Shenefiel: Ready for the worst

Secure, intelligent, standards-based technologies are required at every level

The federal government's continuity of operations (COOP) directive is about more than the use of technology. It is "an effort to assure that the capability exists to continue essential agency functions across a wide range of potential emergencies," according to the directive.

But some networking capabilities are inextricable

from COOP planning, and one of the most important areas is resilient collaboration.

Federal Preparedness Circular 65 stipulates that agencies must be able "to communicate with COOP personnel, other agency employees, leadership and other agency elements, to include bureaus, regions and field offices." Based on that directive, here are a few technology considerations that agencies must address to communicate during disruptions.

The COOP directive's goal is to create continuous communications within and among agencies during disruption. To achieve that, applications and systems must work seamlessly to recover from failure without interrupting information flow or recovery planning. Agencies must establish resilience across four interdependent levels: network, applications, communications and workforce.

Network resilience is the foundation of an effective COOP implementation. Application resilience ensures that employees retain continuous access to data and applications via that network, and that the system securely replicates and stores data.

Communications resilience refers to maintaining collaboration among employees, using resilient networks and information from the resilient applications, despite disruptions such as loss of a network link or the destruction of a building.

The highest resilience layer — workforce resilience — enables an organization's staff to relocate to another facility or work from home through secure, remote connectivity to the resilient communications, applications and networks.

Secure, intelligent, standards-based technologies are necessary at every level to achieve such a comprehensive vision. Those technologies include:

  • Redundant access, hot standby and intelligent backup paths for network resilience.
  • Data caching, storage-area networks and high-speed connections to remote, contingency data centers for application resilience.
  • Unified messaging, IP telephony, redundant call centers and remote management for communications resilience.
  • Virtual private networks, wireless local-area networks, portable office-in-a-box capabilities and policy-based security access for workforce resilience.

COOP planning may sound daunting, but organizations can achieve it when they devise plans sequentially and don't launch them in one fell swoop. An agency can make cost-effective, incremental investments to refine and optimize networks based on COOP principles and changing organizational, mission and political requirements.

When agencies deploy integrated, intelligent system components that work together seamlessly and automatically, each successive step builds on the previous investment in the COOP resilience model. The ability to defend against and recover from threats to government COOP is steadily, cost-effectively enhanced at each phase of investment.

Shenefiel is a federal government industry solutions manager at Cisco Systems.

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