The Obama administration’s recently released $3.1 billion IT Modernization Fund (ITMF) calls for a transformative shift — from maintaining the status quo to truly innovating in order to meet the demands of the digital age. Currently, the federal government is spending about 80 percent of its IT budget on keeping legacy systems up and running, and to change this equation, IT leaders are looking for technologies that deliver long-term ROI in the form of productivity, agility, and security. When it comes to the networks that federal applications run on every day, agencies should look no further than software-defined networking.
The SD-WAN ROI
A traditional wide-area network (WAN) is a connection between two networks —think of it as the road that federal mission-critical applications drive on. When this road becomes software-defined, it becomes smart. Think of everyone using Waze to optimize traffic across a major metro area. A software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) offers a big picture view of how to optimize that connection.
A Gartner report last year estimated SD-WAN will save users at least 40 percent in costs compared to traditional networks (WANs). Those savings could be compounded in the federal sector, as agencies are managing some of the most complex network environments in the world. So how does SD-WAN deliver these benefits?
Fast, Agile IT
Take an agency like the Department of State, for example. With offices worldwide, there's clearly a lot of manpower required in having to go out and physically touch routers or replace equipment. But with SD-WAN, a remote network can be managed by headquarters and be as agile and scalable as needed. Furthermore, the level of expertise required to configure a new location’s network is comparable to what is needed to setup a basic, home wireless network.
SD-WAN solutions dramatically simplify the complexity associated with management, configuration and orchestration of remote branch networks. Installation and operational costs of supporting multiple WANs can be high, especially for the U.S. federal government, which has 8,603 buildings in all 50 states.
Waiting for technology and service deployments and performing routine tasks, such as patch updates, backing up and restoring files, and monitoring, often consume federal IT managers’ time. These regular tasks, which equate to billions of dollars in annual productivity, can be automated with software-defined networking. Agencies can then consolidate staff or shift them to other duties, which reduces operational costs over time.
SD-WAN solutions give agencies total control over their networks from a single, easy-to-use, intuitive command center. It lets agencies make on-the-fly adjustments to network performance and application delivery to meet their ever-changing needs and prevent network outages to critical applications. Furthermore, they can make decisions about access to sensitive content, applications and devices, in addition to managing where and how traffic is sent.
At the May 25 hearing on the future of the $3 billion ITMF bill, Rep. Will Hurd of Texas said “agencies could instead save billions by continuing to close down and consolidate data centers [into the cloud].” It’s a nice idea, as agencies have already saved about $2.8 billion by moving data centers to the cloud, but given the large size of numerous federal data storage conditions, it’s a time-consuming step that will place more demands on complex government networks.
SD-WAN can accelerate the process up by reducing the effects of human error and decentralized management at different locations. Only 1 percent of enterprise — and an even smaller portion of federal agencies — are currently using SD-WAN. As federal agencies look for more agility by modernizing their networks, this is an easy place to start. Modernizing IT systems allows for seamless onboarding and can bring more immediate benefits.
Managing a WAN through software will not only remove traditional networking costs associated with a highly manual, complex process, but would also help agencies move data to the cloud faster, saving the government additional resources and funds.