Bridging the gap between academic research, data analysis and strategic infrastructure planning

DAFNI is a major UK national facility to advance infrastructure system research

National infrastructure systems (energy, transport, digital communications, water etc.) are undergoing a rapid change which is based upon the availability of digital data, communications, and computer power. There are opportunities to improve the efficiency, reliability and sustainability of infrastructure through better sharing and use of data, exploitation of simulation and optimization techniques, and engagement with stakeholders through visualisation. DAFNI represents an £8 million investment from the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) to provide world leading infrastructure systems research capabilities and enhance the quality of outputs.

The UK’s National Infrastructure Plan has set aside over £460 billion of investment for the next decade. However, it is not yet known what effect the investment will have on the quality and reliability of national infrastructure services, economic productivity, the resilience of society or its impacts upon the environment. This uncertainty exists as a result of the inherent complexity of infrastructure networks and their interactions with people and the environment.

At a fundamental level the effectiveness of these investments is underpinned by the quality of the analytics used to inform the decision making. Big data analytics, simulation, modelling and visualisation are now providing the possibility to improve this situation. Addressing this step change is intrinsically complex in nature and represents a broad set of distinct challenges for DAFNI to resolve with the key challenge oriented around focussing on the heterogeneity involved in the multitude of areas encompassed within National Infrastructure modelling.

To address these challenges the DAFNI platform will provide:

  1. a secure yet accessible National Infrastructure Database
  2. a new software platform to enable analysis, modelling and simulation of national infrastructure systems; and
  3. new remote and local visualisation facilities to enable access to and interpretation of the results by researchers and practitioners.

Project Architecture


National Infrastructure Database

The NID exists to provide centrally managed access to national infrastructure datasets and those required to support national infrastructure research. This however, requires a number of functional capabilities on the platform to enable this datastore to be usable, efficient and reliable. The requirements for the NID identify a number of core features: a centrally managed datastore; an Extract Transform and Load (ETL) framework; a data catalogue; and a data access and publication service.


National Infrastructure Modelling Service

The NIMS will provide the user community with the ability to improve performance of existing models, reduce the complexity of creating models and facilitate the creation of complex system-of-systems models. In order to provide this functionality, there are a number of logical components that will support this activity. They are as follows: a workflow framework and creator; a workflow engine; a model catalogue and a data transformation library.


National Infrastructure Cloud Environment

The foundation of all of the capabilities that DAFNI will provide are based upon the existence of a high performance, flexible and scalable cloud environment. Fundamentally this will replicate the functionality available at other analogous cloud environments. The DAFNI project will however provide a series of adaptations to increase the suitability for the intended user community. The breakdown of this is as follows: a cloud environment; a cloud services user interface and command line interface; a number of PaaS offerings (e.g. data science notebooks and databases); and a centralised resource pool in support of PaaS and workflow manager (NIMS) activities.


National Infrastructure Visualisation Suite

Visualisation is an often overlooked or underinvested area of a platform, but is often the primary means through which meaning from results is attained. This is the core role that visualisation will play for DAFNI. It will act as an enabler for facilitating understanding of data, models, outputs and translation of findings to decision makers. In order to achieve this means, the platform will provide the following core functions: traditional visualisation as a service (e.g. graph and tabular representations); and advanced visualisation as a service (e.g. virtual/augmented reality).


Security Service

The DSS forms the crux of all the guarantees the platform will provide with regards to security. In order to ensure the robustness of the platform this aspect manages all security aspects internal to the platform. In order to achieve this it must allow users to seamlessly access and use services without being hindered by the platform whilst maintaining security. In order to achieve this the platform will provide the following functional components: an authentication service; an authorisation service; a monitoring service; and an accounts management service.

Interested in collaborating with DAFNI?

The team offers a breadth of experience across a range of subjects areas, in particular project management, software engineering, systems architecture and design, mathematical modelling, visualisation and community building.

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