The definition of infrastructure is changing

Taking a wholistic approach to infrastructure improvements is a key element for success

There are many definitions of infrastructure, but the traditional version for government focuses on the network, what is connected to it, and the hardware and software that are needed to keep data flowing between the constituent parts. However, a world of consolidated data centers, fluid mobility, cloud computing and virtualized everything needs something more.

Agencies have a mandate to cut the number of physical data centers they manage as part of the Obama administration’s Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, for example. But that doesn’t mean you put the equivalent of 50 data centers into one that’s 50 times the size of what a normal data center would be. Consolidation then also requires a strategy for how to effectively collapse datasets.

For such things as collaboration, for example, that increasingly includes visual collaboration, and for that, cameras have to be included in the infrastructure. It’s the same for a range of other applications and services that are enabled by high-speed and virtualized environments. It’s no longer a case of building the network infrastructure and fitting the applications and devices to that. Today, if you don’t know what applications and services you need to cater to, you can’t plan an infrastructure.

“For traditional infrastructure, we think hardware, [network] pipes and power,” said Mike Zirkle, associate director of government solutions at Verizon Wireless. “But as we move forward, we increasingly see that the hardware and software that are in the applications and services themselves are almost as important for infrastructure.”

Rather than infrastructure, he said, he tends to think of this as more of an ecosystem with many changing and codependent parts.

That’s also the word that Robert Carey, deputy CIO at the Defense Department, prefers to use in describing the Joint Information Environment (JIE), a multiyear effort that’s aimed at a fundamental shift in the operation of the Global Information Grid, the communications network that links DOD assets around the world.

JIE is a result of DOD’s new IT Enterprise Strategy and Roadmap, released in 2011. It will take what’s considered an overly complex system that’s not too successful at providing commanders with accurate situational awareness into a much slimmer, standards-based single network that’s more dependable and easier to manage. And that means being able to also take into account such things as the standards and applications that will enable all of this.

“We are recognizing the all-encompassing nature of these things, which is why we are calling this an environment,” Carey said. “The infrastructure is no longer just the physical fiber, the [radio frequency] spectrum, the laptops and servers. It goes well beyond that. It’s an ecosystem that supports the mission of this department, which in turn supports the national security of the United States.”

This all involves an undoubted mind-set change on the part of agency IT managers who have for decades dealt with an infrastructure based on a one-to-one computing and communications paradigm. The network delivered data to the PC that sat on a user’s desk and delivered voice to the phone on that desk. All the functions of the infrastructure were focused on making that user experience optimal.

In the post-PC world — and some would say we’re already in it — that paradigm is irrevocably broken. Unified communications, for example, requires you to have just a UC client on your mobile device that plugs into a docking station on the desk, but the “follow me” features of UC allow you to take that device and access the network from anywhere while still maintaining the same business persona for the organization.

The new paradigm, which is user-focused instead of network-focused, is all about access. In that sense, the fixed infrastructure that agencies have traditionally dealt with becomes a dynamic, agile ecosystem of codependent functions.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at [email protected]