I recently heard about this company in Latin America taking an unusual approach to energy conservation. Every Friday, the company powers down and unplugs everything to save on energy costs over the weekend. While the company may save on energy, on Monday morning, the company experiences an enormous surge in its Internet traffic as employees power up their computers and other connected devices. This causes network congestion, which affects productivity.
The energy crisis is a real issue in the region, and the cost to pay for a higher tier of service that would provide for more bandwidth can be prohibitive given the issue only happens on Monday morning. What may look like a Catch 22, may be solvable with smart, scalable network.
When you think about it, the need for more bandwidth on a periodic basis is not unique and the approach to meeting these periodic demands could be network conservation. Enterprises and government agencies across the globe see spikes in bandwidth use for many reasons, including data backups, software downloads, new product launches, or perhaps the influx of tax returns that all hit at about 11:55 p.m. on Tax Day. The struggle has been how to allocate enough bandwidth to accommodate surges, yet not so much that you’re paying a premium for bandwidth you only need sometimes. This is where software-defined networking (SDN) comes in.
SDN is everywhere these days, but like cloud computing in its nascent years, many can’t quite wrap their head around what it does, or why they should care about it, let alone why they should include it as part of their network infrastructure. Here’s a crash course: in the simplest terms, SDN reduces the physical hardware needed to run the network (hence the focus on software) and puts more control in a company’s hands. For a more in-depth explanation of how SDN works, check out this story by GCN.
What’s most compelling is what SDN can enable, particularly from the government perspective. As many know, when it comes to the government procuring telecom services, it’s often a long, drawn-out process dependent on the stipulations put forth by the current contract vehicle. And once those services are purchased, any mid-contract course corrections can be difficult to accomplish; however, with SDN, government agencies can change their network without creating a new service order or having to wait out the typical provisioning process.
Let’s say an agency is planning to launch a new online service and anticipates high demand to its website. The agency has a “business as usual” bandwidth allocation, but wants to make sure if traffic to the site reaches peak levels, it has enough capacity to alleviate any latency. With SDN technology, the agency can go into a portal and set a threshold, or “alarm,” where once traffic hits a certain level, bandwidth will increase and maintain until traffic subsides. Can you imagine how helpful this technology would have been a few years ago when a certain healthcare website was launched?
Here’s another example. Government agencies deal with an astronomical amount of data – important data – that is subject to regular backups. With SDN, these agencies can schedule an increase in capacity during the times they know these backups will occur reducing the costs they’d incur for an always-on, higher bandwidth connection.
GSA’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract vehicle is going into effect in 2017. It embraces these new technologies, with scalable bandwidth covered in depth. With this in mind, agencies should think about their network providers and the SDN-enabled services they can provide right now. The more upfront planning an agency does, the smoother the transition to a new contract.
SDN can revolutionize the way we deploy and operate our networks, and creates opportunities for significant cost savings when done the right way. It also provides an on-demand network ecosystem that gives government organizations a lot more agility, flexibility and visibility, which delivers a much better end user experience – perhaps one of the most important outcomes for any agency.
The next time someone asks you if you’ve heard about unusual conservation efforts or read about a network that came down because it couldn’t handle a traffic spike, you can impart some knowledge and let them know it doesn’t have to be that way. SDN can help conserve networks, maintain productivity and enable a positive stakeholder experience.
David Young leads Level 3’s Government Markets Group, which services a variety of government agencies, research and educational institutions, and commercial entities within the Defense Industrial Base market segments. When he’s not working with his dedicated GMG team, he’s spending time with his wife and two college-age boys – preferably traveling or doing anything outdoors.