Networx: A gauge of its flexibility

After aiding in an agency transition to Networx, consultant Cedric Sims takes stock of the contract's progress so far.

Cedric Sims is a partner at Evermay Consulting Group. He previously served as executive director of the Office of Program Accountability and Risk Management at the Department of Homeland Security and held leadership roles at the Secret Service.

I first encountered the General Services Administration’s Networx contract during the contract's award phase, when I was chief of network operations at the Secret Service.

Networx intrigued me. The anticipated pricing was aggressive and competitive with the open market. The government had learned a lot of lessons from FTS 2001, and those lessons seemed to have been applied to Networx. I was also encouraged that the number of required services was lowered from the FTS 2001 levels. Aspects of FTS 2001 were rigid, not unlike a cable TV company that forces you to buy a package of 20 channels when you only want one. Networx offered greater flexibility.

By most measures, Networx was a success in its early days. But that was then. Today’s IT chiefs should have a different concern: Can your Networx enterprise adapt to today’s service models?

We desire to buy IT in a very different way than we did in 2007, when Networx was awarded. I say “desire” because most of the $1.8 billion federal network enterprise is still managed through contracts that were based on acquisition strategies conceived nearly a decade ago.

The following are some considerations that GSA should address about the adaptability of Networx for today’s — and tomorrow’s — environment.

1. Network as a service and shared infrastructure. More than ever, government is moving toward infrastructure managed and owned by other entities, and the best IT chiefs are focused on operations and economics. The opportunity to shift capital investment costs to industry or government service centers is vital for IT chiefs who are facing a stark fiscal future. Network as a service (NaaS) and shared infrastructure complement the move to cloud computing in a compelling way. Unconventional acquisition is the enabler for harnessing the promise of NaaS. Is there sufficient flexibility in Networx as an acquisition vehicle to buy through an industry partner while retaining the government-to-government protections offered by GSA? Are there on-ramps and off-ramps that could facilitate novel approaches to network management without penalizing the customer?

2. Security. We cannot fully comprehend the breadth of threats that will need to be addressed in the coming year, yet our mission capabilities must be defended vigorously. According to the Open Security Foundation, 2012 is on track to eclipse the past three years of data breaches in terms of number of incidents and records lost. In a strange arrangement, government gets exactly what is asked for in the Networx acquisition. Networx provides some layers of commercial-grade security, but every other packet of data is brought right to the front door, good and bad. A better partnership is needed so that Networx vendors can be empowered to act on behalf of their customers and intercede at the moment that an attack is visible. Is there a more responsive way that government could shift some of the security risk to industry while working in partnership on the best countermeasures?

3. Ubiquitous mobile. The network is no longer tethered to a desk. Today’s wireless is much more robust than cellular handsets, per-minute costs and discounts for pooled access. Mobile is apps. Mobile is data. Mobile has finally arrived as anywhere, anytime access. It is a direct link to the heart of our enterprise networks and must be treated in a tightly integrated fashion. Using Networx as an acquisition vehicle encourages an artificial separation between those converged capabilities. Handheld devices can exceed transmission rates that were once reserved for hard-wired networks. How can mobile access be provisioned seamlessly with a dedicated infrastructure?

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