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Singapore government makes bold cloud move

Most government IT systems will be migrated to commercial cloud services within five years, while a private government cloud will host more sensitive workloads

The Singapore government is expected to move the bulk of its IT systems to commercial cloud services over the next five years in ongoing efforts to deliver citizen services in a faster and cheaper way.

Speaking at Stack 2018, the inaugural developer conference organised by the Government Technology Agency (GovTech), Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that the government has concluded that many government systems can, in principle, be hosted on commercial cloud services.

“Over the next few years, we will begin to migrate some systems onto the cloud, gain experience in this mode of operation, and take bolder steps in light of what we can learn,” he said.

Noting that cloud computing will help the government lower IT costs “by orders of magnitude”, and enable it to scale up or down services easily, Lee said it was not a question of whether the government will use the cloud, but to what extent the cloud can be used with minimal risks.

“For systems that cannot go onto the commercial cloud, we have to design and build our own government cloud, so that at least these systems can share the government cloud infrastructure and benefit from its efficiencies and economies of scale,” he added.

Lee noted that for sensitive workloads that need to be isolated, the government will figure out how to develop and operate them in a future when everything else is on the cloud.

The clarion call for greater use of commercial cloud services follows an earlier initiative by the Singapore government to tap Amazon Web Services (AWS) to power some 500 government websites through its Content Website Platform (CWP).

Besides providing penetration testing, defacement monitoring and content delivery network (CDN) capabilities, the CWP harnesses a slew of AWS services, such as Simple Storage Service (S3) and Elastic Load Balancing for automatic scaling of resources.

The idea was to provide a common platform for back-end services, so government agencies can focus on managing web content rather than piece together a website’s underlying infrastructure from scratch, from storage and servers to transactional systems.

This shared infrastructure model is now being boosted through the new Singapore Government Technology Stack (SGTS), a set of technology building blocks that will provide shared software and infrastructure services that government agencies can use to build and test new applications quickly.

SGTS comprises three standardised layers – a container-based platform so all agencies can use the same set of tools and programming language, shared middleware such as centralised API (application programming interface) gateways, and a library of commonly used microservices such as payment and authentication.

“Together, SGTS, cloud and data will enable us to re-engineer the government’s digital infrastructure,” Lee said. “This will form the DevOps and digital environment for in-house engineers and users, and enable greater collaboration and exchange with the private sector.”

Computer Weekly understands that many of the components in SGTS were built on commercial products, including commercial versions of open source software. This includes the use of Red Hat OpenShift to orchestrate containers.

Besides Singapore, Australia has also developed a common set of platform and cloud services to support the development and maintenance of government digital services. In February 2018, the Australian federal government announced its secure cloud strategy that focuses on preparing agencies for the shift to cloud services, and supporting them through the transition.

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