Building tomorrow’s network today
- By Brian Wright
- Aug 27, 2021
Network modernization is critical for federal agencies harnessing next-generation technologies that promise faster communications, greater data transfer rates and more mobility and connectivity for efficient operations and better delivery of citizen services.
Earlier this year, Congress gave federal agencies much needed resources to launch multiyear transformational projects by adding $1 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF), a revolving fund that awards five-year loans to agencies for IT modernization projects that demonstrate a strong return on investment. The influx of money will boost agency initiatives to secure and modernize networks.
Many network managers are evaluating projects to determine where their agency can get the most from network modernization investments. The answer will depend on the specific agency’s mission, the state of its existing network infrastructure and future technology plans. For instance, what are the agency’s plans cloud services deployment or 5G networking? Are agency leaders weighing whether to deploy now or hold back to see the results of testing and pilot programs?
When looking to get the most bang for their network investments, agencies should consider the following five factors:
1. Moving beyond 802.11 wireless
Many agencies have aging network equipment that meet today’s networking requirements but might not address future requirements for mobile connectivity. Most have deployed some iteration of the 802.11 wireless standard, but with the rapid changes in that technology, some of those networks could be five years old or more. Agencies must now consider Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E (Extended), which is coming over the next 12 months and Wi-Fi 7 soon after. Each of these wireless technologies will offer greater throughput and connectivity for end-user mobile devices, internet-of-things devices and latency-sensitive applications. Agencies will need to ensure that their network infrastructure is upgraded to accommodate these future wireless network capabilities.
2. Looking inside the wiring closet
Some quick and easy network upgrade fixes revolve around multi-gigabit Ethernet access. An examination of the status of the access switches inside the wiring closet is the first place to start. Replacing legacy switches with more modern stackable devices that offer higher capacity uplinks, greater power-over-internet capabilities and multi-gig interfaces -- 2.5-, 5- and 10-gigabit user access ports -- is a sound investment. Upgrading switches is a quick and easy way to capitalize on existing cabling infrastructure in the building.
3. Examining cabling infrastructure
Cabling supports the smooth running of an agency’s mission today and will continue to be important as bandwidth requirements rise. What category of copper is running from the closet to the desktop? What type of fiber infrastructure is installed and how old is it? The latest high-performance category 6A cabling for enterprises can support 10 gigabit/sec speeds, while the newest OM5 wideband multimode fiber optics meets the rising bandwidth demands of data centers. Either way, agencies need dependable high-performance cabling infrastructure that will last long into the future.
4. Maintaining strong security
Agencies must maintain data security throughout the enterprise, and physical layer or wired security is an important part of a comprehensive security strategy. Network managers must guard against unauthorized access, physical intrusion or tapping of cables as well as noncontact eavesdropping. These security threats can result in stolen data, network degradation or unscheduled downtime. To that end, network managers should invest in secure port blockers and locking patch cords that prevent unauthorized access to fiber and copper ports at the work outlet, patch panel and switches through a color-coded locking mechanism inserted in the port, as well as other interlocking armor for high-level protection against damage and intrusion.
5. Enhancing data center infrastructure
Federal data center managers today must maintain high levels of availability while offering faster responses to rapid changes in mission operations, applications and user demand. Regardless of whether an agency has moved to the cloud, many applications, systems and networking equipment are still on-premises. Can the infrastructure connect the vital storage, applications and network assets of the data center? If not, agencies should invest in platforms that seamlessly integrate leading router, switch, server and storage solutions while addressing the challenges of cabling density, cooling airflow and reduced rackspace.
Take a holistic approach
TMF offers agencies the opportunity to make significant network infrastructure changes. It is key for agencies to take a holistic approach rather than expanding small parts of the network. Federal managers should look at the totality of where their network is today, where they want to be tomorrow and then two to three years down the road. Using TMF money and next-generation networking contracts like the General Services Administration’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle can make that happen today.
Brian Wright is director of systems engineering at CommScope.