IT infrastructure LOB to focus on ends, not means

Agencies could soon have a new set of standards to comply with when planning their information technology and communications infrastructures. The Office of Management and Budget expects to identify metrics next year for cost-effectiveness as part of its IT Infrastructure Line of Business initiative. Eventually, agencies will have to meet standards based on those metrics.

How they do it will be up to them, said Tim Young, OMB's associate administrator of e-government and IT, at the Physically Diverse Networks (PDN) Summit in Washington today. OMB will set the ends; the agencies will find the means.

'We want government to focus on buying service,' Young said. IT infrastructure is a utility rather than a core part of most agencies' missions, he added. 'This is an area that represents a commodity, like keeping the lights on. It is not a value-add.'

The IT Infrastructure LOB, along with the massive Networx telecommunications contract, is one of two primary tools OMB and the General Services Administration offer to help agencies meet requirements for establishing physically diverse networks. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who helped embed the requirement in a 2004 appropriations bill, said physical diversity is necessary to ensure the survivability of government networks.

'One of the best ways to provide reliability is with redundancy,' Stevens said in his opening remarks at the PDN Summit, organized by the Wireless Communications Association International in cooperation with the Commerce Department.

Physical network diversity grew out of a Cold War effort to make a handful of national defense sites more secure in the event of a military attack. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 emphasized the need for broad-based diversity so communications networks could survive catastrophic disruption.

A federal law requires federally owned buildings to have redundant communications channels with physically separate entry points to the buildings and physically diverse local network facilities. The goal is to ensure that if one link goes down, essential communications can be maintained. The law applies only to federally owned buildings, but an OMB directive implementing it expands the requirements to leased properties.

The law went into effect in 2005, but it is being implemented primarily through the Networx contract, which requires physically diverse networks. The IT Infrastructure LOB will also help by creating a vehicle for consolidating infrastructures as some agencies are designated as service providers to others.

The initiative will focus on five areas: data centers; telecommunications, including voice networks, cellular services, land-line services, wireless devices, voice-over-IP appliances, computer networking and associated software; data networks; desktop or seat management; and IT help desks.

'Every agency handles its IT differently,' Young said. This will not change, but evaluating performance will be standardized.

An IT Infrastructure LOB task force was established 18 months ago and has been studying private-sector efforts in that area to identify best practices and pitfalls to avoid. The group will use that information to establish metrics for agencies to use in evaluating their performance and to help them find better ways of handling their IT infrastructures, if necessary.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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