Federal IT Networks: Simpler Is Better - InformationWeek

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Government // Enterprise Architecture

Federal IT Networks: Simpler Is Better

A survey of government IT executives found that network complexity slows IT performance and hinders deployment of new technologies and services.

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The growing complexity of federal IT networks is among the top three management challenges facing government agencies. If agencies were to simplify their networks, they would improve operations and save billions, according to a recent MeriTalk report.

For The Federal Simplicity Report: Navigating Network Complexity, MeriTalk surveyed 200 government IT executives and found that agencies with more multifaceted networks are nearly three times more likely than other agencies to experience recurrent disruptions. Respondents had to take into consideration protocols and features utilized, security, wireless, unified communications, redundancy, quality of service, as well as other variables.

Three out of four (74%) IT execs categorized their agency's network as complex or very complex. There are many factors that contribute to network complexity, including increased network users (36%), moving toward server virtualization (33%), switching to cloud computing (32%), increased use of mobile devices (30%), greater bandwidth requirements (29%), and consolidating data centers (27%).

[Lost cause? See 3 Reasons We Don't Need Federal CIOs.]

Of those surveyed, more than half said their network complexity has increased over the past year, and 68% see that continuing over the next three years. The majority (81%) of network managers believe that complexity can slow or halt IT performance objectives. They also see network complexity as an impediment to implementing new technologies, services, or capabilities.

The report determined that reducing network complexity improves organizational efficiency and saves money. Agencies believe that, on average, they could save 18% of their IT budget with simplified networks. That adds up to $14.8 billion annually across the government -- a calculation based on the $82 billion fiscal year 2014 IT budget.

(Source: opte.org, from Wikipedia)
(Source: opte.org, from Wikipedia)

Respondents recommended moving to open, non-proprietary standards, which would allow for greater competition. It would also help strengthen network interoperability and reduce the number of staff required for network maintenance. According to the report's findings, 74% of IT execs are currently concerned about the interoperability of their network vendors. By choosing open standards, agencies can have best-of-breed products regardless of technology type or vendor.

Additionally, survey respondents suggested adding bandwidth (44%) and increasing redundancy (28%) as steps to simplifying networks. Other suggestions included increasing virtual networking and software-defined networking, boosting resiliency, and maximizing I/O virtualization performance and flexibility.

When asked what benefits agencies are currently experiencing or expect to experience from reduced complexity, 59% of IT execs named improved network reliability. Improved network speed was second (55%), followed by enhanced security (54%), streamlined maintenance (42%), and better IT agility to support the mission (37%).

Network engineers need broader expertise for their careers to thrive in the coming software-defined networking era. Also in the new SDN Careers issue of Network Computing: Don't be a networking dinosaur.

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she ... View Full Bio

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Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
7/28/2014 | 5:30:38 AM
Simplifying networks
There is a Chinese proverb that says: Simplicity is an advanced course. I tend to agree.

Whenever you want to improve management, make it more efficient, more agile, get better ROI, better use of time, you need to simplify existing patterns. This applies to networks and everything else. 

User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2014 | 9:07:15 PM
Re: Simpler Is Better
way of technology simple is always better... as no one wants complications...
User Rank: Strategist
7/24/2014 | 10:26:15 AM
Adding on doesn't always add up
The biggest reason that complexity grows unchecked is that people typically add to their IT infrastructure with a whole lot more frequency than they subtract from it. You end up constantly adding things. Something doesn't work quite right, you add a workaround. Need some new capability, add a new feature. This incremental nature of growth leads to IT sprawl. We need to be removing things as frequently as we add stuff (and arguably more frequently since we have accumulated architectural debt).

Interoperability, by the way, ends up suffering too. Because if you deploy 600 features, even if both solutions support 599 of them, that 600th can prevent the things from working together.

Part of the hope of SDN is that it levels the architectural playing field some. It removes the reliance on these features (when customers deliberately allow it). But this requires a rethinking of architecture and procurement practices. A good first step? That standard RFP that you have? Consider starting from scratch rather than just adding SDN as a new section to an already-overloaded document.

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)

User Rank: Moderator
7/23/2014 | 6:43:01 PM
Simpler Is Better
Yes. Simpler is better. When you look at the interfaces of a lot of these sites, many are staff or member users. Catering to easier navigaction is an important element. Even with stakeholders, technical sites or networks should be non-complicated to explain or understand.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
7/23/2014 | 2:45:04 PM
walking the walk
>According to the report's findings, 74% of IT execs are currently concerned about the interoperability of their network vendors. 

I wonder what % of those execs describe their IT organization as a "Windows shop"? Interoperabiliy and openness are there for those who really pursue it.
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