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French tech contractor drops £854m supercomputer claim against Met Office

Rodolphe Belmer, chief executive at Atos, in front of its new supercomputer
Rodolphe Belmer, chief executive at Atos, in front of its new supercomputer

A French IT contractor has dropped an £854m High Court claim against the Met Office triggered by its failure to win a contract to supply the world’s most advanced forecasting supercomputer.

Atos had made an unsuccessful bid to replace existing weather forecasting machines with the latest technology.

The French company claimed British officials broke public procurement laws by handing the £1.2bn project to rival bidder Microsoft.

Atos told the High Court: “The Met Office has chosen a final tender which scored lower in quality, transferred more commercial risk to the Met Office and is more expensive."

Yet the French business’ claim was settled last Friday after Met Office lawyers filed their final amended defence with, The Register, a tech news site, reported.

With climate and weather conditions playing an increasingly important role in Britain’s energy security thanks to the drive towards renewable wind and solar energy, whoever supplies the new forecasting supercomputer will play a little-noticed but pivotal role in British national life.

Tipped to be one of the world’s top 25 most powerful supercomputers, the new machine will replace the Met Office’s 5-year-old array of Cray XC40s. The three existing supercomputers have the computing power of more than 100,000 family laptops but the machines are coming to the end of their useful lives.

Officials, Atos said in court filings, wrongly marked down its bid to build the replacement supercomputer because the IT company was relying on deliveries of Intel’s Sapphire Rapid central processing unit (CPU) chips.

Intel has repeatedly pushed back production dates for the Sapphire Rapid chips, caught up in the global chip shortage that has affected everything from consumer electronics to cars and computers.

The Met Office said Atos’ supercomputer bid relied on chips arriving “just in time” with there being “no contingency” if they were late.

Microsoft’s winning bid, said the weather forecasting agency, had three separate ways of avoiding delays to the project if its chosen CPUs didn’t arrive on time, leading to officials scoring that key part of its bid higher than Atos.

A government spokesman acknowledged the legal settlement, which ends the case, and said: “The agreement allows the Met Office to concentrate efforts on delivering the infrastructure necessary to keep the UK at the forefront of global weather and climate science leadership.”

An Atos spokesman said: “We are pleased to have resolved this matter”.