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Using cloud computing to fight corona

by Editorial team
The logo of the Corona-Warn-App – a blue-red C
One of the best tools in the fight against COVID-19: The German government’s Corona-Warn-App. Image: German Federal Government.

In this article you will read about,

  • how the Corona-Warn-App is delivered from the cloud, 
  • what requirements the cloud platform must meet for this
  • and which method accelerated the development process.

Whether to protect their own health or out of social responsibility: More than 16 million German citizens have now installed the Corona-Warn-App on their smartphones. For weeks, the app has been at the top of the download charts in both Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store. According to a recent Bitkom survey, every second smartphone user plans to keep using the Corona-Warn-App in the long term. The most common motivation: to use every available option to fight the coronavirus and to protect themselves and their fellow human beings. The German user numbers are the highest when compared internationally to similar tracing apps in other countries.

The German population’s trust in the Corona-Warn-App was by no means a given. After all, there were many challenges to overcome in the run-up to the app launching – and many people in Germany were concerned about the possible processing of personal data and too little data protection. 

Best possible data security for all citizens

Both the client, the German Ministry of Health, and the operator of the Corona-Warn-App, the Robert Koch Institute, saw the protection of personal data and compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as being the highest priority. 

But the other requirements were also demanding. The most important specifications: the technology used had to be based on open standards, be located in data centers in Germany and have important security certifications. The Open Telekom Cloud, the public cloud solution from app development partner Deutsche Telekom, was therefore quickly selected for the technical infrastructure. Provided from highly secure data centers in Magdeburg and Biere, the Open Telekom Cloud is based on the open standard OpenStack. It also meets the C5 requirements of the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), which certifies that cloud providers meet the highest level of security.

Interrupt infection chains digitally at an early stage

And what does that mean in practice? If a person has tested positive for the coronavirus and reports their infection via the Corona-Warn-App, their smartphone exchanges randomly generated keys with other nearby devices via Bluetooth. The keys are matched via verification servers provided from the Open Telekom Cloud. If there are large clusters of infections, in which a lot of data has to be synchronized, the cloud resources can be increased within a very short time and shut down just as quickly.  

Since the start of the project, Telekom experts have also been in close contact with the software manufacturer SAP, which co-developed the app. The Walldorf-based developers and the other Telekom units involved will receive extended support for the Open Telekom Cloud as part of the Enterprise Agreements, thus making an important contribution to containing the COVID-19 pandemic.   

App development fast tracked

In addition to the stringent demands when it came to the protection of the privacy of users, the time requirements of the client were also ambitious. The goal: The Corona-Warn-App should be available in 50 days. The developers and project managers of the participating companies therefore decided on the DevOps agile development approach. The advantage: DevOps enables faster results without compromising the quality of the software. To achieve this, the individual development steps are broken down into small parts and assigned to defined teams. Early involvement of the operations team in the development process prevents unpleasant surprises during operation. All those involved are constantly in close communication and share important information. In this way, the software is continuously improved throughout the entire development process. The choice of method was a major factor in ensuring that SAP and Deutsche Telekom were able to meet the ambitious schedule. 

But the work is not over yet: The Corona-Warn-App is continuously being improved. To this end, SAP and Deutsche Telekom are in close contact with companies such as Apple and Google. In addition, a new feature is to be released soon: A solution is being worked on to enable cross-border data exchange between the various systems in the countries of the European Union.

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