network moderization

Network modernization: big change, but one step at a time

Federal CIOs frequently acknowledge that their networks might not be up to snuff.  Budget constraints and limited resources are cited as top challenges for maintaining networks, and barely one in 10 believes the agency’s network infrastructure can support modern solutions to move and manage data, according to Brocade’s latest survey of 200 participants at 65 federal agencies.

To make matters worse, many agencies might be spending too much of their existing funds maintaining old and outdated networks.  “[F]or a lot of companies -- and I think agencies --  80, 85 percent of the budget… just goes to maintaining the old, which means there’s no money to upgrade to the new, and that creates a huge problem,” said Christine Heckart, Brocade’s chief  marketing officer.

“The modernization of the IT environment of the federal government has to be one of our high priorities,” said Federal CIO Tony Scott in a recent keynote address at the Federal Forum.  ”We’re going to have to replace large parts of what we have because [existing network architecture] just was never designed for the mission and for the challenges that we face today – particularly in the cybersecurity space.”

What can CIOs do in times of budget austerity to address network concerns and what should they focus on?  Both Heckart and Scott suggested a measured approach, one that builds on incremental change and small successes.  In updating from network architectures, Heckart recommended focusing on software as opposed to hardware to take advantage of tools such as fabrics and network function visualization (NFV). Depending on which part of the network is modernized, Heckart said, executives can see savings between 30 percent and 90 percent.

For Scott, modernizing is about incrementalism.  Relating a story from his days at Microsoft when engineers were preparing to roll out a new version of the operating system, Scott said that he discovered that only a third of the servers were capable of running the new operating system.  As the team started replacing the servers, they discovered that they could replace 10 old servers “with one new one and leverage all kinds of new modern technology.” Fewer servers cut costs and boosted energy efficiency.  By replacing servers on a regular basis, he said, Microsoft was able to divert money into other projects.  

“So the main advice I’d give,” Heckart said, “is don’t fall in love with or get caught in any one new IP technology…These technologies go through hype cycles themselves.”  Among tools such as NFV, software defined network, fabrics and open platforms,  “there’s not one of them that is any better or more important than any other,” she said.  

While it’s important that agencies find the best tools for their modernization efforts, they should make what progress they can so their systems can handle current and future workloads.  “If you delay, you fall behind,” she said.    

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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