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GovTech developing scalable middleware for Smart Nation Sensor Platform in the form of Sensor Data Exchange

GovTech developing scalable middleware for Smart Nation Sensor Platform in the form of Sensor Data Exchange

At the Smart Nation and Digital Government Industry Briefing yesterday, Mr. Chan Cheow Hoe (above), Deputy Chief Executive, Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech) provided a brief summary of the ongoing work and plans for the Smart Nation Sensor Platform (SNSP).

SNSP is one of the three key focus areas for GovTech this year (the other two are National Digital Identity and e-payments). Out of the Singapore Government’s FY17 technology budget of SG$2.4 billion, SG$216 million is dedicated towards realisation of the Smart Nation vision, an increase of 7.7 times as compared to the previous year.

Work includes a project for converting all 110,000 lampposts in Singapore managed by the Land Transport Authority (plus 26000  under National Parks) into an interconnected network of wireless sensors.

SNSP is an integrated platform based on hardware, software, communications, software and data. The SNSP can be compared to the five senses of a human, the senses in this context being Sight (video), Sound (Audio), Motion (vibration), Environment (temperature, humidity etc.) and location (beacon). If Singapore is to be a truly connected country,  the ability to sense everything  in every part of the country more and more closely is highly important.

The design of SNSP is based on five principles: Scalable; open ecosystem; adaptable; share and reuse; and secure.

The platform has to scale to the whole of Singapore. It  will be built and developed through an open ecosystem with participation from industry. Furthermore, there are no industry standards today for many of the things involved in SNSP. Ensuring interoperability with multiple standards and platforms will be critical.

The government does not want to build everything from scratch time and again. The platform will be built once and it will be ensure that everything built on top is reusable.

Sensor Data Exchange

One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the huge volumes of data that will be generated from the sensors, processing the data and making sense of it. GovTech is developing a real-time Sensor Data Exchange (SDX) to complete the puzzle. SDX will allow seamless data sharing and management, and encompass public, private and industrial internet-of-things (IoT) sensors.

Copy of graphic from GovTech presentation

Software defined abstraction (removal of certain characteristics) layering will provide better security. Users will have no access to physical sensors. Automatic discovery of sensor data will be enabled through data catalogue. The middleware will use a publish and subscribe model, where senders of messages, called publishers, do not program the messages to be sent directly to specific receivers, called subscribers, but instead characterize published messages into classes. Subscribers express interest in one or more classes and only receive messages that are of interest, without knowledge of which publishers, if any, there are.

Fine grain quality of service (QoS) will also be enabled and there will be centralised management of data with built in security.

GovTech is adopting a practical approach towards security for the SNSP. The sensors themselves and the communications network, whether wired or wireless, will be in an unclassified zone, if it doesn’t impinge on security and privacy issues . But the moment the data is aggregated and processed, it will get classified. The focus will be on securing the processed data, for instance say once you have license plate numbers.

Photograph of slide form GovTech presentation

Commercial networks will push the data to middleware. Some of the data will go directly to the API Exchange (APEX), a centralised data sharing platform for government agencies to share data conveniently and securely through the use of Application Programming Interfaces or APIs. Other data will go through the processing platform, and pushed  into APEX. APEX sits on top of Nectar where applications can be developed. Nectar is a Platform-as-a-service developed by the Government Digital Services (GDS) team at GovTech. Nectar integrates the complete application delivery pipeline pulling the code from source-code repositories, performing the builds, running security scans, deploying the application, scaling on demand and monitoring.

APEX and NECTAR are already there. APEX is being piloted in MyInfo and eCitizen Ideas! ‘Phase Two of Necar’ is due in June 2017 while ‘Phase Three’ in 2018.

Some sensors are also already existing. It will be a matter of consolidation for those. Applications will continue evolving and developing. Platforms available in the market will be used for ingestion and pre-processing and real-time analytics.

Most of the data centre components are also already in place, partly through the significant spend of infrastructure during FY16 (SG$1.85 billion or 66% of total ICT expenditure). In terms of hard infrastructure, it will be commercial cloud, private cloud or data centre within the government itself (currently the government is putting all unclassified data into the commercial cloud).

The only big missing component is the middleware, which is under development. The idea of sharing sensor data through a portal, sensor.gov.sg, in the medium term is also being explored, as the ultimate objective is to create a data economy. 

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