Jan 23 2023

How Network Consolidation Affects Agencies’ Efficiency, Security and Resiliency

By consolidating network architectures, federal agencies can simplify management and security and improve application performance.

There are likely hundreds of individual networks across the federal government, reflecting the number and breadth of agencies. Most highly federated agencies alone have multiple networks.

In recent years, there has been a push among agencies to consolidate networks. The Defense Information Systems Agency has been working to consolidate the networks of the Pentagon’s non-warfighting support agencies, collectively known as the “fourth estate.” Likewise, the Army is consolidating its enterprise and tactical networks, and the State Department is exploring global network consolidation as part of its network modernization efforts.

While network consolidation is largely driven by resource constraints and is usually born out of necessity once architectures grow too sprawling, agencies can reap many benefits from the effort.

By consolidating networks, agencies can streamline network management and security, making it easier to respond to security issues and implement changes, especially in software-defined networks. Agencies also save costs by having fewer network resources to manage and service. They also can improve application performance and lower network latency.

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What Drives Federal Network Consolidation?

Building networks and keeping them secure while maintaining five nines of availability is a difficult task for agencies but one they must attain. Federal networks need to be highly secure and available, which is challenging and expensive.

By having one network instead of, say, eight, agency IT leadership can cut costs by having less equipment and network topology to manage, maintain and upgrade.

Network consolidations are also driven by agencies’ shift to the cloud. Moving applications to the cloud is often less about getting it to work in a cloud architecture and more about understanding how that application works and performs on different networks.

Consolidating networks makes it easier for IT leaders to determine how applications perform, how they make requests for data, and how data is sent back and forth as a result of users running the application. That gives leaders a more accurate view of the end-user experience for the application and whether it is working as intended.

Finally, network consolidation is driven in part by the fact that many federal agencies are simply running aging networks. Moving to an IP-based architecture and modernizing allows agencies to deploy software-defined networking capabilities, which lets agencies automate, virtualize, and more easily reconfigure and secure their networks.

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The Benefits of Network Consolidation for Federal Agencies

In addition to saving on costs and increasing simplicity, agencies can gain several other benefits by consolidating their networks.

One is application performance tuning and management. Increasingly, data from agency applications is shared both within an agency and across agencies. To make that work, agencies need to know how networks are performing, especially when they don’t own or manage every element of the network path the data traverses.

With a less circuitous path for that data to travel, network administrators can more easily determine where issues are cropping up, and specifically what is causing latency or data calls to servers to fail. It also helps agencies monitor application performance and how that affects the citizen experience.

In addition to having fewer network elements, a consolidated network makes it easier to troubleshoot because there are fewer people to call to determine what’s causing an issue.

Adopting software-defined networking, or SDN, improves network management and lets network admins customize how they approach traffic. For example, agencies may have previously used one network for voice traffic and another for video traffic. SDN allows admins to tag different types of traffic, apply service levels and latencies, and give different types of traffic priority across multiple network enclaves. By combining a consolidated network with SDN, agencies can customize and automate how they manage different applications. A consolidated network makes it simpler to deploy those rules across the entire network.

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Finally, network consolidation can help agencies improve their network security. The majority of network intrusions stem from misconfigurations, errors or compromised passwords. With multiple networks, agencies become reliant on the personnel who manage all the subnetwork components. If someone who has been with the agency for 40 years retires, the institutional knowledge of how that network segment was secured may go with the employee. Consolidation means there are more resources and personnel to devote to less network surface area.

Further, consolidated networks allow agencies to be more efficient and robust in their security. If an agency has 20 networks, and each needs a separate security stack, that is not nearly as effective as having large security stacks focused on one network. They can be spread out and operate with the same tools and architecture. Consolidating that security architecture also makes it easier to flag and escalate the responses to any anomalies.

There are different ways to achieve network consolidation. One is administrative, a top-down plan that dictates to subagencies how the consolidation will go. The other is cooperative, in which leadership works with subagencies to understand their networks, explain the benefits and guide them through a consolidation. The latter approach is generally more effective.

Network consolidation is an investment, and it isn’t simple, especially for very large agencies. However, with the right partners, agencies can reap many rewards by transforming and simplifying their networks.

This article is part of FedTech’s CapITal blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #FedIT hashtag.

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