While the reverberations of COVID-19 will likely be felt for decades to come, a near-term consequence has been a renewed focus on preparing for the future. The pandemic has revealed bandwidth gaps and shortcomings across the government sector, as the system has been tested like never before. However, this has also provided an opportunity for government agencies to re-evaluate their operations – with an eye to making them stronger and more resilient in the post-pandemic environment.
One key area primed for growth is network architecture. According to the General Services Administration’s June 29, 2020 EIS Transition Progress Tracking Report, as of April 30, only 49.04% of federal agencies had released their Fair Opportunity Task Orders to industry on the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract, which is designed to help update and modernize the federal government’s telecommunications portfolio. GSA has used this opportunity to lead by example. The agency has leveraged the EIS contract to transition and modernize its enterprise data and voice network infrastructure by allowing innovative solutions to be introduced to include SD-WAN as part of the proposed solution. However, the overwhelming majority of the agencies that have released solicitations are pursuing a “like-for-like,” rather than a transformative strategy for network design.
While agencies have delayed, the technology is ready to go. The projected overall demand for technologies like SD-WAN is huge, with IDC anticipating that the market will grow to $5.25 billion by 2023. For those agencies that have delayed SD-WAN adoption, there are several benefits that make now an ideal time to make the move.
First, the unexpected toll of COVID-19 spending has hit agencies hard. While IT budget pressures are nothing new, the impact of the coronavirus will greatly impact government spending at all levels for years to come. California, for example, recently announced cuts of $13 billion in state government spending from the previous year. According to Gartner, WAN/telecom services comprise 85% of enterprise network spending, meaning that this is a key area where leaders will be looking to aggressively cut costs. For agencies looking to make long-term changes that will improve the bottom line, SD-WAN is a cost-effective solution that supports high bandwidth connectivity options and management by application, ensuring improved performance. Once implemented, SD-WAN can reduce spending in a number of ways, from eliminating reliance on costly MPLS connections to replacing the use of outdated, legacy hardware, to streamlining and automating updates and maintenance.
SD-WAN also provides end-users with a level of unprecedented visibility into their organization not offered with traditional network architectures. This insight enables administrators to understand what is happening to their network in real time and make automatic changes that can help traffic flow more smoothly. With instant access to an all up view of their network, IT leaders can easily identify and eliminate redundancies that create excess waste.
Finally, SD-WAN can help government agencies stay ahead of the technology curve and serve as a natural step in government’s ongoing path to digital transformation. SD-WAN complements the ubiquity of cloud services widely used today with a dynamic and versatile architecture. Additionally, when 5G arrives in full, SD-WAN’s natural pairing with cellular services will enable users to take full advantage. In this way, SD-WAN can help to future-proof government agencies, while keeping their networks more efficient, flexible and agile today.
Although SD-WAN has been a popular buzzword, the next few years are expected to see exponential growth across the government sector. Before you make the transition, consider the following:
- “Try” before you buy. One of the great advantages of SD-WAN is that you can test its effectiveness through a proof of concept – by starting with a few locations – before migrating your entire architecture. Yet another benefit is that customers can bring their own bandwidth, so even if they are “locked in” to existing MPLS or other types of access lines, customers can “bring their own bandwidth” to their SD-WAN solution until the existing term commitments expire.
- Bringing it all together. Agencies should look at their current architecture – is it a quilt of different technologies that have been deployed over time? SD-WAN provides a ubiquitous network architecture that offers unmatched transparency into the status of not just the network, but the apps running across it. In today’s world, you can have a network that is meeting its service-level agreements, and yet certain apps still aren’t functioning. With SD-WAN, application performance is completely visible to the customer.
- Strengthen your defenses. In addition to SD-WAN’s built-in security layers, the technology also lends itself well to agencies using a zero trust security approach, which uses a process of continuous verification. With SD-WAN’s customization, IT managers have better insight into who is using their network and applications, enabling them to quickly deploy new access control policies in response.
In order to help organizations adapt to rapid changes, we’re opening a new chapter in the evolution of networks with intelligent automation. The latest SD-WAN networks use artificial intelligence and analytics to identify, report and address network incidents without human intervention. As this type of hyper automation gains traction, SD-WAN is becoming more resilient and adaptive by immediately and autonomously addressing issues as they happen, freeing IT to focus on higher skilled work.
COVID-19 has opened eyes to the need for intelligent systems that can quickly adapt to unforeseen changes. Many government agencies are realizing how inflexible existing networks are when adjusting for higher bandwidths and remote workforces. While the learning curve has been steep, it has provided the opportunity for agencies to invest in a technology that is optimized to meet their immediate needs and support their organization through the challenges of tomorrow.
Rob Dapkiewicz is general manager & senior vice president at MetTel Federal Program.