Dec 01 2016

GSA Sees Great Potential in Transition to Next-Generation Network Tech

The Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Departments have taken steps to get ready for the shift to the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract, but the GSA wants all agencies to plan ahead.

The presidential transition is underway, but behind the scenes another conversion is taking place: the government’s procurement and use of telecommunications services.

Agencies are planning for the shift to the General Service Administration’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contracta $50 billion, 15-year telecommunications infrastructure vehicle.

Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for the GSA’s Office of Information Technology Category, said the transition to EIS has been a mammoth undertaking. Agencies, therefore, need to stay focused on the transition.

Planning for a Major Shift

Speaking Wednesday at a FedScoop event titled “The Next-Gen Network Summit” in Washington, D.C., she noted the government spends around $2 billion per year in telecommunications services and 8 million line items will need to be moved off old contracts to EIS.

Davie said that EIS will enable agencies to modernize, take advantage of new technology, improve cybersecurity and achieve cost savings. The EIS contract, she said, will allow agencies to invest in more modern network technologies like software-defined networking — and they’ll cut costs in the process.

“This transition presents not only a lot of risk but a lot of opportunities,” she said.

EIS will provide mission-critical telecommunications infrastructure and will replace the government’s Networx, WITS 3 and local telecommunications services contracts. Agencies will take advantage of next-generation network technology through EIS —including software-defined networking (SDN) and 5G wireless networks — for the foreseeable future. The EIS is expected to extend until 2032; technology will continually be updated and refreshed under the vehicle. EIS also includes time built in at the contract’s end for a transition to a new vehicle.

Final proposals are in for EIS, and the GSA hopes to award the contract in the spring. Agencies are expected to shift away from the Networx contract by the spring of 2020.

GSA has worked with the budgeting and e-commerce units of the Office of Management and Budget to determine how much the transition will cost for each agency — and how budgets will be affected going forward. GSA is performing the transition for smaller, non-CFO Act agencies.

Investing in New Technologies

If agencies invest in SDN and managed services they can eliminate the need to own a large amount of network hardware, Davie said. Agencies should focus their attention less on how the network is delivered but rather on the services that networks enable, both for agencies and citizens, she said.

Agencies will likely be abandoning legacy TDM networks and embracing wireless networks more than in the past, Davie said. She also said that “SDN is one of the most important technologies that is going to be driving innovation.”

SDN decouples the network control plane from the data plane, enabling abstraction of resources and programmable control of networks. In addition, it gives carriers and agencies the ability to control network functions and policies in the cloud.

Davie said GSA is urging agencies to consider how they can transition from legacy environments, and how to transform their environments during the transition to EIS. GSA has received transition templates from most agencies, Davie said, and is working with agencies to ensure those templates are as complete as possible. OMB wants to see those plans and publish them so that industry understands the scope of the transition.

“The sooner we can get that information out the better off we’ll be,” Davie said.

GSA has put in place new systems and several hundred staff members to help agencies deal with acquisition requirements, technical planning, market research, ordering, inventorying and billing, according to Davie.

“It’s really important for the government to stay together to run this as its program and to work with industry that way,” adding that collaboration between agencies is essential. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, wrote the security requirements into EIS.

USDA, VA Plan for Network Transition

Agencies have been planning for the EIS transition for years. John Donovan, director of enterprise network services at USDA, said that the agency has been preparing for EIS since September 2013, and with good cause. USDA has 100,000 civilian employees, 17 unique component agencies and about 18 different connected networks.

The USDA started an effort called UTN 2020 to prepare for the transition. The agency worked with its component agency CIOs and IT leaders to produce reports on agency needs, cost/benefit analysis and business cases. The agency has also been working with OMB and GSA on the transition, Donovan said.

Just yesterday, the USDA’s CIO council approved the plan. “The vision was to shift away from multiple agency networks that traverse a core transport backbone to a unified, end-to-end, fully integrated, robustly secure, USDA-wide enterprise network,” Donovan said. Echoing President John F. Kennedy, Donovan said USDA is doing this not because it is easy but because it is hard.

Meanwhile, Rick Chandler, the Veterans Affairs Department’s deputy assistant secretary for IT resource management, noted that the agency spends $265 million per year on telecom, and EIS is a major project for the department. The VA began planning for EIS in fiscal year 2015, he said.

The Internet of Things is expanding the digital services that citizens and veterans expect from the VA. Telemedicine is enabling doctors to remotely diagnose and treat patients, Chandler said, but those connected devices, video calls and images produced by remote MRI machines also require more bandwidth. “It’s amazing technology, but it’s going to put more demand on our networks,” he said.

The VA also needs to ensure that the 80,000 connected medical devices on its network will be more secure than they currently are, Chandler said, and the VA is working with safety science company UL to assess and enhance its security posture.

As its supports more data-intensive applications, the VA needs to abandon legacy technologies like T1 lines and assess what it will need for its future networks. The VA is conducting an inventory of its network gear and services to see what needs to be shut down and what needs to be transitioned. “A lot of people, when they do a herd examination of telecom, they find a lot of unused services and a lot of pent-up demand for” services that are not being offered, Chandler said.

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