The Role Software-Defined Interconnection Plays in Critical Missions

How virtual networks are helping to speed government response

David Peed

Since the beginning of 2020, there have been 187 FEMA disaster declarations, including fires, floods, hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.[i] During a man-made or natural disaster, the first thing responders do is establish ground zero communications to their command post to set up logistics. From there, they create communications outposts where ever necessary. Establishing reliable communication lines during these crises is mission critical and needs to be done in hours, not weeks that some private companies or public agencies can tolerate for regular business. And just as quickly, many of those communications outposts need to be torn down after a crisis ends, as if they were never there.

This is why moving IT and networking services to the edge quickly and efficiently is so crucial for emergency response. The agile spinning up and down of compute, storage and network capacity at the edge for agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can mean life or death for the communities they protect.

In the midst of these uncertain times, it’s understandable that government IT leaders are beginning to think differently. They’re realizing that they need to architect IT infrastructures to scale at speed by creating edge IT and network outposts. They’re learning how to optimize and virtualize IT and protect their digital resources in more distributed ways. And they are learning how to future-proof their IT infrastructures and leverage data intelligence to streamline logistics.

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Scaling, optimizing and protecting the mission

In previous blog articles, we’ve talked about how software-defined networking (SDN) is an essential building block for creating a tactical edge infrastructure. SDN has the agility required to decentralize government network backbones and take them out to the edge to the actual missions that they are supporting. Particularly in times of a crisis, government agencies need to proactively react to situations where the critical IT resources can be deployed remotely without additional hardware. During natural disasters such as hurricanes, and especially during pandemics like COVID-19, supply chains are disrupted and equipment shipments cannot get to the locations where they are needed most. This is why virtual network devices such as SD-WANs, firewalls and cloud-to-cloud routing that can be deployed remotely within minutes are so critical to the success of the mission. Since they are priced under an OPEX model, these services can also be spun down quickly as the mission ends without the burden of an upfront CAPEX investment.

The removal of hardware dependencies also complies with the government’s mandate to optimize data centers by virtualizing systems and networks where possible. FEMA, which stood up its first virtual environment in the mid-2000s, has reduced its infrastructure’s physical footprint and lowered energy costs, while supporting a workforce that has become more mobile.[ii]

Moving IT and networking services to the edge quickly and efficiently is crucial for emergency response and can mean life or death for the communities that government agencies protect.

Leveraging virtual network services and their APIs also enable the interoperability, customization and automation of virtual network security capabilities. Security application migration to the cloud, secure access service edge (SASE), virtual private networks (VPNs) and firewalls can all be easily and quickly orchestrated to put security where it is needed most.

Future proofing government IT  

Private interconnection bandwidth in the Government and Education sector is projected to grow globally at an annual rate of 68% (2018 – 2022), according to the third annual . Deploying a network infrastructure that includes virtual networks such as SD-WANs and virtual private networks (VPNs) ensures infinite bandwidth scalability for the future. And putting a virtual network device proximate to systems, applications, data, clouds and users delivers greater performance via low-latency connections. Leveraging interconnection solutions such as Network Edge from Equinix enables government IT organizations to deploy scalable network functions virtualization (NFV) capabilities to meet growing network capacity requirements from leading vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, Palo Alto Networks. Combined with Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™) software-defined interconnection, Network Edge also enables access to cloud service providers (CSPs) such as AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud and VMware on AWS. Direct and secure access to these virtual services enables government agencies to modernize and future-proof their legacy IT infrastructures.

Speeding up response: Use cases for software-defined interconnection

Typically, Equinix customers build out their edge locations by placing their own systems, storage or networking equipment in cabinets/cages within Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers. Network Edge services remove that requirement because there is no deployment of an agency’s equipment in a physical cabinet or cage within an IBX. Agencies can leverage third-party NFV providers to spin up virtual network devices in locations around the world on the fly and turn it off just as rapidly once the mission is completed. NFV and software-defined interconnection at the tactical edge is ideal for addressing rapid change because not only can you quickly establish a point-of-presence (PoP) anywhere on Platform Equinix®, but you can also leverage dense ecosystems of partners (networks, clouds, SaaS, bare metal) as a service.

Example use cases include:

  • Emergency response (e.g. FEMA): It’s difficult to predict where the next disaster will hit, which means that agencies like FEMA need to respond quickly in locations where they may not have a lot of existing IT capabilities. That requires on-demand access to networks, systems and clouds in locations to spin-up IT hubs as needed.
  • Public health (e.g. CDC): Surveillance and response to outbreaks in vector/food/water-borne disease and pandemics requires fast, local deployment of IT resources where viruses are spreading.
  • National security (e.g. Department of Defense): Protecting national security often requires connectivity in remote places. Satellite or mobile/5G communications can traverse a fiber connection to the agency’s Network Edge point of presence (PoP) at Equinix and, from there, expand out to anywhere in the world on Platform Equinix.
  • Work from home: Prior to COVID-19, working from home was largely experimental for a few employees, but seven out of ten federal workers were told to telework during the pandemic.[iii] Supporting a largely remote workforce requires the ability to spin up VPN and bandwidth capacity, as well as disaster recovery (DR) capabilities on demand.
NFV and software-defined interconnection at the tactical edge is ideal for addressing rapid change because not only can you quickly establish a point-of-presence (PoP) anywhere on Platform Equinix®, but you can also leverage dense ecosystems of partners (networks, clouds, SaaS, bare metal) as a service.

Building in data intelligence for smarter logistics

Having software-defined interconnection at the edge enables fast and flexible access to cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics tools that are adjacent to data resources. Putting these valuable services proximate to data sources delivers real-time predictive analytics to agencies before a crisis hits. This intelligence is essential to streamlining logistics for any mission, whether it is in response to a natural disaster, smart city planning or delivering citizen services. Portable data intelligence for smarter logistics planning requires direct and secure interconnection between wireless/mobile devices, data, systems, AI, analytics and clouds that can be spun up and down wherever and whenever it is needed. This is what virtual networks enable  ̶  agile deployment of interconnection capabilities at the edge so that agencies can respond at the same speed of the mission.

For more information, read the Government Global Interconnection Index and

To learn more about emerging trends on SDN-enabled on demand global hybrid WAN services, regionally distributed architectures, geo-strategic alignment with CSPs and other digital service providers who can accelerate your digital transformation journey, reach out to us at DESBfederal@equinix.com to schedule an interactive virtual Digital Edge Strategy Briefing.

[i] FEMA as of June 29, 2020.

[ii] FedTech, “How Virtualization Helps Feds Shrink Environmental Footprint,” July 24, 2019.

[iii] Government Executive, Survey: Most Feds Say the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Had a ‘Major’ or ‘Extreme’ Impact on Agency Operations, April 2020.