For federal agencies, IT modernization efforts are often the catalyst for opening up a path to digital transformation. But what do we actually mean when we talk about “digital transformation?” The goal of digital transformation is for agencies to be able to provision new operational environments as quickly and easily as pushing a button. The idea sounds simple enough, so why are so many agencies struggling with it? To go from siloed legacy IT systems to a seamless digital posture, agencies need to work with an ecosystem of trusted partners.
When IT modernization efforts fail, it’s often because too much time is spent thinking about the components of IT infrastructure, and not enough time thinking about the mission requirements and optimization of data. Moving government data sets into commercial data centers on an ad hoc basis does not fully optimize the benefits of commercial solutions. That’s why we at Equinix work with federal IT leaders to help them spend less time thinking about their data centers, and more time focused on solving for their centers of data.
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A data-centric approach to IT modernization requires agencies to consider three aspects of data optimization:
- Data proximity (Where is your data located today, and where should it be located?)
- Data security (What measures are you taking to prevent unauthorized access to data?)
- Data access (Who is using your data, and how is it being used?)
Placing data in ideal locations
Like we’ve seen in the private sector, federal agencies are showing increasing demand for hybrid multicloud architectures that let them position each data set in the environment that best supports it. Working with top cloud service providers offers a number of benefits around performance, agility and scalability, but on-premises systems are also sometimes required for mission-sensitive data with specific security needs.
For federal agencies, getting out of the data center business makes sense for a number of reasons, including taking advantage of the cost savings, network resilience, and more sustainable and energy-efficient operations that commercial providers offer. It’s also a key aspect of any effective data proximity strategy to enable a cloud-adjacent approach. This involves placing key government data sets in the same colocation facilities as on-ramps to top public cloud service providers. Positioning data in cloud-adjacent locations allows agencies to maintain control over their owned systems, while also taking advantage of cloud services on demand.
Enabling data protection and encryption—worldwide
Perhaps the defining story of IT over the last 10 years is the proliferation of services at the digital edge. These new edge services bring value to data sets in ways never before thought possible. However, digital proliferation at the edge has also given rise to a host of new cybersecurity challenges.
Federal agencies can help secure their data at the digital edge by adopting a zero-trust framework. This involves applying API-enabled, data-driven digital capabilities such as artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) to conduct behavioral surveillance, and thus better understand what constitutes typical user behavior—and what doesn’t. Any time the security methodologies detect user behavior that deviates from the norm, they can challenge that user, denying unauthorized access to key data sets.
Another aspect of an optimized data security architecture is WAN MACsec, which allows for secure, private transport of data on a global scale. It should go without saying that federal agencies can’t rely on the public internet for data transport, as it’s inherently vulnerable to cyberattack—not to mention less reliable and more expensive. MACsec provides a secure alternative, but it has traditionally been limited to local last mile/first mile connections. Now, with WAN MACsec, agencies can deploy MACsec on a global scale, helping them encrypt data in transport no matter where in the world their mission takes them.
Private peering is another option to support encrypted data sharing. Setting a physical point-to-point cross connect between the agency and their supply chain partner can provide maximum security, in addition to greater reliability and minimized latency. Private peering requires the two partners to be physically colocated in the same facility, potentially making it costly and time-consuming to set up. This is why private peering is best used for your select few partnerships that require you to consistently exchange very large volumes of data.
Making data available to the right people
Another key element is data access—making sure people can easily access data when they have a legitimate need to. Federal agencies can multiply the value of their data by sharing it across their digital ecosystem of mission partners and suppliers.
Establishing an interoperable data sharing platform can help break through data silos and optimize collaboration among federal partners and with their service providers. For instance, if Customs and Border Protection thinks a particular ship coming into port may be involved with a smuggling operation, they can tap into multi-agency databases to gather more information before boarding the ship. With the right data access strategy, this sharing can happen effortlessly, even though the agencies involved operate within different federal departments.
The cloud service providers mentioned previously are part of the supply chain that supports IT modernization for federal agencies. This means they must also be part of the data-sharing ecosystem. Ensuring that agencies can get data into the cloud—data ingress—is important, but it doesn’t mean much unless they can also account for the data egress side of the equation. Agencies must be able to move data out of the cloud when the need arises, quickly and cost-effectively.
Equinix helps agencies execute data optimization strategies
Once you’ve established the right approach to data proximity, security and access, the next step is ensuring you have the network connectivity needed to put that strategy into action. Equinix IBX® data centers are available in more than 65 metros on six continents, making us uniquely positioned to support the global nature of agency missions. Our ecosystem of more than 3,000 cloud and IT service providers and 2,000 network service providers makes it easy to connect to the right mission partners in the right places.
In addition, software-defined interconnection services from Equinix Fabric™ help agencies take an agile, flexible approach to networking, thereby unlocking the true potential of their hybrid multicloud architectures.
To learn more about how Equinix can help your agency start capitalizing on a data-centric approach to IT modernization, contact us today to schedule a Digital Strategy Briefing.