Custom cloud infrastructure for the Flemish government

The woningpas, a digital passport for residences in Flanders

The woningpas is a joint project of several departments of the Flemish government: VEA, the Department of Environment, Housing Flanders and OVAM. These departments are, among other things, responsible for a sustainable energy policy, an environmental policy for climate and renewable energy, housing in Flanders and a sustainable use of materials and management of public waste. Together they want to combine all possible information about residences in Flanders in one digital passport. You can read all about the digital passport, called woningpas, here!

Wanted: a secure IT infrastructure!

Several teams within the ACA Group, worked closely together on the woningpas as a project. While the other teams developed the woningpas platform itself, the cloud team was responsible for setting up and maintaining the custom cloud infrastructure and other DevOps related activities.

“Security is of the utmost importance for this project,” Peter Jans, Business Unit Manager of ACA Cloud, explains. “The woningpas platform contains personal data of both civilians and their residences. We need to guarantee that unauthorized people cannot retrieve data that they aren’t supposed to see.”

Privacy and security weren’t the only challenges though. “The platform needs to be available for users at all times. That’s why we have to ensure that scaling is possible at busy moments, such as the launch of the platform,” Peter continues his explanation. “Users don’t want to wait too long to get onto the platform.”

Solution: a combined on-premise and cloud infrastructure

Hosting the woningpas platform on a combined on-premise and custom cloud infrastructure proved to be the most secure and compliant solution for the Flemish government.

“For security reasons, person-sensitive data isn’t allowed to leave the on-premise infrastructure,” Bregt Coenen, System Engineer at ACA, points out. “However, we also wanted to use the advantages of a cloud infrastructure, such as high availability and scalability.” That’s why ACA decided to create a hybrid solution that ensured only personal data needs to be retrieved from the datacenter.

Diagram Opsklaar: AWS - on premise

On the image above, you can find a schematic representation of the project. Bregt explains it as follows: “To make sure that customers have a great experience with quickly-delivered content, we introduced caching in different layers of the visit flow. Content served by Liferay containing no personal data is cached by CloudFront, while user-specific data is loaded dynamically using the Ajax method.” This means that all static content, like images, CSS, JavaScript and more, can be cached in the cloud using CloudFront.

“Because of this solution, we didn’t just reduce the load on Liferay significantly, but we also ensured that most of the content loads very fast,” the System Engineer goes on. “The dynamic Ajax calls are cached on the on-premise environment, so the third party services don’t receive more calls than necessary. This is very important, since these services tend to have their own capacity limits.”

The advantages for the Flemish government

By combining the on-premise servers with a cloud structure, ACA eliminated the biggest concerns of the Flemish government:

  • Secured personal data of civilians
  • High availability through various datacenters
  • Easy scaling during busy periods
  • Fast user experience
  • Control over the costs

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