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The EIS transition: 5 things to think about

fiber optic (asharkyu/Shutterstock.com) 

I know several federal agency leaders felt relieved when the General Services Administration extended the final transition deadline from 2020 to 2023 to migrate agency network services to the new Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract. However, now that we are in the RFP-issuance phase for EIS, I also know that some agency network services teams feel trapped. Despite the extended timeline, there is still pressure to transition agency networks to EIS by seeking the same legacy network technology that has been in place for a decade or more. This approach would forgo the opportunity to upgrade and transform the outdated network systems and architecture and limit the performance and usability of new applications coming online every year.

A "like-for-like" network transition prolongs the use of the same aging technology that's barely keeping up with new, bandwidth-intensive applications that once lived on the desktop but now live in the cloud or data center. As video streaming and cloud storage gain traction throughout agency operations, these networks will struggle even more. Legacy dedicated networks simply were not designed to meet the current, let alone future, application demands at distributed field offices. On top of that, a like-for-like transition delays network modernization by an estimated three to four years and risks cost overruns during that time period from maintenance of the legacy systems.

Instead, agencies are looking at creative options to pursue transformative network technology that can drastically modernize the government IT landscape for years to come. As agencies consider how best to navigate the EIS network transition, there are five critical factors to consider.

1. Issue a statement of objectives, not a statement of work. Historically, agency network teams would design a dedicated network, outline it in a statement of work and then issue it for competitive bids, seeking the lowest cost technically acceptable. It's time to flip the script. Instead, agency network teams should articulate the agency's locations and performance requirements and ask the competing providers how they would "connect the dots." This "clean-slate" strategy encourages innovation and creates opportunities for new solutions that will stand the test of time.

2. Identify current and future application demands at field offices. Agencies' network requirements are constantly evolving. They look very different today than they did just five to 10 years ago. The fact is that everything agencies want to do right now requires a significant amount of bandwidth -- something that legacy networks struggle to deliver cost-effectively.

In the same way it would be unimaginable to build the Mall of America on a two-lane country road without expanding the surrounding infrastructure, agencies can't be expected to squeeze more network traffic through "pipes" that have been in place since the 90s. Identifying and understanding current and future bandwidth requirements on a site-by-site basis is a critical step in enabling a modernized and cost-effective network transformation.

3. Evaluate software-defined wide-area network as a managed service. This new era of network technology has emerged in the wake of rising demand from commercial enterprises looking to maximize the ROI from their network upgrades. Agencies stand to benefit from commercial innovations that are meeting demand with reduced costs and substantial gains in performance and security. SD-WAN leverages various secured broadband transports -- like cable, fiber, 4G and satellite -- to connect field office locations. It addresses the many existing and future needs across agency networks and can adapt alongside ever-changing requirements, like when 5G networks come online. When implemented as part of a managed service, this network architecture provides multiple network paths for more resiliency at similar or lower cost than single-threaded dedicated lines, while also using advanced automation features to optimize and prioritize network traffic across a widely dispersed workforce.

4. Keep an eye on security. Part of the attraction of a like-for-like transition stems from misconceptions around security of new network technologies. The fact is that there is no need to sacrifice modernization for security. Managed SD-WAN can offset these concerns entirely. SD-WAN solutions implemented as a managed service can provide next-generation firewalls with around-the-clock monitoring for each one of the hundreds or thousands of network endpoints. Moreover, there is a rising trend among commercial networks to bring security measures to the edge of the network; agency organizations will find this same approach to be critical to securing next-generation networks.

It's worth noting, a large agency recently declined to adopt a migration plan to SD-WAN, citing fears of using commercial broadband services. This misconception is similar to another recent resistance of adopting an emerging technology -- the move to the cloud. That was, until we saw the intelligence community make its move with AWS. Now we're seeing military agencies evaluating available SDN technologies and making their plans accordingly. This begs the question, if it's secure enough for the military to move in this direction, is it really not secure enough for civilian agencies?

5. Transform now, transition later. Transitioning an agency network all at once is an impossible task; however, there is a lot of time between now and the 2023 transition deadline. Agencies can even start now on the Networx contracts by modernizing at the edge with a hybrid approach -- adding broadband connectivity to existing MPLS lines for diverse, dual-path networking. Intelligent SD-WAN routers can automate path selection and other optimization features to yield instant cost and performance benefits where they're needed most. Transforming from the edge inward, gives an agency time to phase the modernization process across their network -- all without impacting the core which, in most cases, already has adequate bandwidth.

The time is now for agencies to shift out of the legacy mindset and focus on the promising modernization opportunities ahead. The next-generation technologies like cloud and VTC are already establishing their place to help usher in this next era of government services. It's now time to ensure the networks rise to the occasion and deliver the bandwidth to succeed.

About the Author

Tony Bardo is assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes Network Systems.

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