SDN: An Essential Building Block for the Tactical Edge

How Network Edge delivers mission agility and efficiency for Federal government

Don Wiggins

The landscape of wide area networks (WANs) is rapidly changing in large part because of the continued proliferation of software-defined networking (SDN).  The traditional static, monolithic global transport carrier model of the past is now yielding to a partner integration approach. This involves seamless SDN-enabled integration with network service providers (NSPs) to create globally ubiquitous, hybrid dynamic network to network interconnection (DNNI).

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How SDN delivers greater agility, scalability and efficiency

Inter-network connectivity between two entities requiring collaboration has traditionally been implemented as a multitude of internal and external network gateways, firewalls, etc. to move traffic from one agency to another. This was often fraught with excessive amounts of infrastructure for both agencies that introduced additional cost, complexity, bad actor targets, latency and a host of other diminishing returns. Establishing private peering with one another can significantly reduce many of these legacy entrapments and shrink the attack surface by streamlining traffic flows, while still providing access to important peripheral services such as clouds, networks, content, etc.

The emergence of geo-disparate cloud services and a new-found emphasis on private, secure intra and inter-agency collaboration is ushering in the next generation of networking that brings far more utility to the equation. SDN-enabled transport services can, by design, be spun up, resized and spun down as required in minutes, much like the cloud services they now interconnect. No longer bound to high cost, long-term contractual agreements, a flexible pay as you consume model implies a monthly charge for services that are prorated accordingly as they are spun-up or down. The improved agility, scalability and efficiency these services can deliver are critical to ongoing digital transformation initiatives in the Federal Government.

However, to make consumption of these new services more practical, agencies must continue to adapt their traditional procurement methodology to more flexible spending models. As an advocate for informed adoption of next generation technology, coupled with the expertise of our Government Advisory Board, Equinix continues to serve as a trusted advisor in these pursuits.

Connecting clouds virtually

One of the most globally prolific examples of this type of self-serve transport and private peering service delivery model is Equinix Cloud Exchange FabricTM (ECX FabricTM). ECX Fabric is a software-defined interconnection solution that enables Equinix customers, supply chain partners, collaborative agencies, cloud services, and network services to privately connect to one another (or across their own multiple locations) within minutes via a secure portal. Today, more than 300 cloud service providers (CSPs) and thousands of public and private sector organizations across 50+ metros globally on Platform Equinix® privately interconnect via ECX Fabric.

A strong demand signal for more flexible transport services has prompted recent SDN-integration with partners like Verizon who announced availability of a joint Equinix-Verizon Software Defined Interconnect (SDI) service. This partnership enables inter-network transport between Verizon’s private IP (PIP) MPLS network and ECX Fabric via a customer portal in minutes. As it turns out, this joint DNNI offering was only the beginning of our continued pursuit of a growing portfolio of SDN-orchestrated services.

A typical Federal scenario

Like most of our customers federal agencies will typically instantiate two or more geo-strategic physical edge locations on the Platform Equinix. This is to establish regionally distributed access and alignment between their geo-disparate user populations and a plethora of digital services resident on the platform. On occasion, they will encounter short notice/short-term mission requirements that need a rapidly deployed point of presence (PoP) in a metro or region they do not actively occupy on the Platform Equinix. Network Edge was designed with this and other scenarios in mind that require a remote, rapid deployment while avoiding the logistically challenging and cost prohibitive CAPEX associated with these unique mission requirements.

Platform Equinix now includes SDN-integration with partners like Verizon. This partnership enables on-demand inter-network transport between Verizon’s private MPLS network and ECX Fabric.

A hurricane barreling up the Gulf Coast, for example, will require multiple emergency response agencies to quickly establish aggregated localized communications for collaboration among several State, Local and Federal government entities. In this scenario, an agency like FEMA can leverage Equinix’s network functions virtualization (NFV)-based Network Edge service to rapidly instantiate a virtual (PoP) comprised of advanced networking and security components. Tightly integrated with underlying ECX Fabric, Network Edge is a portal accessible, subscription-based service comprised of a growing marketplace of platform partners like Cisco, Juniper, Palo Alto Networks and others. Collectively these services enable rapid deployment of an Area of Responsibility (AOR)-aligned virtual (PoP) for localized last mile support of first responder communications. Emerging last mile solutions actively being evaluated and tested by Equinix Government Solutions, derived from SATCOM, cellular and 5G technology, will further enhance rapid response capabilities.

Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) such as routers, SD-WAN, firewalls, etc. can be spun up in ala carte fashion within minutes to establish global multicloud connectivity, last mile communications for geo-disparate emergency response, data acquisition, disaster recovery/business continuity and a host of other mission critical use cases that require a rapidly provisioned, globally extensible “Tactical Edge.”

Download the Tactical Edge solution brief to learn more.

Today, more than 300 cloud service providers (CSPs) and thousands of public and private sector organizations across 50+ metros globally on Platform Equinix® privately interconnect via ECX Fabric.