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Is our IT infrastructure crumbling, too?

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Much has been written about the crumbling infrastructure throughout the United States, and President-elect Donald Trump even referenced the issue in his acceptance speech. It's easy to see the repercussions that come from putting off necessary upgrades to aging bridges and inadequate roadways. But the physical infrastructure for which the U.S. government is responsible isn't the only thing that suffers from overdue updates.

Legacy telecommunications infrastructure presents many of the same challenges that our aging transportation systems do. Those mission-critical communication systems are losing their effectiveness compared to the advantages of IP-based communications. With budget approvals and security concerns topping the list of reasons for putting off the transition, agencies need to realize that valuable solutions can make the migration to an IP-based network seamless.

Government agencies considering IP-based networks must weigh the cost benefits over their current systems. Although budget constraints often force agencies to lengthen the lifespan of legacy infrastructure, they might find that any budget savings realized in delaying migration is not worth the ultimate price they pay by hesitating to do so. IP networks can produce up to 50 percent cost savings compared to existing systems.

And let's not forget about the added functionality. Running a separate data and communications network is incredibly inefficient. The transition to IP-based networks enables the consolidation of data, voice, video and messaging into one network. By replacing traditional time-division multiplexing with flexible IP communications, agencies can quickly respond to changing conditions and reliably support employees wherever they are -- in the office or geographically dispersed.

IP networks also enable agencies to take advantage of a wide range of benefits, such as unified communications, simplified network management and improved cloud connectivity, just to name a few.

Security is also an absolute requirement for government agencies. As they begin to move communications out of trusted environments and onto the internet, security concerns will arise. The Library of Congress was attacked by a distributed denial-of-service attack that shut its website down for three days in July, and October's attack against internet infrastructure provider Dyn prevented access to countless government sites.

So what can agencies do to protect themselves as they migrate to IP-based networks at their own pace?

Session border controllers (SBCs) are the leading choice of many agencies that are looking for security and interoperability features for real-time communications via Session Initiation Protocol, TDM and satellite communications links. The powerful devices ease migration by providing media and signaling capabilities for interoperability between disparate private branch exchanges, allowing agencies to use existing TDM technologies while moving to new IP networks.

As far as security goes, SBCs have already solved highly complex challenges that can make an internet connection more private and secure. Although traditional firewalls monitor and control incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules, they don't protect real-time voice and video traffic. SBCs function as firewalls for real-time communications, providing complementary security for data, voice and video through encryption. They also protect against DDoS attacks, toll fraud and other IP-based attacks.

What does the right SBC look like? It is important that government agencies select solutions that provide:

  • Security. Vendors should provide security validations, such as Federal Information Processing Standards, which are the de facto level of security needed to protect sensitive government data in computer and telecom systems.
  • Scalability. The ability to maintain a consistent call flow is critical, especially when security features, such as encryption, are turned on.
  • Virtualization. Agencies are constantly seeking to reduce size, weight and power to improve operational efficiencies and drive down costs. Virtualization provides that option. Virtualized devices enable agencies to expand into areas where a hardware solution would be impractical or cost-prohibitive or where there's simply not enough space for racks of appliances.

Although bridges and roads often don't get repaired until they are no longer operational, we should not take that approach to the government's communications network. Whether it's through a hardware-based or virtual SBC, agencies have plenty of options to effectively update aging IT infrastructure, and the time to act is now.

About the Author

William Hartwell is vice president of federal government sales at Sonus.

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