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Apply Intelligent Automation and Think Differently About Networks

This post is excerpted from GovLoop's recent guide, Preparing for the Era of Digital Transformation

An Interview with Bob Kimball, Chief Technology Officer and Abel Tong, Senior Director of Marketing, Ciena and Brian Rooks, Director for Network Operations, Data Customer Care, and Managed Security, CenturyLink federal solutions

With the rise of the Internet of Things and the steady increase in mobile and cloud users, government agencies are facing new requirements and expectations for innovative and on-demand services. This period of rapid technological change has brought exciting progress and improvements and it has also made the task of managing government networks far more complex.

Incorporating new technologies, such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV), can provide improved network functions, management and operations. There are a number of challenges to achieving digital transformation, but intelligent automation can better enable agencies to adopt SDN and NFV into their infrastructure.

In an interview with GovLoop, Bob Kimball, Chief Technology Officer and Abel Tong, Senior Director of Marketing at Ciena, as well as Brian Rooks, Director for Network Operations, Data Customer Care and Managed Security at CenturyLink federal solutions, discussed how government agencies can use intelligent automation to improve citizen services and better prioritize organizational mission objectives.

They shared how Ciena and CenturyLink — two organizations providing services to converge disparate data networks, operations and management systems — are helping government customers achieve technological innovation by modernizing networks.

When navigating SDN and NFV, “One area of concern is ambiguity around security standards and the fact that there are very few currently in place,” Kimball said.

Educating customers about the necessity of updating their IT and network infrastructure, and then explaining the complexities of the new systems, can also be difficult and time-consuming. Because these technologies are so new, SDN and NFV “bring about the need for new skills, methods and procedures,” Tong said. “Coming up to speed on these new skills and figuring out how to operate in a collaborative way between traditional network operations and IT is actually a big challenge.”

Combining automation intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics, however, offers enormous potential for improving how government manages change and builds and operates networks.

The ultimate goal is to make network operations simpler and more efficient. “There’s so much information coming in across our networks,” said Rooks. “How do you know what is actually important? What do you need to react to? That’s where intelligence and data analytics come in. It’s important to ask these questions to get smarter about your automation.”

One of the most important features of intelligent automation is its ability to respond to problems in real time without bringing ongoing operations to a halt. An intelligently automated network can “mitigate risks, fix failures or work around failures, adapt to changes in the network and actually keep the network functioning in its normal state without explicitly requiring human intervention” said Tong.

Intelligent automation allows organizations to become more proactive, instead of reactive, to potential network issues. The idea, according to Rooks, is “not having to wait for a human to react to a cyber event. An autonomous network would have the tools to make those decisions and act automatically against things like Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.”

Looking at real-time network patterns, analytics and machine learning “can give us insight into when things are likely to happen and likely to go wrong,” explained Tong. When agencies can proactively schedule maintenance or plan for failure at specific locations, services improve, networks run more smoothly and the network on the whole works better.

Incorporating SDN and NFV technology can help agencies address their most mission-critical needs. For example, Ciena and CenturyLink recently partnered with the Defense Department to improve network agility and alleviate security vulnerabilities through multi-domain service orchestration (MDSO) — end-to-end service automation across multiple technology network segments and vendor domains. In connecting military and commercial SATCOM systems with fiber systems, previously disparate communications and intelligence systems were integrated into a more effective, seamless network.

As networks get increasingly complicated, incorporating data analytics and intelligent automation will be crucial for innovation and agency success. Though digital transformation poses a challenge to government organizations, Tong recommended agencies “Think big, but start small. Begin with a well-focused project leveraging the strengths of the technology. Demonstrate success, and then build upon that to grow something bigger and better.”

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