Federal agencies are kicking off the New Year with great opportunities and challenges on the horizon. Last year, transformational efforts including the 30-day Cyber Sprint, the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) and discussions started by federal CIO Tony Scott about the need for network modernization set the stage for change in 2016.
Agencies must continue this momentum to improve citizen services, increase employee productivity, save money and keep our country’s data secure. To do so, IT leaders need to keep modernization of government IT infrastructure top of mind.
Around this time of year, millions of Americans partake in the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions through which they resolve to change their lives for the better. So, in keeping with that time-held tradition, allow me to make a few suggestions for federal IT agency leaders’ New Year’s resolution lists.
Resolve to continue the cybersecurity momentum
The United States is a military leader on land, in air and at sea, keeping citizens protected and their freedoms secure. However, keeping up with the rapidly developing domain of cyber war poses a real challenge. As we move into 2016, we must continue the positive momentum started through efforts like last summer’s 30-Day Cyber Sprint. This means that in addition to multi-factor authentication and end-point security measures, agencies need to consider the role of the network in maintaining security.
Many agencies continue to use legacy systems that inhibit the deployment of modern encryption and security products. These systems are unable to marry speed with security and as a result, performance is favored at the expense of proper security. Studies have found that as many as 40 percent of IT professionals will disable security functions to avoid their impact on performance, creating a potentially damaging situation. This does not have to be the case however, because modern networks are able to address both speed and security demands.
Today, agencies have access to solutions providing wire speed inline encryption that support performance values in the Terabits per second range. The network needs to be a security enabler where security measures are built in and not bolted on.
Resolve to go mobile and think creatively with the Internet of Things
According to Gartner, 25 billion connected devices and Internet of Things (IoT) will be in use by 2020. From improved health data analysis and management at the Veterans Administration to Customs and Border Protection’s roll out of mobile finger print scanners, connected devices help agencies gather a wealth of useful information and optimize productivity to improve the lives of workers and citizens alike.
Despite impressive efforts and progress made to date, federal agencies have only begun to scratch the surface of what IoT and mobile can offer. In 2016, federal agencies should resolve to consider what applications can be deployed on IoT and mobile devices as well as what they need to support these applications.
Adoption of mobile platforms and connected solutions has been gradual, due to a number of hurdles. While security is consistently cited as a top concern, federal networks will remain a prohibiting factor unless agencies pursue mobilityas a key part of their network modernization efforts. In fact, a recent survey found that less than 15 percent of federal IT decision makers feel their agency’s current network infrastructure can fully support the solutions necessary to deliver world-class digital services via mobile tool sets.
The networks many agencies currently operate were designed decades ago and never meant to handle the strain that billions of mobile devices create. Agencies can enable delivery of world-class digital services and unleash the promise of mobile and the IoT by transitioning to the New IP, an industry term for an innovative approach to networking that is software-enabled, user-centric and based on open standards. The virtualized environment offered by a New IP-based infrastructure dramatically improves scalability and flexibility – ideal for the unpredictable nature of data delivered through today’s connected technologies.
Resolve to continue FDCCI efforts and build on current savings
In September 2015, the GAO released a report detailing the cost savings seen in federal agencies as a result of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI). These savings are a great start, but the number of federal data centers in operation still far exceed industry best practices and current savings are just the beginning of what government can achieve if it resolves to continue related efforts in 2016.
Moving beyond the data center alone, network modernization and the New IP offer opportunities for significant cost savings – totaling as much as $7 billion over the next five years. New IP-based technologies like SDN, NFV and Ethernet fabrics can significantly improve efficiency. Ethernet fabrics alone have proven to increase network utilization by up to 200 percent.
Open standards, which is another element of the New IP, can unleash a slew of additional savings for federal agencies stemming from increased competition and use of multi-vendor networks. According to Gartner, the introduction of just one additional network vendor can reduce total cost of ownership by up to 25 percent over a five-year period.
Those savings are only the start. If properly supported by modern network infrastructure, new and emerging tech – big data, cloud, mobile – offer cost savings of their own that will build on efforts launched in the coming year.
Focus on the network
By now you may have seen a common thread tying each of these ideas together – the network. In reality, the thread metaphor is not far from the truth. The network is indeed the common thread – a fabric that connects and supports all of today’s technologies.
In many cases, the past year opened the federal government’s eyes to the challenges it faces as it seeks to improve security, adopt new technology and reduce wasteful spending.
Armed with the right tools and the right network infrastructure in place, 2016 can be the year government sees real, measureable process towards its IT goals. What are your resolutions for 2016?
Anthony Robbins is vice president of federal at Brocade.