We decided to use PHPrunner to develop a prototype of the operational application. The prototype interface included more than 100 screens and was developed in a month.

Mark Elkington,
UK Meteorological Office Hadley Centre
Mark Elkington

Mark Elkington is a scientific software specialist at the UK's Meteorological Office working on the management of climate model data. He has more than 30 years experience of working with large scientific data archives.

The Met Office Hadley Centre is a leading climate modelling centre and was recently ranked as the No.1 geosciences institute in the world by the Times Higher Educational Supplement. Our climate scientists use supercomputers to produce model simulations for the future global climate, hundreds of years into the future. An increasingly important aspect of our work is managing the extensive databases of metadata which describe how the various models were configured, which data were used as inputs and the definition of the resulting model outputs. The complexity of the simulations being run is increasingly rapidly and this metadata is critical to allow scientists from around the world to compare simulation runs, provide a context for analysing the results and establish the provenance of a particular piece of data.

The CREM project

We needed a database that would allow us to capture relevant metadata at various points in the process of designing and producing our key climate simulations. A database schema was developed in house which reflected our internal needs, but also recognised the need to be compatible with external metadata standards.

So far so good, the next problem was to quickly establish an administration interface for the database so that we could start to capture metadata for ongoing experiments. Given the size and complexity of the schema, there was not going to be the time or resources available to produce a custom implementation. We were also very aware that the schema would be changing regularly in response to external and internal requirements and our applications would need to be able to respond quickly. We needed a development tool that would allow us both to build an application quickly and make rapid changes as the need arose.

Based on previous experience in the team, we decided to use PHPrunner to develop a prototype interface with the goal of helping clarify the requirements for the operational application. The prototype interface included more than 100 screens and was developed in a month. As our application is a somewhat specialised use of PHPrunner, we made extensive use of the customisation features with regard to templates, styles, events and presentation. In particular we spent some time investigating template changes and custom event codes to minimise the number of screen specific customisations that were necessary. This was done to limit the amount of custom code that would need to be developed and maintained in a rapidly evolving situation and to take full advantage of PHPrunner's interface standardisation features.

The prototype was a success and demonstrated the technical viability of PHPrunner and its support for rapid development. PHPrunner was therefore chosen to produce the operational CREM (Climate Research Experiment Management) applications. Prior to developing the operational version, a number of significant changes and extensions were made to the database schema, and the standard PHPrunner templates were further customised to meet our needs. The entire system was rebuilt using PHPrunner with a few weeks of development effort.

CREM - data order progress screen

Benefits

The key benefits for the Met Office of using PHPRunner have been:

its flexibility to allow us to quickly respond to database schema changes with new interfaces;

the consistency of interface functionality across multiple applications; and

its extensive range of customisation options on events, templates, and presentation.

We have also been pleased with the phased evolution of the product by Xlinesoft with significant and useful additions to its capability being made on each release. The support provided by the product team at Xlinesoft has also been exemplary - support requests are answered within one working day and the information provided is, where possible, specific to our use of the product and not simply a pointer to some generic information.

Next steps

We are now investigating linking PHPrunner with other templating technologies to allow us to dynamically transform our metadata to meet the information exchange requirements of international model intercomparison projects and to create structured collaboration frameworks for scientists to report on their climate simulations.

More info

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