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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Network modernization is the first step to IT modernization

Federal IT modernization is real, and it’s happening now.

That signal was made clear when the White House’s American Technology Council recently released a draft 36-point plan to usher in updated technology. The plan includes an aggressive series of deadlines that, if met, could serve as a playbook for agencies to drive IT change.

This is just the federal government's latest move to create serious momentum around digital transformation.

Coupled with the current administration’s  May cyber executive order and the seemingly imminent passage of the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which pledges around $500 million in new technology investment, federal agency CIOs may soon have all the elements they need to make the long-discussed modernization a reality.

While many imagine that IT modernization means transitioning from on-premise servers to the cloud or switching from web browser-only services to mobile-friendly apps and sites, this vision misses a critical part of the equation -- network modernization.

Updating system architecture without improving the network is like driving a Ferrari down a dirt road. It doesn’t matter how speedy or powerful your new tool is if it is hampered by narrow pathways that slow it down. An updated, modern approach, like a software-defined wide-area network, provides a solution that both simplifies network management and delivers higher performance, so that the Ferrari, or in this case, cloud-based applications, can reach top potential.

The benefits of a network boost

There are four main stages of cloud modernization: planning, migration, management and improvement. Creating a robust network during the planning phase that can support each of the following stages is a major component of a proper plan. Prioritizing the networking aspect of IT assets enables a smoother migration, more transparency when managing the system and the flexibility to improve it over time without worrying about bandwidth issues.

Modern networks give users nearly limitless freedom to perform tasks quickly and efficiently. But when networks aren’t up to date, they make applications difficult  to access and run. Antiquated networks erase any benefits of a new application or web-based tool. If an agency doesn’t place a modernized network at the top of its IT modernization priority list, every other to-do item will fall short of its full potential.

One of the lesser-known benefits of an upgraded network for federal IT is enhanced visibility. With more insights into a network’s traffic, IT managers can drive better application performance, increased productivity, an improved user experience for the public and added levels of security at a time of increased threats. By knowing a network's bandwidth limitations prior to modernization, agencies can ensure they are creating an upgraded experience for their end users -- or in this case, the public. An upgraded network is the first step to guaranteeing citizens reap the benefits of more effective digital services, for everything from getting a new passport to filling out paperwork when starting a small business.

Strengthening security through visibility 

Having a modern network enables gives IT managers a clear view into the activity on an agency server -- a vital element as the federal government continues to push for a stronger cyber posture. Through an updated network, IT departments can look for threats, such as unauthorized data movement, abnormal traffic patterns and unusually rapid speeds. The more visibility agencies have, the more power and control they gain over the sensitive data living on their network.

The Department of Transportation recently improved its security when it transitioned to cloud-based enterprise applications. During the successful migration, then-CIO Richard McKinney realized there was no blueprint for the agency’s network. DOT had  manually compiled list of its 800 networked devices, but after a quick cyber hygiene exercise that enhanced the visibility of its network, the agency found that 20 percent of devices connected to the server were hidden and unauthorized IT systems. While there was nothing malicious about their presence, they each represented potential attack vectors for bad actors looking for sensitive information on federal servers. 

The results of a network-first strategy

As the federal government formally rolls out its plans to upgrade its IT architecture, it’s vital that the network leads the charge. From better citizen services to added security, a robust network serves as the backbone for all effective government digital services. Making this change before investing in other IT modernization updates will enable federal CIOs and CISOs to create a scalable system architecture that provides fast, simple solutions that both citizens and government employees can rely on.

About the Author

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

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