With three quarters of the federal workforce telecommuting/working from home, we’ve seen tremendous shifts in how government agencies are accessing their systems and using technology. The reality of our situation is proving that necessity is the impetus for innovation – introducing wide adoption of technologies and tactics that just a few short months ago would have gotten a “hard no” from government IT and procurement leaders. Technologies once deemed “nice to have” and put on the back burner for implementation are now proving to be the exact solution needed to continue daily operations.
Through this crisis one thing has become clear – organizations need more agile networks. An agile network is designed for flexibility, to enable the enterprise to scale up or down as needed. It is supported by flexible policies that adapt to this need for scale. This was where government was headed with the growing increase in adoption of cloud, on-demand, service-driven technologies. The response organizations have had to follow to comply with stay at home orders and social distancing measures accelerated this move. We took a look at the impact of the agile network approach we’ve seen over the last months to get a sense of where we are today and what it could possibly mean for the future of government IT.
Protecting sensitive data, access to systems, citizen information and more remains a key focus within government. Traditionally, the security parameters needed for these critical elements have been applied across the board to every system. While this worked to ensure a consistent and enforceable approach to security it also introduced a huge set of hurdles for adopting modern applications that were incredibly secure but not built specifically to comply with government mandates. In order to give the now remote workforce access to the systems and tools they need to do their job, many workloads were moved or policies changed to allow for easier remote access and collaboration. These security policy changes were initiated as temporary, but it will be interesting to see where agencies revert to pre-COVID policies and where they see security measures being met with some of the newer solutions.
SDN’s Time to Shine
We’ve been touting the benefits of Software Defined Networking (SDN) for several years, but the response to COVID has really made the value proposition of SDN from a nice to have to a need to have. A software-defined architecture is a shift from relying on hardware as the workhorse of IT systems. SDN has moved from the data center to the campus and beyond with Software-defined LAN (SDLAN) and Software-defined WAN (SDWAN). If remote work continues, SDWAN can help agencies move off investing in building-based circuits. If the majority of users are working off premises, having location-based technology becomes less important.
What does become important is providing enterprise-grade connectivity to the home. Home networks tend to be more congested than enterprise networks. Additionally, enterprise It has no control over those home networks so clearing the path for business applications is simply not possible. This is where SDWAN makes a huge impact. Using SDWAN, home users can provision enterprise-grade access with a click, no IT support needed. From a continuity of operations perspective, SDWAN enables It to stand up thousands of home offices in minutes simultaneously.
Beyond enabling remote work, designing a network around software allows for:
- Simplified network operations: SDN allows for adding more capabilities without adding complexity. The software-centric approach couples improved tools and intelligence in the network, changing the paradigm for how a network is operated and managed. The centralized management automation inherent in SDN reduces operator error, the leading cause of network outages, and gives IT resources a modern, single pane view of the network. This simplified networking approach helps to make the network much more agile and flexible for effective response to changing needs.
- Enabling cloud strategy: A software-driven network is fundamental to any cloud related strategy. Software provides the speed and flexibility to integrate with cloud-based technologies. SDN is the foundation for extending on premises infrastructure into the cloud in a safe and secure manner. It allows cloud-based applications and services to operate and be accessed with the same user experience and operational consistency as if those services were sitting in a data center.
- Enhanced security capabilities: Speaking to the “give-ups” needed to keep the government workforce connected, SDN allows for the exact security measures needed in the remote work surge. With SDN it is easy to automate security policies across all environments and enable microsegmentation (moving security closer to the application rather than the data center). SDN also allows for automation of complex network changes, reducing operational errors that can create security gaps.
With these benefits so clearly tied to the current situation, we’re looking forward to conversations across agencies on how to begin and even accelerate the shift to SDN. It’s not a case of rip and replace, the move is a series of many small steps that can be taken (in quick succession) to begin realizing these benefits.
VDI – Don’t Call it a Comeback
Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is not new, it has in fact been here for years. VDI solutions take computing off individual machines, holding it in a server environment. With VDI, users can access information and applications via any type of device, enabling secure BYOD. Once a user is logged in they are served with a consistent desktop experience and workflow across any device. From an administrative perspective, this flexible approach allows for consolidated management of systems rather than individual devices.
For the remote work surge during the pandemic, agencies with VDI could get employees up and working immediately even if their work computer was still at the office. VDI allows for the secure use of home devices. It also means that IT administrators do not have to order, configure and ship new devices. The central management of VDI allowed them to set up new desktops in a single click without access to the device. Even when people return to the office, VDI will continue to deliver this flexibility and efficiency to administrators.
Once we emerge from the initial crisis and response, the way we have adapted to working during COVID-19 will have far reaching effects on how agency employees work, and how the government will procure and even consume technology. This new normal will be impacted by the fast changes forced upon us. The scale we use to build solutions has changed. While all technologies are built with a “high water” mark in mind, no one thought the water would ever get as high as it is today. Knowing this level of remote work is a possibility will change how solutions are developed and deployed in the future. It has to be done with an eye toward all-remote access. Also knowing how quickly things can change, agencies will need to take a look at their before COVID state and current state and make decisions about which changes to make permanent. In shoring up these new ways of delivering and consuming IT the network will need to shift to a more agile and fluid model to support the business of government wherever it needs to be conducted.
Iron Bow is here to help assess COVID-related changes in your network and chart a path forward to a network that supports in-office and remote work equally securely and efficiently.