Software-Defined Networking in DoD

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent research guide, “Connecting the Mission of the Defense Department to You.”

DoD networks are undergoing major transformations due to the advancement of cloud, mobility and datacenter consolidation. Yet such transformation is putting serious strain on DoD IT staffs to respond with adequate network solutions — resulting in loss of productivity and mission agility. To compound these challenges, DoD agencies must also consider how they can modernize security for all their data, applications and endpoints on older legacy systems.

Moving to software-defined networking (SDN) can help defense agencies address these challenges all while improving mission responsiveness and decreasing costs. To learn more about how a software-defined approach can advance DoD networks, GovLoop sat down with Faisal Iqbal, Senior Director of U.S. Public Sector Sales at Citrix, a software company that provides server, application and desktop virtualization, networking, software-as-a-software and cloud computing technologies.

“Most IT shops are not built to be adaptive to trends like cloud and mobility,” Iqbal said. “But this significantly impacts how DoD delivers its mission. That’s why it’s important to tear away from older systems and modernize to new ones. SDN helps virtualize many important functions while improving security and driving down costs.”

SDN also provides programmability and agility to government networks, enabling defense agencies to keep pace with user demands. In many DoD datacenters, traditional hardware network appliances perform a single function on-premise and are costly to refresh. In contrast, a SDN approach offers the same key network functions as hardware appliances, as well as the flexibility to migrate those functions across platforms both in the datacenter and in the cloud.

Today, DoD is starting to explore SDN solutions. Iqbal shared some tactics on how the department could do this effectively. “It’s all about how the enduser consumes applications and data”, he said. “The end user shouldn’t care about networks. He/She cares if the application is easy to use, secure, available and performs well. The end game of deploying SDN is to ensure apps and services can be delivered to users as quickly, efficiently and securely as possible while ensuring a high-quality experience.”

Another important consideration is security. With cyberattacks becoming more application-centric, securing network infrastructure alone no longer provides adequate protection. A SDN approach ensures security is “native to the network” allowing concepts such as zero trust networks to become prevalent.

Equally important is addressing core backend functions, like switching and routing. These functions are usually hardware-centric in DoD networks, meaning the evolution to new capabilities requires a hardware refresh and when an application is migrated to cloud, the agency also has to buy a new set of capabilities for the cloud.

“Instead of repeating the vicious hardware refresh cycle, you need to take a step back and look at the whole picture,” Iqbal said. “With an SDN approach, your ability to deploy apps and achieve high-level performance and functionality is the same on any infrastructure – be it on premise or in the cloud. This is especially true for Appcentric Network Services beyond routing and switching such as App HA. SSL Proxy, App Firewall, DDOS Protection, and advanced analytics.”

To ensure agencies get leverage out of their next gen SDN architecture, Iqbal recommends ensuring their Application Delivery Control platform is based on agnostic delivery infrastructure, like Citrix’s Netscaler. “This type of platform can take any application — regardless of where it lives – whether in a cloud, on premise or in a container and allow it to be delivered with high availability, security and strong performance across any network,” Iqbal said. “The agnostic part is key, as this allows agencies’ on-prem training, configuration and infrastructure investment to be leveraged for their network of the future without having to relearn technology or re-buy capabilities for the cloud.”

A software-defined platform agnostic App Delivery Controller offers agencies the ability to:

• Deliver any application securely regardless of form factor: on-prem, hybrid cloud or container.

• Provide App assurance, analytics and security for all mobile, web and windows based applications.

• Improve application performance for mobile, remote and branch users.

• Ensure network resilience for mission continuity.

DoD will continue to navigate significant challenges that come with cloud, datacenter consolidation, mobility and security. But software-defined networking helps defense agencies better secure their networks while having the flexibility to provide applications in any environment – be it the cloud or on-premise. Using a platform agnostic delivery infrastructure can help DoD IT leverage the best of SDN without having to invest in new and costly technologies. Ultimately, whether in the trenches of a battlefield or a datacenter, DoD users can better meet their mission objectives through SDN.

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