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.
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.