Earlier this month, the General Services Administration opened the door to the future. The GSA announced the names of the 10 prime contractors that will administer its $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract, which will enable agencies to modernize their network infrastructures and embrace new architectures, including software-defined networking (SDN).
The EIS contract will also require agencies to transition away from the Networx contracting vehicle by the spring of 2020.
A key goal of EIS, which is expected to extend until 2032, is to streamline and converge network solutions via shared services and also enhance cybersecurity thanks to direct involvement from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Council.
However, it is now up to agencies to decide whether and to what extent they want to truly modernize their network topologies.
What Comes Next for Network Upgrades?
The winning contractors are AT&T, BT Federal, Qwest Government Services, Core Technologies, Granite Telecommunications, Harris, Level 3 Communications, Manhattan Telecommunications, MicroTech and Verizon. But now comes the hard part: agencies actually need to ink contracts for specific network equipment and services.
The GSA has been working diligently with agencies on their transition plans, and it’s been keen to avoid the years-long delay that muddied the transition to Networx after that contract was awarded a decade ago, FedScoop reports.
Bill Zielinski, deputy assistant commissioner for IT category management in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, told reporters in an Aug. 2 conference call that getting the agencies’ transition plans early was a “lesson learned” from the transition to Networx, FCW reports. In many cases, agencies did not complete the move to Networx until six years after the contract was awarded.
While GSA continues to work with agencies on their transition plans, agencies face two clear choices, Zielinski said, according to FCW. One is a “like for like” transition, in which agencies would move to services under EIS that are similar to those they use now. The other route is “modernization,” in which agencies would jump forward technologically to solutions like SDN and 5G wireless networks.
SDN decouples the network control plane from the data plane, enabling abstraction of resources and programmable control of network resources. That will give agencies greater flexibility to dynamically set and change network policies. Meanwhile, 5G networks, which are still being standardized, will likely be key to agencies’ continued deployment of Internet of Things sensors.
FCW reports, “Costs for the ‘like for like’ transition could be covered by GSA, while a transformative transition could entail using an agency's budget and developing ‘fair opportunity’ notices to issue to carriers to compete for under EIS.”
Zielinski said on the call that EIS will give agencies flexibility “from that perspective of being able to on-ramp new providers or new and emerging technologies without major contract modifications or changes,” according to FedScoop.
The carriers that will administer the contract hope that agencies will not merely replace existing networks with similar ones but will stretch a little with their IT upgrades. “We hope agencies transform” their networks and don’t “just dust off” previous plans from Networx, Tony Bardo, assistant vice president for government solutions at Hughes Network Systems, told FCW. Hughes is a subcontractor to Level 3.
That’s because technology has advanced significantly in the last decade. Fair opportunity notices were treated very differently under Networx, Bardo told FCW. “They were preconfigured for [multiprotocol label-switching],” he said. While networks still use MPLS, technologies like SDN are more attractive and provide a wider range of capabilities.
Mary Davie, acting deputy commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA, said in December 2016 that "SDN is one of the most important technologies that is going to be driving innovation,” FedTech reported.