Managing network connections

The notion of the network as critical infrastructure gained credence inthe early 1990s with the rise of client/server computing. That's becausenetworks no longer existed just to take data crunched on a mainframe orminicomputer and shuttle it to a glorified television screen to be displayedto users. Networks had become the physical and logical connection betweentwo computers — the client and the server — that shared processing duties,albeit unequally.

Since then, networks have quickly become the single biggest factor inthe way information technology solutions are developed and deployed and,increasingly, how the government does its job.

For example, the most important trend in IT now is the global shiftto World Wide Web-based applications. The Web browser is becoming the standardmethod for letting users and managers interact with enterprise IT applications.

This sea change isn't happening because of improvements in softwaredesign or hardware performance. It's happening because of the rapid acceptanceof the Internet and the standards-based technology that it's built on.

As soon as the Internet made it possible to cost-effectively connectvirtually any computer in the world, new choices arose for where to locatethe computers that do the heavy lifting. With the physical proximity factornullified, no longer is it necessary for every organization to have itsown data center — or even to own its computers, for that matter — especiallyif someone else can do the job for less money. All that's needed is secure,reliable network access.

Of course, the vision of anyplace, any time connectivity is still notfully realized. Much work remains to be done. In this special report, we'llexamine some of the key pieces that will advance this work. For example,many government offices still lack high-speed Internet access. But broadbandaccess via Digital Subscriber Lines and cable television lines are providingexciting new connectivity options.

In the area of long-haul data services, government realized a few yearsago that it doesn't have to be in the business of running its own wide-areanetwork. Commercial providers have proven that they can do it effectivelyand for less money. What the government does need to do is learn how tobe a smarter consumer of these services. Relatively new to the public sector,service level agreements are becoming a critical tool for getting the mostout of federal network service contracts.

The main reason for investing in ubiquitous connectivity is to helpthe government operate more efficiently. Among the ways to do that, a particularlypromising one is to consolidate data and voice traffic on the same network,which will reduce costs.

Another way is to automate the interaction between government and itssuppliers and citizens. So-called extranets provide these groups with secureaccess to government networks — streamlining processes and improving service.

While still not complete, enough network plumbing is in place now tostart building the systems that will power the next generation of government.


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