Boffins start work on data centre to analyse UK infrastructure

£8m facility to help government identify and fix weaknesses

The UK has kicked off development of an £8m data analytics facility for national infrastructure systems like energy and water.

The Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) will be built at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot near Oxford.

The boffins working on the project will build computational systems, hardware and software platforms for data analytics and database simulation and visitation systems.

All of this will be used to analyse communications, energy, water and transport networks in a bid to spot vulnerabilities, improve performance and prioritise workloads.

The development stage will run for four years, but lead researcher Jim Hall said the aim was to start work on smaller projects immediately.

The first project, which is already under way, is NISMOD – a national infrastructure system-of-systems platform and database. This is also being used by the UK's National Infrastructure Commission, Hall said.

Hall told The Reg that the main focus of DAFNI – which is being carried out in collaboration with government and industry – was to provide the methodology to analyse and prioritise work on national infrastructure.

"We want to provide new – and we hope unique – capabilities in analysis of national infrastructure," Hall said. "The purpose is to understand what the implications of policies and technologies will be."

He also hopes that it will encourage innovation in systems modelling, validate existing analytics techniques and help SMEs develop new solutions for data extraction and use.

The centre officially launched last night (July 6), and one of the main issues raised at the event was data security and access.

Hall said that, although the DAFNI would have a "commitment to open data" and planned to make it as transparent as possible, this wouldn't be possible across the board.

For instance, he said, some information on network assets and performance is commercially sensitive or could affect national security.

"We did a project analysing the potential points of failure in the transport system; the points that would cause most disruption," Hall said. "You can imagine the security issues if we'd released that. There are a number of factors that have to be weighed up."

The team has also started a consultation to ask businesses, government organisations and academics the sorts of things they'd like to do at the facility and how they expect to access it.

"We're trying to be as open as we can," Hall said. "The first stage is to shake out the issues and questions people have in mind, then we'll prioritise the main questions and hold two open meetings to get further feedback. We might also do an online consultation." ®

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