How SD-WAN can power federal digital transformation

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How SD-WAN can power federal digital transformation

Digital transformation -- the process of adopting new technologies to create value and reimagine service delivery -- is now disrupting every industry, and the federal government is no exception. Agencies are leveraging private-sector service techniques around data analytics and application delivery to treat citizens like valued customers. A recent IDC , however, predicts that by 2017, "60 percent of digital transformation initiatives will not be able to scale because of a lack of strategic architecture." That means legacy IT remains the biggest barrier to transformation.

A recent survey found that only 15 percent of federal IT decision makers believe their current network infrastructure is capable of supporting the demands of digital transformation technologies. That’s a scary statistic. Resondents' doubts come from the fact that going digital means more data that must be shared, analyzed and distributed, and bandwidth-intensive applications are being asked to deliver services to more federal personnel and citizens faster than ever before. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a network.

The good news is that network innovation is coming to the rescue in the form of software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN). A traditional WAN is a connection between two networks -- think of it as the road that federal mission-critical applications, communications and data drive on. When this road becomes software-defined, it becomes capable of intelligently routing traffic. The resulting agility, automation, visibility and flexibility are critical to the foundational vision of digital transformation. The following four  key areas will directly benefit from enhanced networking

1. DevOps

A buzzword that’s getting quite a bit of use  inside the federal government, DevOps is a collaborative mentality that guides development and IT operations teams to produce software faster and more efficiently. Some agencies have begun to see the benefits. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was able to update its online employment verification system in a mere six weeks by using a DevOps approach. To put that into perspective, the legacy approach to software development can take 18 to 25 months.

Reaping the benefits of DevOps, however, depends on a network infrastructure that can keep up with constant application updates and releases. Normally, as application requirements change, WAN configurations must be manually corrected to account for new application bandwidth needs. SD-WAN empowers administrators to intelligently automate this process so they can keep up with rapidly evolving requirements and ensure network infrastructure isn’t slowing down service delivery.

2. Customer experience

Customer experience comes down to one very simple question: Can I easily do what I came here to do?

Citizens’ answers to that question haven’t been overwhelmingly positive when it comes to interactions with the federal government because they are bringing Amazon-esque expectations to their online interactions. In fact, the public sector was ranked third from last in the American Customer Satisfaction Index last year.

Because network performance is critical to ensuring services are there when citizens need them, IT managers should focus on basics like availability and reliability. Something as simple as a website being down when a citizen needs a tax form can degrade customer experience, so visibility into traffic patterns and application consumption habits is critical to ensuring availability.

SD-WAN gives agencies total visibility from a single command center. It lets them make on-the-fly adjustments to network performance and application delivery to meet their ever-changing needs and prevent network outages to mission-critical applications. It also allows IT managers to set predetermined workflows, making it easier for large agencies to manage digital services on a large scale.

3. Internet of Things

With the IoT, humans are no longer the only end point to be concerned about.  From bodycams and trash receptacles to sensors in the fuel tank of F-35, anything and everything is now sharing data across the internet. As device connections approach the billions, IoT is creating a high demand on connectivity. Federal IT leaders must ensure a variety of networks can work together to support IoT devices so they can make better, real-time decisions based on the information they provide. SD-WAN is the key to navigating the complexity of this hybridized network in an automated way.

4. Big data

Agencies are harnessing and sharing more data than ever before, and they need the ability to analyze that data to make decisions on behalf of citizens. The challenge of collecting and securing enormous volumes of information can keep network administrators up at night. SD-WAN can help maximize network resources to handle this data tsunami, monitoring performance in real-time, making automated adjustments on the fly and collecting and analyzing critical usage data to prepare for future needs.

Maximizing network resources is also critical to the goals of the Office of Management and Budget’s Data Center Optimization Initiative. As stated in the initiative, SD-WAN can play “a very strong role” in helping agencies meet the DCOI’s goals of using resources more efficiently.

To realize the vision of federal IT modernization and digital transformation, the underlying network infrastructure must evolve alongside innovations in application development and service delivery. SD-WAN is poised to be a key enabler of the next generation of federal IT. 

About the Author

Davis Johnson is vice president of the U.S. public sector at Riverbed Technology.

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