The benefits of hybrid networking
- By Tony Bardo
- Dec 21, 2015
Under the Cross-Agency Prioritization goals set by the current administration, the federal government has made significant progress in modernizing outdated legacy technologies. Initiatives like the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy and the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act have enabled easier access to more capable technologies, but they have also put a heavier burden on federal networks. Current technology trends, which range from the connected devices of the Internet of Things to bring-your-own-device initiatives and high-performance applications, are demanding more and more bandwidth. Unfortunately, the one aspect of federal technology modernization that has been overlooked is also the most important: the network backbone on which all the new technologies rely to operate.
Although the concern over inadequate bandwidth is widespread among federal IT professionals, these pressing needs are not reflected in agency budgets. Too often, agencies do not have the funding they think is needed to increase their bandwidth to levels that would support optimized and increasingly automated day-to-day operations. This situation leads to patchwork solutions that are limited in scalability and highly inefficient, both technologically and financially. What is needed is a new federal network standard.
Thankfully a model for such a standard is available, and already being adopted by private sector enterprises. Hybrid networks -- systems that blend traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MLPS) networks with managed broadband -- address the weak points that currently limit federal networks: a lack of bandwidth, budget, capacity and availability, particularly at the agency’s field offices.
Hybrid networks provide additional bandwidth by either supplementing or replacing the traditional dedicated access circuits of MPLS networks with the bandwidth of a managed broadband network. For agency networks that must support a growing number of connected devices and new applications, especially at distributed locations, hybrid networks prevent congestion when the traditional network access technologies cannot handle the volume of higher traffic on their own. The hybrid model achieves this by taking advantage of the Internet and its lower price points and by intelligently prioritizing and routing traffic when needed. A managed hybrid network can help add bandwidth and alleviate the strain on network capacity.
Currently, when a federal agency needs additional bandwidth at distributed sites, it will purchase additional (sometimes multiple) T1 lines that are expensive for the limited amount of capacity they offer. The hybrid network alternative-- implementing managed broadband at these sites -- can offer higher levels of bandwidth at a substantially lower price.
The hybrid network solution can also add desperately needed redundancy and resiliency to federal networks. Currently many agencies consider their networks to have built-in resiliency because they have two different terrestrial lines acquired from two separate service providers, whether fiber, cable or DSL. However, what agencies may not be considering is that these lines, although provided by two different companies delivering adequate bandwidth, are often routed through the same underground conduits. This approach yields limited or no additional gain in network availability should a natural disaster, deliberate attack or human error sever one of those “side-by-side” conduits. Indeed, only implementing a true alternate communications path, which broadband satellite provides, increases the overall availability. Should the primary line be disrupted or lost, all mission-critical traffic could be seamlessly shifted to a satellite link during the terrestrial network outage.
Despite the tangible improvements that a hybrid network solution offers, some agencies will still be hesitant to adopt it because of security concerns related to Internet-based transport as opposed to dedicated networks -- concerns that Rep. William Hurd (R-Texas), chairman of the IT Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, recently described as a “huge misconception.” This is because cloud-based technologies are capable of utilizing the highest level of security standards, such as the AES-256 encryption standard used by intelligence agencies to protect classified information. Completely managed, secure end-to-end solutions are able to offer this kind of encryption to protect sensitive information, both at rest and in ßtransit.
With rising bandwidth demands and plateauing budgets, the situation is clear: Agencies must adopt the new, cheaper and more efficient standard -- hybrid networks. Every day that they perpetuate the antiquated model of legacy networks is one more day of wasted budget dollars and underperforming networks, limiting the potential of new applications and cloud-based solutions.
Tony Bardo is assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes Network Systems.