Agencies strive to modernize networks

WAN optimization is a key part of on-going efforts to modify and improve federal networks

Budgetary constraints — along with the Obama administration’s advocacy of data center consolidation, cloud computing, telework and mobile computing — are accelerating the pace of network modernization governmentwide.

Agencies and departments are working to invest in cloud-based services, application delivery alternatives, mobile computing technologies and wide-area network (WAN) optimization to aid ongoing efforts to streamline and optimize network operations.

To meet the requirements of mandates such as the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), agencies and departments are working on reducing the number of federal data centers and lowering ongoing IT costs while increasing both security and energy efficiency. The federal IT consolidation projects are expected to help civilian, military and intelligence organizations shrink the number of data centers, which had quadrupled between 1998 and 2010. The White House now estimates that 962 federal data centers will close by the end of 2015.

To meet FDCCI goals, however, agencies must overcome challenges related to efficiently consolidating data center resources without negatively affecting application performance for workers. Industry observers maintain that data center consolidation can wreak havoc on application performance and response times across WANs. As regional data centers and small data centers in field offices close, users must connect to applications located farther away. That exposes users to performance issues caused by distance and latency. And that is not only frustrating but can also threaten consolidation efforts.

Enter WAN optimization
WAN optimization boosts data traffic across geographic distances. Although the primary tools have been around for a decade, agencies are increasingly turning to WAN optimization to speed the delivery of applications from a centralized data center to branch offices or to back up data to an off-site facility. “The dramatic increase in video traffic, a growing reliance on cloud services and the ‘consumerization’ of IT are all considered drivers as well,” said Lauren Jones, a senior principal analyst for Deltek's Federal Market Analysis program, Herndon, Va.

By taking advantage of WAN optimization techniques such as deduplication, data compression, traffic prioritization and protocol optimization, agencies can avoid degrading network performance and migrate more applications to centralized data centers without affecting performance for users, Jones explained.

The advent of mobility, converging communications technologies and cloud computing are all driving requirements for higher levels of availability, convenience and efficiency from government networks. Info-Tech Research Group maintains that wireless access networks — especially those that use 4G cellular technologies — should top agency lists for mobile/remote access. “It’s important for agencies to be prepared to rely more on wireless networks,” said James McCloskey, a senior research analyst at Info-Tech, London, Ontario.

Although cabled networks — especially for backbone data centers — are likely to remain in place for years to come, McCloskey said wireless technologies have matured for mobile access networks. One reason: “Wireless devices connecting to networks will increase from 31 percent to 76 percent in the next three years,” he said.

Maintaining a mix of wired and wireless networks

Info-Tech Research Group submits that access layer networks are ready for wireless, but requirements for wired cabling will live on in data centers and specialized, high-security situations. When it comes to networks, agencies must consider the following.
• The complexity of cables in the data center remains costly in terms of maintenance, operations and inefficiency (think cooling).
• Some wireless obstacles have yet to be resolved. Potential wireless data center solutions, such as 60 GHz, suffer from low reliability, range limitations and energy-efficiency challenges. Solutions are emerging though not widely available yet.
• 10 Gigabit Ethernet provides a strong infrastructure technology for converged data center networks. Even with cables, 10 Gigabit Ethernet is the one technology that can serve most data center network requirements for the foreseeable future.
• Organizations with high security requirements must address the perception that wireless introduces security risks. Banks, government agencies and hospitals will face resistance. Although wireless networks are quite secure (even the FBI has gone wireless, Info-Tech reports), the perception that wireless equals unsecured could delay the closing of wired connections.
• High-interference environments still tend to run into difficulty if electromagnetic noise blocks wireless signals. Complex physical environments made of steel and concrete can also make the transition to wireless networks cost-prohibitive.
• High bandwidth requirements can make wireless less efficient. Environments in which multi-gigabyte files are constantly transferred from location to location might require wired connectivity.

As government network backbones are upgraded and agencies prepare more applications for migration to cloud-based services, Info-Tech advises organizations to focus on uptime and coverage.

Also, as with the advent of mobility, cloud services require agencies to pay strict attention to security. Undoubtedly, information transmitted via a cloud service must be protected. Industry observers, such as Deltek’s Jones, maintain that the government’s focus on enhancing mobility by expanding the use of wireless technologies and cloud services is a good idea. And Info-Tech’s McCloskey agreed. “Access to government networks — from anywhere, with any device — leads to increased productivity when cloud access is required for functionality,” he said.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please email us at [email protected]