No industry has been immune to the impact of COVID-19 and the public sector is no exception. While IT modernization mandates such as the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) and Cloud First/Smart have been around for some time, digital transformation has typically been slower in government agencies. However, the recent rapid move to remote work and online collaboration radically shifted IT infrastructure needs across all sectors. Legacy systems based on centralized architecture couldn’t scale to meet new requirements for a distributed workforce or the digital services needed to address the pandemic.
To adapt, public agencies, like many enterprises, turned to service providers to help them accelerate digital adoption, driving demand for interconnection – the direct and private exchange of traffic between key business partners.[i] This is why the Global Interconnection Index (GXI) Volume 4, a market study published by Equinix, shows Government & Education as one of the fastest growing traditional industries for interconnection bandwidth growth with an anticipated 48% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2019 and 2023.
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Moving from traditional to agile networks
The age-old comparison between legacy on-premises infrastructure and cloud applies to networks as well. Agencies want to move to the cloud for improved agility, scalability and efficiency because it’s much easier and less costly (OPEX instead of CAPEX) to spin virtualized infrastructure up or down as needed. In the same way, traditional networks based on specialized hardware such as routers, firewalls, gateways and switches are giving way to more agile, virtualized networks. And, as discussed in a previous article, “How to Speed Up your Tactical Edge with SDN,” the federal government has recently been updating the Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) policy to allow agencies greater flexibility in how they set up their networks. This has opened the door for agencies to shift to more nimble virtual network services including:
Software-defined networking (SDN) : Virtualizes network management by decoupling the network control and forwarding functions. Decision making is moved to a virtual network control plane and physical networking devices, such as routers and switches, are abstracted. This enables agency IT teams to manage the underlying physical network through software while the hardware continues to handle the traffic. Benefits include centralized network management, granular control of network security and traffic prioritization, as well as the ability to quickly provision and optimize network resources.
Network Functions Virtualization (NFV): Virtualizes all physical network resources by decoupling the hardware from the software. Network functions, such as routers or firewalls, that have traditionally run on proprietary physical hardware are replaced with virtual network devices that can run on industry standard hardware. As shown in the diagram below, NFV consists of virtualized network functions (VNFs), or virtualized network tasks, the infrastructure platform running NFV software and the management / orchestration layer. With NFV, virtual network devices can be deployed anywhere on demand as needed. Benefits include improved flexibility, operability, efficiency and on-demand provisioning.
Network as a Service (NaaS): A software licensing and delivery model rather than a technology, It can range from a fully cloud-based virtual network to just moving some network management functions to the cloud but refers to network software delivered on demand via a NaaS provider. Services that are commonly offered in a NaaS model include network management, connecting local networks into a WAN or SD-WAN, routing, security and DoS protection, NFV, monitoring and bandwidth on demand. Benefits include significant cost savings (only pay for what you use), on-demand provisioning in minutes, dynamically resizable network transport capacity and the ability to quickly traverse from one network service provider (NSP) to another via SDN-enabled connections
NaaS use cases: Scale your network at mission speed
Some federal agencies are already piloting SDN, NFV and NaaS as part of their IT modernization strategies. For example, the Navy allocated $96 million to test whether NaaS would be an efficient way to move its entire network to the cloud and conduct all functions via a secure virtual network.[iii] And the Air Force recently expanded its NaaS test by moving two bases from 10% capacity to 100% capacity.[iv]
At Equinix, we are seeing the following common public sector use cases that would benefit from NaaS:
- Network and cloud access: Interconnection services available on Platform Equinix® enable you to connect physically and virtually to more than 1,800 networks (including NaaS providers), 2,900+ cloud and IT service providers, and 9,500+ companies across 63 metros. By leveraging the world’s largest SDN-enabled platform, available in 45+ metros via Equinix Fabric (formerly ECX Fabric®), you can privately, securely and seamlessly connect multiple network and cloud service providers and your own distributed infrastructure on-demand. You can also instantly deploy and connect virtual network services via Network Edge NFV services on Platform Equinix in minutes, without purchasing additional hardware.
- WAN optimization: Traditional centralized network-centric IT infrastructure streams apps and data out to geo-disparate locations. Placing regional interconnection hubs on Platform Equinix proximate to digital services and the users consuming them reduces latency and improves performance. An on-demand service model also enables agencies to rapidly pivot and scale services as needed.
- Intra/inter agency collaboration: Successful collaboration depends on seamless, trusted data exchange. In the past, this has been difficult as each agency had its own network with the associated firewalls, gateways, etc. that impeded frictionless flow of data traffic. A cloud optimized WAN with private interconnection via ECX Fabric can remove these barriers with proximate, private interconnection between peering partners.
- Analytics: Government agencies are exploring new ways of data collaboration including harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) for deeper insights. A NaaS model that provides SDN-enabled data acquisition with cloud adjacent informatics can help address challenges such as data volume/gravity and data governance.
To learn more about how you can harness NaaS to fast track your IT modernization, schedule an interactive virtual Digital Edge Strategy Briefing.
You may also like to read:
Networking for Nerds: NFV versus NaaS
AvidThink Research – 2020 State of NFV Report
IDC – Equinix Network Edge Leverages SDN and NFV to Enhance Edge Networking
[ii] TechTarget, NFV vs. VNF: What’s the difference?
[iii] FedTech, The Navy Envisions a New Kind of Network, April 2019.
[iv] Federal News Network, Two Air Force bases given go-ahead to expand network-as-a-service, Sept 2020.