Lisagor: Hybrid networks promise better performance

Combinations of network types could provide greater efficiency

Most of you, if pressed at a cocktail party, could probably name the six kinds of network topologies, right? If not, see the end of this column for the answer. Robert Scoble, an online Web expert, has been exploring what the world of Web 2.0 might look like in 2010. One of the trends he predicts is the rise of hybrid topologies/infrastructures, in which an agency might have a combination of internal servers for the more meat-and-potato functions, coupled with an external system such as Amazon’s S3 to “cloud burst,” or take up the slack, for files that are really popular. Sounds simple — but the devil will be in the details.

Agency networks by their very nature touch almost every part of the enterprise including:

  • Network design and implementation.
  • Systems integration.
  • Network monitoring, management, maintenance and administration.
  • Network and systems auditing and analysis.
  • Network operating systems design, migration and deployment.
  • Network operations center (NOC) monitoring and management.
  • Wireless networks.

So IT staff members from enterprise architects to network administrators will need to be reoriented toward the design and implementation of hybrid architectures. This means grasping the essentials — benefits and challenges — of cloud-networking solutions.

Add to this the need to respond to some unique governance, risk management and compliance requirements, and it is an impressive list. And truthfully, only the most seasoned network manager has a thorough enough grasp of every one of the required disciplines, which illustrates the staffing challenges facing agency IT organizations as they try to meet the increased demand for a more robust communications architecture.

Network acquisition contracting will also be affected in big ways. Traditional network support contract vehicles will need to be restructured while acquisition policies and guidelines are revised. The result will be hybrid contracts — a combination of internal and external support with perhaps a mix of labor-hour and performance-based procurements just to satisfy a single organization’s hybrid solution demand.

Risk areas that network managers should pay attention to include:

  • Monitoring network status at remote locations.
  • Employing sound project management practices.
  • Continuing to standardize internal resources.
  • Developing a well-thought out transition plan.
  • Ensuring sound network management policies and procedures.
  • Training network staff.
  • Identifying potential performance and peak capacity issues early.

There will be naysayers. I can hear my policy and security wonk friends screaming in the background. But the potential cost and efficiency savings of driving hybrids will be just too good to pass up.

(Answer: bus, star, ring, mesh, tree and hybrid)

About the Author

Michael Lisagor founded Celerity Works and is the author of "Winning and Managing Government Business."

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Reader comments

Sun, Jun 7, 2009 Kitty Wooley

You've mapped this important cluster of issues with great clarity, thereby making it accessible to others like myself who are not technologists! Thanks; this will help me in my human capital job. Since I do human networks, I was expecting something entirely different as I clicked on the link to your article, more along the lines of Ori Brafman's and Rod Beckstrom's "The Starfish and the Spider." Hierarchical government organizations have a lot to gain from a growing cluster of networked groups that are focused on improving government, and vice versa. The language we're using for the issues in both worlds is remarkably similar. Your 3rd bullet, "Network monitoring, management, maintenance and administration," could apply to the orchestration of human networks almost as well as does Mark Drapeau's recent use of the jazz metaphor (http://fcw.com/Articles/2009/05/18/COMMENT-Drapeau-Improvisation.aspx). Both/and, as opposed to either/or, solutions appear to be gaining ground in all sorts of contexts. When it comes to hiring or training employees who are equipped to cope with hybrids (both/and), it seems to me that a better approach is to identify motivated people whose thinking is flexible, broad, and open-minded. Then, if the challenges we face can be laid out for them with clarity and urgency, the best will take the initiative to supplement their skills fairly quickly. Recognizing those who do that will introduce a "pull" factor that can create an updraft in the I.T. workforce. I think it is a mistake for government to depend solely on hiring for specific skill sets because workforce requirements are changing constantly, whereas there's always a lag before new certificate and degree programs can be developed.

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