Software-defined infrastructure key to meeting expanding network demands

From Left: Army Maj. Gen. Garrett Yee, Verizon's Randy Hahn, USPS' Brian Carnell and Brocade's Philip O'Reilly discuss network modernization at Federal Forum on June 14. (FedScoop)

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The ability to expand and distribute IT infrastructure quickly and dynamically is becoming a fundamental necessity for agencies and enterprises to support growing user demands, a group of public sector technology leaders asserted at a federal IT forum Tuesday.

“It’s all about the interconnects between our servers and switches and devices, and how quickly can we adapt,” said Brian Carnell, U.S. Postal Service manager for enterprise access infrastructure, during a government IT modernization conference hosted by Brocade and produced by FedScoop.

Carnell pointed to the USPS’ experimentation with ring scanners, using near-field communications to capture package barcodes, as an example of how the USPS’ network is continually expanding.

That’s on top of supporting 33,000 mobile phones, 300,000 mobile scanning devices and 32,000 post offices, and moving the equivalent of the Library of Congress’ content across USPS networks every 33 minutes, he said.

“Our edge is spreading at an enormous rate. It changes almost every week, with nearly 1.5 million objects right now,” he said.

Building the capacity to handle all these devices, and corresponding network demands, all but requires software-defined networking capabilities, he said. “Our infrastructure was scaled out, but we needed it to be more compact, and be able to scale up,” he said. “SDN is a big part of that,” he said.

Addressing network capabilities to the edge has added meaning for the Army, said Maj. Gen. Garrett Yee.

“The edge for us is the soldier at the forward edge of the battlefield. We have sensors on our soldiers, networked radios — so the edge is always changing,” he said. Yee conceded that the Army, which once prided itself on individual centers of IT excellence around the world, was slow to make the shift to large-scale virtualized networks.

“Our strategy for 2025 and beyond does call for SDN and software defined data centers,” he said. But part of that strategy envisions increased data processing at the edge and what Yee described as distributed intelligence capabilities.

“We do have a lot of centralized data analytics,” he said. “But as we push networks out there, sensors need to do some analytics before they push data back.”

SDN capabilities continue to gain momentum, according Randy Hahn, Verizon’s association director, public sector solutions.

Hahn noted that Verizon started planning for SDN in 2010 and began incorporating it into Verizon’s own systems in 2014. He added that SDN not only helps agencies manage risk in virtualized cloud environments, but also helps enable managed services within secure enclaves.

Philip O’Reilly, chief technology officer for Brocade’s federal business, concurred. Distributable infrastructure and a way to scale quickly will be the key to the future of network modernization — and to supporting the escalating volume of data IT departments will inevitably have to handle, he said.

Contact the writer of this story at wyatt.kash@fedscoop.com, or on Twitter @wyattkash.

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Agencies, Army, Cloud Computing & Networking, Defense Department, Departments, Tech, United States Postal Service, Verizon
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