Adapting to the new network normal

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Pandemic response has accelerated IT modernization as agencies are now focusing on network infrastructure agility and scalability.

Pandemic response has accelerated IT modernization as agencies are now focusing on network infrastructure agility and scalability, agency CIOs said in a May 19 webinar.

The surge in telework has the Department of Transportation rethinking how it secured its network that was originally built to serve headquarters and satellite offices, CIO Ryan Cote said at ACT-IAC's "New Digital Normal" webinar.

Whereas the department had focused on protecting the network from the inside, now  the workforce is outside those protections, he said. The department has adjusted to that change by working with its cloud and network providers to balance performance and security for its users, he said.

That adjustment included not only a cultural shift for workers, but also scaling up virtualization software licensing for remote workers, he said.

In the same webinar, Department of Agriculture CIO Gary Washington said his agency has been thinking hard about network infrastructure needs and using data analytics capabilities to help hone requirements.

"Infrastructure is no longer an afterthought" for modernization planning, he said. The agency's thousands of remote offices spread across the U.S. require connectivity to serve farmers, said Washington. The pandemic has increased those agricultural customers' need to access USDA services, he said.

"Working remotely hasn't resulted in a dip in productivity," Washington said. USDA’s push to implement more data analytics capabilities for its networking shows that increase. The IT modernization effort that began two years ago has brought a heightened focus on agility, scalability and security that has been handy in the COVID world, he said.

In the current environment, government customers are more eager to talk about putting newer services into use more quickly, said Zain Ahmed, CenturyLink's vice president for civilian and law enforcement sales.

"There's a more robust need for SD-WAN [software-defined, wide-area networking], to pilot it and push it out to field sites," he said during the webinar. "We're having that conversation with customers," he said.

Two months ago, pre-COVID, agencies had been thinking about how to balance IT modernization and transition to the General Services Administration's next-generation Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions telecommunications contract, said Ahmed. Now they're looking at how to quickly and agilely adapt, scale and secure their networks to power their remote workforces and not necessarily in those narrower parameters, he said.

This article was first posted on FCW, a sibling site GCN.

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