The means to end-to-end
Networx contracts will help agencies converge their voice, data networks via IPv6 and managed services
- By John Rendleman
- Jun 21, 2007
'What we want to buy is end-to-end IP services. I just want to plug my RJ-45 jack or, hopefully pretty soon, my fiber-optic cable into the wall and get IP services.' ' Ed Meagher, Interior
Henrik G. de Gyor
[IMGCAP(2)]The award of the Networx contracts ushers in a new era of telecommunications services for federal agencies. As the government moves from expiring contracts to the new vehicles, many agencies will upgrade technologies, revamp their networks and rethink their business processes.
The two General Services Administration contracts, Networx Universal and Networx Enterprise, provide a staggering menu of more than 50 communications services, including managed and applications-based services not available under previous contracts.
The services included in the Networx contracts 'are very advanced in terms of what's being done out there in corporate America,' said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. 'GSA's vision is strategically very forward-looking.'
The two contracts offer similar lists of services, but Universal required bidders to be able to offer most of the services, while Enterprise made 42 of its 51 services optional. In addition, Enterprise allowed bidders to offer services regionally, whereas Universal, as its name implies, requires companies to cover federal offices nationwide and overseas.
AT&T, Qwest Communications and Verizon won spots on Universal. The same three companies also got places on Enterprise, along with Sprint and Level 3 Communications. Sprint bid unsuccessfully for a place on Universal.
Agencies eager to get started can begin now by issuing a statement of requirements, but the contract holders will most likely be testing their internal systems through the summer. Still, agencies must complete their transition to Networx by 2010, when the previous contract, FTS 2001, expires.
How quickly Networx takes off will vary with each agency: Those bullish on the new capabilities will aggressively pursue the transition. Others might proceed more reluctantly, observers predict. After years of wrangling with GSA and Congress about how it would buy telecom services, the Treasury Department this month became the first agency to issue a statement of requirements under Networx, and dozens of other agencies are expected to follow in the coming months.Close examination
Agencies will use the transition period to take a hard look at the network services they have, decide whether they could do without some of them and, at the same time, bring new capabilities into play.
[IMGCAP(1)]Networx has long-range benefits, with new technologies and offerings such as managed-security services and IP technologies, but the benefits of revamping network configurations will pay off even sooner, said Ed Meagher, deputy chief information officer at the Interior Department.
'This is an opportunity we shouldn't let pass to take a look at our network and see if it's as efficient as we want it to be. It doesn't take much to make a network perform suboptimally,' said Meagher, who also is Interior's chief network architect.
As a result, the first services Interior plans to use under Networx will include tracing and documenting the agency's current network. 'That's a pretty big job, and it's something that we're going to need assistance with,' Meagher said. The network snapshot the agency hopes to capture will include information about the layout of all its voice and data circuits, including identifying the companies that provide them and the terms and conditions under which they're provided.
Meagher said he also wants to evaluate the security of the network to identify vulnerabilities, locate any transport bottlenecks or underperforming circuits, and see if the department's routing system is performing optimally.
Once that's complete, Interior can start replacing its current voice and data circuits with services offered through Networx, he said. Interior plans to take a measured approach to the transition, he said, initially installing new Networx links alongside current circuits and running both simultaneously until it's certain the new ones are peforming well.
The process won't be easy, but it will position Interior to take advantage of new services Meagher sees as Networx's chief benefit.
'What we want to buy is end-to-end IP services,' he said. 'I just want to plug my RJ-45 jack or ' hopefully pretty soon ' my fiber-optic cable into the wall and get IP services. That's where the private sector is headed, and that's where we ought to be headed too.'
The managed services and services that incorporate applications intelligence available under Networx move the government closer to a utility model of data services in which the customer is freed from many management and administrative duties, Meagher said. That frees agencies from having to develop a core competency in network communications, he said.
'We should be buying communications as a utility from those who do it well,' Meagher said. 'I don't think there are many agencies that are generating electricity in their basements or running a transit system,' and the same concept should apply to voice and data networking.Tech menu
Networx offers a wide range of enhanced services on top of traditional voice and data transport. These include IP-based services, managed and applications-based services, security services, optical data transport services, local access services and wireless services, in addition to custom engineering, design and construction services.
On the custom-services side, agencies can tap the expertise of AT&T Government Solutions' 4,000 employees, who can help agencies design their networks, said Jeff Mohan, director of the Networx program office at AT&T Government Solutions.
'If we do it right, the customer doesn't have to do all of that work,' Mohan said. Depending on an agency's resources and sophistication, 'we will adapt to whatever the customer has,' he said. 'If they have a very technical staff we will work with them, and if they don't, we will provide those services.'
In the managed network services category, offerings available under Networx include managed conferencing, telework support services, dedicated and collocated Web hosting, application hosting, data storage, unified messaging, collaboration support and Internet-based fax delivery services.
Security services offered through the Networx contracts include managed firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention, antivirus services, user authentication services, vulnerability scanning, incident response services, and secure managed e-mail.
The Networx contracts' managed services take much of the day-to-day headache out of administering a network by enabling networkwide enforcement of usage and security policies through equipment built into the provider's network, vastly simplifying a previously complex process, said Edward Amoroso, chief security officer at AT&T.Eyes on IPv6
Networx requires its vendors to support end-to-end transport of IPv6, which will help agencies meet the Office of Management and Budget's requirement that agencies complete their transition from IPv4 to IPv6 by June 2008.
IPv6 is the next-generation Internet standard, with a vast number of potential unique IP addresses and stronger security measures that will help agencies run their networks more efficiently and securely.
A key point is that agencies can take advantage of IPv6 through relatively small changes, a bit at a time, said David Kreigman, president of the federal division of Command Information, which provides Internet software, transport and consulting services to government and commercial customers.
Among its many inherent advantages over its predecessor, IPv6 includes more space in its addressing fields, better use of message headers and built-in security capabilities, all of which will eventually make IP networks more efficient and easier to manage, Kreigman said.
The new protocol's longer addresses and optimized message headers, for example, will allow users to issue IP addresses to an enormous number of devices and specify the function a device plays in a network, enabling administrators to assign different quality-of-service levels to traffic, which will ensure better performance for new and cost-saving services such as voice over IP and IP-based videoconferencing.
All in all, with IPv6, 'you've got a more powerful stack, so you can have lighter-weight applications and more features,' while eliminating from the network some of the hardware that performs those functions today, Kriegman said.
Although the potential advantages of Networx provide powerful incentives for agencies to begin their transition, no transition is without risks, experts warn.Tread carefully
Agencies nervous about the transition may want to consider managed services as a way of minimizing their risk, according to providers. Managed services put the onus of service continuity and network per- formance on the providers, said Susan Zeleniak, vice president at Verizon Federal. That's especially true given the sophistication of the services available and the complexity of combining them into a single network, said Zeleniak's colleague, Charles Lee, chief technology officer at Verizon Federal.
GSA did a good job of ensuring the Networx program has all the necessary services for a well-rounded contract offering, 'but there really is some assembly required,' Lee said.
Although daunting, the transition to Networx 'will be a real opportunity for thought leadership as well as technical leadership' on the part of federal agencies, said Jim Payne, president of federal telecoms at Bechtel, an AT&T partner for AT&T's Networx offerings. 'It's an opportunity to change your network landscape and get more for less and to use this as a very attractively priced vehicle to consider things that never could have been considered before.'