5 minutes with. . .Peter Gigliotti, assistant director of computing, Bureau of Meteorology Australia

Computerworld: What was your first job?

Peter Gigliotti: I was recruited from Monash University by the Bureau of Meteorology in 1977 and following a 12-month Graduate Diploma in Meteorology I was appointed as a weather forecaster to the Victorian Regional Forecasting Centre in Melbourne. Since then I have worked in various forecasting and service delivery roles in Melbourne, Hobart and the East Sale RAAF base.

CW: How did your IT career start?

PG: Although some people may disagree, the science of weather forecasting revolves around mathematics and in particular fluid dynamics and advanced numerical methods. Numerical Weather Prediction is the core of modern forecasting operations and it is no coincidence that advances in the science of weather prediction parallel advances in high-performance computing. I became interested in IT to further my understanding of weather prediction and in particular to find better ways of forecasting events such as significant wind changes and severe thunderstorms. I left forecasting in 1993 to join a group of meteorologists, hydrologists, scientists, engineers and IT professionals developing the Australian Integrated Forecast System (AIFS).

CW: What does your role involve?

PG: As assistant director of central operations and systems I am responsible for the operation of the National Meteorological Operations Centre, the operation of the Joint Bureau/CSIRO High Performance Computing and Communications Centre and the computing and communications systems used throughout the bureau.

CW: What would you imagine life to be like without computers?

PG: I can't. The computing demands of two teenage boys and a primary school teacher partner forced me to install a local area network at home to link our computers and their peripherals.

The home-based LAN means that we can implement an effective backup strategy between the computers and we can optimise the use of all the peripherals. The only thing I regret is that wireless LAN did not appear before I had to wire the house with Cat 5 cabling and punch holes in the walls.

CW: What is the most challenging part of your role?

PG: Technology is an integral part of what the bureau does. My most challenging role is to keep up to date with the broad areas of technology we use, while continually reassessing how the new technology will impact on the outcomes of the organisation.

This technology spans supercomputing through to broadband communications to mass storage, dissemination systems including satellite and radio and desktop applications.

The big issue at the moment is data management and in particular the ever-increasing volumes of data generated by the numerical prediction models and remote sensing from satellites.

CW: What ability do you wish you had?

PG: I wish I had the ability to foresee the future of IT mapped in sufficient detail to plan the orderly transition from old to new services. The bureau, because of its scientific nature, is often at the forefront of technology changes.

Our Web site ( averages about two million hits a week and when tropical cyclones threaten the coast this can rise to about 5.5 million.

The utilisation of WAP- and satellite-based dissemination systems will continue to accelerate the move to new technologies, but it is equally important for me to ensure that the bureau services are not compromised by moving to new systems too early. A reliable crystal ball would help.

CW: What are the most interesting projects or issues you have worked on in your IT career?

PG: There are a couple of projects close to my heart. The outposted fire weather service developed with the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Country Fire Authority and the development of the Australian Integrated Forecast System (AIFS).

The outposted fire weather service involved placing operational forecasters at large bushfires where they worked closely with firefighters on developing appropriate fire suppression tactics. Fire fighting at large bushfires is like a military operation and weather forecasting is a key intelligence component.

The benefits of the ‘outposting' are now well recognised and is a service provided by the bureau over much of the fire affected areas of Australia. The AIFS is a central component of the modernisation of the Bureau's operational systems. AIFS won a Technology in Government Productivity Award in 1998 and various components of the system have been implemented in several overseas countries. In terms of the future I hope to build on the success of the joint Bureau/-CSIRO High Performance Computing and Communications Centre that was established in 1997.

CW: How many computers are you in charge of, or how many computers are in your building?

PG: By its very nature as a scientific service and research organisation, the bureau has made extensive use of IT over the last three decades. The IT infrastructure is typical of a modern national meteorological and hydrological service. The infrastructure consists of supercomputing facilities (currently NEC SX4 and SX5 supercomputers, Cray J90 supercomputer), mid-range Unix servers and workstations (about 100), mass storage facilities (StorageTek 4410 Silo with up to 6000 slots and maximum capacity of 1000Tbytes, Storage Tek 9710 Tape Library system with maximum capacity 11Tbytes) and desktop workstations and PCs (about 2000 desktop units).

CW: What are your career plans for the next five years?

PG: My career plans for the next five years revolve around consolidating my knowledge in the areas of high-performance computing and broadband communications.

The aim of this is to ensure that the bureau is able to leverage its investment in people and resources to achieve its overall objective: to meet the needs of all Australians for meteorological information, understanding and services that are essential for their safety, security and general well-being. After that I'll consult my crystal ball.