• A U.S. Air Force tactical network operations technician adjusts an AV-211 antenna at Diyarbakir Air Base, Turkey. The latest networking techniques, such as software-defined wide area networks, may offer both budgetary and operational benefits for the Defense Department.
     A U.S. Air Force tactical network operations technician adjusts an AV-211 antenna at Diyarbakir Air Base, Turkey. The latest networking techniques, such as software-defined wide area networks, may offer both budgetary and operational benefits for the Defense Department.

The Rise of the SD-WAN

August 2, 2017
By Tony Bardo


Tight budgets spur modernization opportunities.


Even though the U.S. Congress is poised to significantly boost the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2018 budget—to include surpassing what the White House seeks in defense spending—the lack of predictability still hampers long-term fiscal planning.

The uncertainty follows in the path of volatile spending plans that have plagued the department for years. A March report the Government Accountability Office issued, for example, shows that between 2011 and 2015, defense spending dropped nearly 32 percent, while spending at civilian agencies remained fairly steady. In part, long periods of sequestration and stopgap budgets are the reasons for the reductions and unpredictability.

Through an opportunistic lens, however, that uncertainty should incentivize agencies to squeeze more out of their budget dollars and become more efficient. Shedding outdated legacy networking technologies and leveraging the latest IT innovations offers a good starting point. For example, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and similar networks are expensive to maintain and operate and fail to deliver the bandwidth to justify their exorbitant costs—not surprising because they are decades old.

Too many defense agency field offices still starve for bandwidth and face the challenge of whether legacy networks are powerful enough to handle new generations of cloud-based and rich-media applications. The rising number of connected devices and data-intensive communications such as video conferencing add to the network strain, threatening to bring it to its knees.

The good news is that upgrading inefficient systems with the latest networking technologies can deliver both budgetary and operational relief. A case in point is the software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), which overcomes many of these key challenges:

  • cloud readiness
  • high performance
  • higher network and application availability
  • network flexibility
  • cost

Businesses are rapidly adopting the SD-WAN because of the net benefit gains in bandwidth, availability, security and cost savings. By using an SD-WAN solution, the Defense Department can distribute required bandwidth to various sites in need and increase overall network resiliency. This would minimize downtime and save money when compared to the cost to maintain existing legacy systems.

By slashing the cost of transport technology and moving from dedicated MPLS T1 lines to broadband links, network dollars can go further, freeing up funds to roll out an SD-WAN through a qualified managed service provider (MSP). For widely distributed agencies, an MSP can take on the complex deployment and management to deliver the network’s full potential in the form of a managed SD-WAN.

MSPs deliver a wide range of connectivity options and offer the best and most cost-effective broadband technology—fiber, cable, digital subscriber line (DSL), long-term evolution (LTE) cellular or satellite—all fully managed and secured by one trusted provider. By consolidating effort, just one company offers services. As a result, agencies do not have to juggle numerous providers under various contract terms. Other benefits include 24/7 monitoring with real-time threat analysis and mitigation, firewall management, and content filtering and network optimization tools.

As defense budgets continue down the path of uncertainty and bandwidth demands continue to rise, SD-WAN is proving to be the best solution for cost-effectively disseminating information to the distributed defense network. It’s time to put the legacy network bottlenecks and brownouts in the rearview mirror. Defense agencies should equip themselves with the modernized networks that are capable of delivering higher performance, availability and optimization.

Anthony "Tony" Bardo has more than 30 years experience with strategic communication technologies that serve the complex needs of government. Since joining Hughes Network Systems in January 2006 as assistant vice president, government solutions, Bardo has been responsible for providing Hughes managed network broadband solutions and applications to federal, state and local governments.

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