Managed networks are the future

Agencies clearly are interested in outsourcing the management of their network and communications. And the General Services Administration's Networx governmentwide acquisition contract likely will be the lever to get this idea moving more quickly.

Agency and vendor experts today said handing over some or all of your network management responsibilities to a managed services provider could provide cost savings, improved security and improved continuity of operations planning.

But, experts warned, agency officials must detail to a specific level of granularity their performance expectations.

'You should ask the vendor, 'How much do you love me?'' said Ed Meagher, the Interior Department's deputy CIO at a breakfast on managed services for COOP in Washington sponsored by Federal Computer Week. 'You must come to an understanding based on what you are buying that they will be there when you need it, and you're not just one of several customers in line.'

Jonathan Nguyen-Duy, Verizon Communications Inc.'s group manager for business continuity services, added that agencies should ask their potential providers whether they are using the same services internally and whether there will be dedicated resources for their agency.

Agencies spending on network and communications services have risen to $17.2 billion in 2006, and GSA expects this to continue at a 5 percent rate over the next four years.

Jim Williams, commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, said the government's move to IP Version 6 and agency focus on mission-critical applications are the main reasons for this growth.

'As we introduce more network services, they become more consolidated and complex,' he said. 'Agencies are looking for end-to-end communications, which makes the management of the network more important. The question many agencies have to answer is whether they have the staff and expertise to do all these types of things.'

Williams suggested agencies look at areas for vendors to manage such as firewalls, intrusion detection, vulnerability scanning and secure e-mail.

Networx will provide a structured environment to buy these services, said Chip Freund, Verizon's director of market development and enhanced services.

'In the private sector and in government, organizations are collapsing into their IP infrastructure,' he said. 'A managed service provider can help you mitigate problems with your network more easily and quickly.'

Freund added that with managed services, agencies will have to worry less about everyday network problems and focus on the strategic use and development of the infrastructure.

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