In government, the readiness of the people, units and organizations to do the work required by the mission relies more and more on the network to access and share information.  New network solutions leveraging software technology in the form of SDN and NFV are being tested and deployed as a means to provide an agile and automated network resource that gives government network operators the opportunity to truly innovate how they think about and use networks as strategic mission assets.  I sat down with Jeff Verrant, VP & GM of Ciena’s Government Solutions group to talk about challenges and opportunities that this network evolution will offer to enable service delivery and ensure mission readiness.


Q:  What are government network operators focusing on today? 

Jeff: Government network operators are under pressure to provide expanded capabilities and services to their customers. This includes the need to scale the network to meet the modern warfighters ever increasing bandwidth demands and the requirement to provide services faster and more economically. Technology advancements in optical and packet communications have accelerated rapidly over the past decade, mainly in response to an increase in large scale information flow and application requirements. These technological advances promise great advancements in scale and rapid service creation, at the cost of introducing new technology into the network.

At the same time, threats to these networks have escalated in quantity and sophistication, and the new technologies offer the opportunity to rapidly and autonomously respond. These technology and security concerns are presented to the network operator at the same time that budget constraints are at an all-time high.

So government network operators are faced with an exciting opportunity. They have a number of new choices in technology solutions that can help address long standing requirements and enhance their security posture. They have the opportunity to run their network leaner and more efficiently, with better tools to address cybersecurity threats. In addition, the highly constrained budget environment increases the need to the Government network operators to optimize the choices of which technologies to adopt and which to ignore.

[GovLoop research brief: Accelerating Government Transformation with Network Modernization]


Q:  What network trends are you seeing agencies adopting?

Jeff: Industry is responding to the above dilemma with strategies for cost savings, increased scalability, and reduced complexity. Most equipment manufacturers understand the problem very well. Companies like Ciena have been evolving the global telecommunications environment, upon which the government depends, for over 20 years. Government networks are also following the trends that we see in commercial environments.      

Government Operators that are still building networks based on 15 year old architectures will come under increased scrutiny to improve their return on public investment and better serve the requirements of the warfighter. Convergence, primarily of the packet-optical layers, is now mature technology and can easily deliver a 20-30% cost savings to network operators, while delivering increases in capability. Beyond cost, there are space, power, security, and ease of management considerations as well that are enhancements from a converged architecture.    

Virtualization is a second trend that is rapidly taking place in the telecommunications marketplace, and will closely be followed by government agencies. The emergence of Software Defined Networking (SDN), as a method to add total flexibility and programmability to networks, is in either pilot or deployment phase at nearly every content provider, data center, and telecomm provider. Software Defined Exchanges (SDX) are even starting to arise and replace interconnect POPs.   

Likewise, government agencies are looking to take advantage of SDN and the promise of multi-layer, multi-vendor management as well as dictating software defined network behaviors. Nearly every government agency has a SDN pilot under development for a wide variety of applications.    

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is of extreme interest to government network operators, although because of the immaturity of the technology it uncertain when this technology will be deployed. Current research into NFV-enabled security models show great promise as to the benefits that network virtualization can contribute. Simply put, a generic, common platform that can house numerous applications, similar to a smart phone for networks, and move network functions from hardware to a software module, could offer unparalleled advantages for government.


Q:  How do government customers see SDN and NFV impacting their mission?

Jeff: SDN introduces programmable network control. Government network operators clearly see a tremendous capability emerging here, and they plan to take advantage of the opportunity.     

Some of the key SDN attributes are: 

Multi-vendor management. SDN controllers, like Ciena’s Blue Planet Orchestrate, offer an easily programmable architecture that can be adapted to literally any network device, vendor or product. The days of stove-piped network management platforms unique to a particular vendor will soon be over. Coding an adapter to an open interface specification enables the SDN controller to manage vendor devices. This feature is a reality now and will likely be the first one that government operators take advantage of.

Multi-layer control. The ability to control multiple layers of the OSI stack and multiple domains, from a single common platform, is extremely attractive to any network operator. This capability has been nirvana for a few decades now. It is feasible that a SDN enabled network could control applications as well as IP routing, switching, and physical layer connectivity. Likewise, a common SDN controller could extend control from enterprise, data center, into and across the LAN and WAN. This is the multiple domain vision.

Programmable resource. The network under the new SDN paradigm is no longer a static infrastructure. The network responds to commands sent from the SDN controller to the network; for operations, maintenance, provisioning, inventory, etc.  All the functions that in the past required separate platforms and organizations to manage.

Just like computing and storage architectures have evolved to virtual environments like cloud, NFV offers similar capabilities to the network. This technology could make a large impact on security architectures, with the ability to rapidly deploy gold standard updates to network defenses. NFV to security could be the ultimate defense in depth for network security organizations.


Q:  What potential hurdles do you think government network operators will face?

Jeff: Budget. Shrinking budgets will force architectural change, for all the reasons mentioned above. Status quo is simply no longer good enough. There’s just not enough funding left in the well to build networks based on 20 year old architectures, with separate devices for routing, switching, and transport. Convergence technologies are mature, and we see early stages being deployed across government and commercial networks.

Velocity, and willingness to accept change. Government network operators tend to be very risk adverse, and therefore tend to rely on tried and true solutions. The new technologies do introduce some risk as any new technology adoption does, but offer significant new and important capabilities for increasing network scale and speeding service delivery. I would offer that there is a greater risk to organizations that do not adopt next generation technologies. Convergence, SDN, and NFV offer a new vision for networks, and likewise a reduction in CAPEX and OPEX.

Security is certainly at the top of the list of hurdles that government networks, in particular, are dealing with and will continue to focus on. Cyber-attacks are projected to continue in frequency and sophistication, with really no relief in sight. I would offer this, a converged, software defined, network architecture reduces the attack surface, complexity, and flexibility to respond, without limiting capability.    


Q:  What guidance are you giving government customers around laying a foundation today for next generation networks?

Jeff: I’d say #1 is to get a trusted advisor that knows the new technology landscape and enables them to make change. Take a hard look at what is working in the commercial sector and what is not. These new technologies exist for a reason, primarily driven by the requirements commercial providers have to reduce the cost to deliver services. Government networks can take advantage of the large investment being made by the commercial industry and migrate their infrastructures to a more resilient, cost effective, and secure architecture.

People are our strongest asset. I believe it is equally important to retain key people, and invest in training and certifications for the new leaders that will ultimately be responsible for designing and implementing the new network environment. If we’re not careful, the pace of advancements in network technologies could quickly outpace the ability of organizations, our people, our most prized possession, to adapt.


Q:  What excites you about this next chapter in your Ciena journey?

Jeff: Several areas excite me about the future.

I’ve been with Ciena for 15 great years, and have had the opportunity to work on mission critical projects in government and the network research and science community. It has truly been a journey. I’m honored to have worked with some of the most talented people anywhere.    

But we’re not stopping here. Ciena is growing, accelerating the pace of innovation. We continually seek a new generation of talented leaders that are looking to make a difference. People, in particular our new graduates, excite me more than anything. So please give me a call if you’re interested in an exciting career in networking!

Ciena has been at the forefront of numerous advancements in networking, including ultra-high speed optical, packet convergence, and now SDN and NFV. I believe the new cyber threat landscape demands innovative solutions, and that new technologies are ripe for inclusion in this new environment. The combination of these technologies forms the foundation of a more responsive, autonomous, network that can automatically defend itself.

The network research community is now globally connected and is enabling collaborations at a scale we have never seen before. We are witnessing large scale discoveries in science, namely health, physics, communications, and astronomy, as a result of these international collaborations. Ciena has been an integral member of this community for 15 years, and we will continue to place extreme value on our position here.

Ciena has significantly grown our position in government networks over the past 15 years. I believe our success is due to the government’s perception of Ciena as a mission partner, not just a vendor. Understanding and contributing to the government mission has been, and will continue to be, our #1 objective.

Today’s networking landscape is increasingly demanding, competitive, and under attack.   But the vision of a network without limits is becoming a reality, and Ciena has a #1 leadership position in that category. That concept is extremely exciting!