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Singapore signs for Azure-hued sovereign cloud from Microsoft

Neither party is willing to talk about the operating model

Singapore is getting its first sovereign cloud, thanks to a partnership between the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) and Microsoft that was signed into existence on Thursday.

A sovereign cloud typically guarantees in-country storage and data processing for highly sensitive workloads and data. Singapore's is intended to assist agencies like the Police and Civil Defence Force, which come under the HTX umbrella.

The Register asked HTX and Microsoft for details of the sovereign capacity, including the location, ownership of infrastructure, and where operating responsibilities lie. HTX said it will respond in three to seven days.

Microsoft responded as follows:

Through this agreement Microsoft is delivering platform capabilities that will enable the digital transformation of Singapore's Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX).

While we can't disclose the terms of this confidential agreement, it is designed to equip HTX with on-demand, high performance cloud computing and data storage resources, all built on Microsoft's Azure platform.

It will enable HTX to quickly adopt new technologies and tools, create new solutions, significantly reduce the time-to-market in introducing new digital capabilities, and meet future scale and capacity needs.

That level of detail contrasts with that offered by Google and the government of France, which in 2021 announced their own sovereign cloud.

Google and France happily admitted to having created a joint venture with French services giant Thales to build a hyperscale cloud that uses Google's cloud platform, but won't ever touch Google-owned hardware, runs on French soil, and won't be operated or managed by Google.

Singapore's government wants its data in a cloud. The city-state laid out a five-year plan back in 2018 to migrate 70 per cent of its less sensitive government IT systems from on-premises infrastructure to the commercial cloud. In June 2021, Singaporean digital agency GovTech revealed that close to 600 systems had been migrated.

Perhaps this new sovereign cloud will house systems not considered "less sensitive."

Microsoft has also thrown in some cloudy upskilling, job development and training initiatives. The HTX and Microsoft joint canned statement said 600 training seats along with exam certificates will be made available annually to HTX to "advance the technical skills of cloud technology professionals in Singapore."

All about the mission

The X in HTX is said to represent the org's role as a "force multiplier" while it tackles areas like surveillance, forensics, and warfare-esque threats with the city-state's safety and security as a focus.

HTX is the agency behind Rover-x – a four-legged robot equipped with sensors, cameras, onboard analytics and autonomous navigation to assist frontline officers and security patrols. The robot draws comparisons to Boston Dynamics's robot dog, Spot.

Singapore did trial Spot in the early days of the pandemic as a social distancing enforcer in its parks. Seems like the trial went well enough for HTX to partner with Klass Engineering and Solutions, Ghost Robotics and A*STAR's Institute for Infocomm Research to make its own cyber pooch.

"The development of Rover-X will transform the way homeland security operations are carried out in the future," said Cheng Wee Kiang, director of HTX's robotics division last month. ®

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