Government Networks Unprepared for Cloud, Big Data Transitions

A new survey of federal network managers reveals that government agencies are not ready for the arrival of the 'big five' tech transformations -- cloud computing, big data, security, mobility and data center consolidation.

As federal agencies gear up for a series of major IT transitions, a majority of government network managers say that their systems lack the capacity that will be required to meet the additional load that cloud computing, big data and other looming initiatives will entail.

government IT, federal networks, federal government

In a new survey by the government IT group MeriTalk, underwritten by the networking vendor Brocade, 59 percent of the technology workers polled said that those initiatives, if deployed today, would reach or exceed their agency's network capacity.

"Networks are the backbone of IT delivery in federal agencies, just as they are in the enterprise," Anthony Robbins, vice president of Brocade's federal division, said in a statement. "As such, agencies need to take steps to prepare for increased network demands now -- this includes ensuring networks are modernized to open standards and robust enough to handle the traffic."

The 'Big Five' IT Transitions Threatening to Overwhelm Federal Networks

The authors of the survey identified what they call "the big five" IT transitions that threaten to overwhelm federal networks: cloud computing, big data, security, mobility and data-center consolidation, each identified by the White House as priorities in an overarching push to overhaul the federal government's roughly $80 billion technology operations.

The resulting surge of traffic is expected to increase network load by 79 percent. As a result, 84 percent of the 200 survey respondents said that if all five IT initiatives were fully deployed today, their agency would be at risk of a network bottleneck. A scant 12 percent said that their agency is completely prepared for the infrastructure demands of the big five.

Beyond the expected capacity crush, network managers anticipate that the new IT initiatives will bring added challenges in the form of security risks, cited by 70 percent of respondents, as well as bandwidth limitations (cited by 54 percent), network latency (46 percent), and storage limitations (42 percent).

Large majorities of the respondents indicated that their agency plans to press ahead with each of the big five transitions the survey considered within the next two years.

Broken down, 99 percent of respondents said they have already deployed a new security initiative or will do so by 2015. Ninety-two percent said the same about mobility; 90 percent are planning to move on data-center consolidation in that time frame, 78 percent with big data, and 76 percent with cloud computing.

In total, network managers polled said that they plan to overhaul nearly half of their agency's total IT infrastructure over the next two years.

In anticipation, some agencies are moving ahead with infrastructure upgrades like adding bandwidth and updating network policies, but the survey authors argue that they need to do more. "Address network capacity before it's too late," they conclude.

The Challenges of Implementing the 'Big Five' Tech Transformations

The picture is further complicated by some of the organizational and logistical challenges that are particularly acute in the federal government, infamous for its stovepiped IT culture. For instance, only 35 percent of agencies are consolidating the leadership on each of the five initiatives under a single senior executive.

Additionally, most aren't using a common, standardized process for the big five, and the individuals spearheading the transitions are typically not huddling in regular meetings.

Some -- though by no means most -- of the network managers polled said that they are taking various steps to ease the transition toward mobility, cloud computing and the other parts of the big five.

For instance, an even half of the respondents said that they are asking their leadership for clear prioritization on their IT initiatives, while 47 percent are seeking standardized documentation of their infrastructure requirements, and 44 percent said that they are pressing for stronger coordination among the leaders of the various transitions.

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.

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