Posted by Mark Gayler
Microsoft Open Technologies, Inc.

Recently we’ve seen a substantial increase in public sector cloud adoption, as governments worldwide embrace cloud solutions to operate more cost effectively and enhance services. This has also created an opportunity to open up government data in more accessible ways, empowering citizens and developers to undertake their own analyses and help improve communities by using the data for new innovative applications and services.

Microsoft is working with many government entities worldwide to “open up” their data repositories in the cloud, helping them realize the full benefits of open and interoperable mobile access, social media, and crowdsourcing. The Windows Azure platform provides a highly scalable and reliable cloud-based infrastructure for government data, with the Windows Azure Marketplace managing complex data scenarios, from real time data feeds to high volume data archives, allowing governments to syndicate content commercially, release data freely, or both.

The UK Meteorological Office (Met Office) is using the Windows Azure Marketplace to host their weather data archives and make the data broadly available. The release of the weather information to the public was a key component of the government’s plan, announced in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s 2011 Autumn statement, to encourage new market opportunities and improve standards and transparency in public services.

Raw observation weather data from the Met Office’s 150 weather stations and 5,000 forecast sites around the country is now available for the public to download, interpret, and create their own forecasts. The weather information is available both on the UK government’s open government website, where visitors can download a CSV file, as well as Microsoft’s Windows Azure Marketplace, which makes the data available for free as a query dataset easily accessible with Excel PowerPivot.

The Windows Azure Marketplace provides an ideal way to access this ‘Big Data’ – the hourly weather feed features approximately 250 million rows of data per hour – as well as a more consistent and straightforward way to publish the information. From there, citizens, partners, and government organizations can create innovative cloud-based and mobile apps for public and commercial consumption.  

Because the Windows Azure Marketplace provides support for the OData open data protocol, citizens and developers can easily analyze the data using an OData feed or within Excel using PowerPivot, essentially giving them unprecedented access to powerful meteorological data including hourly, daily, and five-day forecasts.

The project is making an impact on a global scale. Since launching the weather data feed, the Met Office has seen a steady increase in the popularity of data subscriptions, currently averaging 555,000 transactions per month, with the UK as the biggest user of this data (as one would expect). But the information is broadly consumed around the world as well, particularly in the United States.

The UK weather data initiative is just one of many open data projects based on Windows Azure, which support government openness and transparency. Stay tuned on the Openness blog in the coming months as we highlight more examples of public sector Window Azure customers and partners who are taking advantage of the cloud to transform and open up government services.