4 steps to smart network modernization

Agencies get a faster, more efficient network, while federal IT professionals get more time, fewer headaches and assurance that their network is secure, up to standards and operating 24/7.

After years of postponing upgrades to government agency networks due to tight budgets, federal IT managers are in the process of modernizing legacy network infrastructure. The imminent upgrade needs are being driven by growing demands on their networks from mobile devices, video and more. IT professionals need to address this in two dimensions, by increasing both raw performance and efficiency through automation -- while ensuring everything remains highly secure.

This is a sizable challenge, but one that is well worth addressing. For instance, a modern and optimized network can assist the Department of Defense in its efforts toward data center consolidation and a unified network through its ambitious Joint Information Environment initiative. Modernization can also alleviate many federal IT pain points, including provisioning new services with fewer resources, and the ability to more efficiently manage higher scale, while helping agencies become far more streamlined and agile.

Here are four steps that can help federal IT managers begin the modernization process:

Step 1 – Implement automation

Modernized networks are built on automation and the need to do more with less.  Automation enables high performance, greater efficiency and agility, while ensuring  carrier-class reliability with six nine’s of availability with far less manual interference and labor. Certainly, automation has become critically important, particularly as the DOD relies on acres of compute platform networks and storage while grappling with managing costs and personnel.

Manual network management can be error-prone and costly, and it simply does not work well in today’s more cost-constrained environment, short-staffed environment. By taking a large amount of the network management onus off of the individual, automation reduces the need for federal IT managers to actually touch the network, allowing them to focus on areas that can truly highlight their skills, such as the creation of new applications and services that can help their agencies. In that sense, automation also supports the DOD’s efforts at attracting and retaining skilled talent, which DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen has long considered an important topic of discussion.

Further, automation solutions can help IT professionals gain an unprecedented level of insight into everything that’s happening on their networks. They can get a better view of who is using the network and when as well as awareness of the types of devices that are hitting their networks, potential network bottlenecks and more.

Step 2 – Embrace open standards

Effective network modernization and automation requires a highly flexible environment built on open standards and best of breed solutions, which provides positive impacts on economics and innovation. From a technology standpoint, an open approach allows organizations to build highly agile and scalable networks that offer greater flexibility.  They no longer must (or even should) rely on proprietary technology, which creates vendor lock-in and limits the ability to take advantage of scale and innovation. From an economic standpoint, open standards also promote greater competition, which helps keep costs down.

It’s important to note that a greenfield environment will always be the easiest to modernize, since it lacks constraints posed by the legacy infrastructure. It presents fewer hurdles to clear, as it is not adherent to any preset architecture filled with proprietary solutions from single vendors. A greenfield environment allows for relatively fast modernization and offers the combined benefits of speed, cost savings and the ability to take advantage of the innovation arms race.

Step 3 – Automate and ensure security

A modernized and automated network can also pay big security dividends. Automation can immediately alert federal IT professionals to threats, allowing managers to react quickly and resulting in overall threat response improvements.

In order to ensure security, it’s important that network administrators carefully consider their methods of encryption and guarantee they adhere to certifications, particularly as commercial, off-the-shelf software becomes more prominent in government. The idea of using commercial solutions is appealing because they can be procured and deployed more quickly than custom-made technologies. However, intelligence and DOD network administrators should refer to the National Security Agency’s Commercial Solutions for Classified Program, which outlines a specific certification and accreditation process that must be followed in order for these solutions to be considered reliably secure.

Fortunately, many agencies are already displaying commitment to network modernization security. This commitment is exemplified in efforts like the EINSTEIN Program and the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Joint Regional Security Stacks, which are sound and modernized security systems designed to limit and consolidate Internet access points.

Step 4 – Reduce total cost of ownership

All of this effort can culminate in significant network maintenance and support savings. In fact, many organizations that embark on network modernization initiatives see total cost of ownership savings of up to 30 percent. For example, some agencies experience 72 percent in rackspace savings, 67 percent in cooling savings and 56 percent in per-port wattage savings. We’ve also seen 51 percent in improvement in maintenance costs, and 27 percent in software licensing savings. These cost improvements have proven to be continuous and dramatic, even as agencies become larger in scale.

Network modernization provides benefits for just about everyone. Agencies get a much faster, more efficient and streamlined network, while federal IT professionals get more time, fewer headaches and assurance that their network is secure, up to standards and seamlessly operating 24/7. 

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