trading Fund agency owned by the Ministry of Defence. As such we operate in the same way as a commercial business, generating income which is paid back to government. Through this we help to secure future investment in our world-leading science and research.