Ready to rumble

Verizon relies on network center as telecom competition begins

Inside Verizon Business' new Global IP Network Operations Center in Ashburn, Va.

Verizon Business

Verizon Business' new headquarters sits on a large tract of open land in Ashburn, Va., primed and ready for expansion to meet the next generation of government communications.

The connecting buildings ? which resemble a giant convention center or a major international airport's departure terminal ? house the managed network services that Verizon Business provides to many federal agencies, including the intelligence and defense communities. For that reason, much of the center is off-limits to visitors.

The center has about 3,400 employees, but that number will grow to more than 7,000 by the end of the year as the company consolidates several Washington area offices, said Greg Starks, director of government markets managed services at Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications Inc.

Verizon Federal, now based in McLean, Va., is to move in December, said Susan Zeleniak, group president at Verizon Federal.

The General Services Administration's recently awarded Networx telecommunications contract and the need for a secure operations center exclusively dedicated to the federal sector led the company to build the complex, Starks said.

Other major telecom providers that compete with Verizon and have won places on Networx contracts have also expanded their network centers.

In late May, AT&T Corp. opened a new Transition Management Center in Oakton, Va., for Networx and the expiring FTS 2001 contracts. Qwest Communications International Inc. opened an expanded network operations center in Arlington, Va., in July.

The heart of the Verizon facility is the 30,000-square-foot, highly secure Verizon Government Network Operations and Security Center. Photography is not permitted, and press visits, such as the one arranged for Washington Technology, are limited.

Just one year old, the center was designed to be expandable as government telecom needs grow. The control area measures about 3,000 square feet, but an additional 22,000 square feet of free space is configured to the standards of the National Industrial Information Security Programs Operation Manual, the government regulations governing protection of classified information in industry.

Access to the top-secret center is controlled by thumbprint and card biometrics identification and monitored by an array of video surveillance devices and motion detectors. All employees in the complex must have at least a secret clearance. The company can compete for work from the Defense Department and intelligence agencies up to the top-secret level, Starks said.

The facility also houses Verizon Business' Global IP Network Operations Center, a 16,000-square-foot hall with 195 workstations and a bank of giant screens that track IP networks and worldwide weather patterns to forestall possible outages caused by floods, tornados and hurricanes.

"One of the things [government customers] find impressive in our Global IP NOC is we don't have 250 people sitting there," said Paul Bates, vice president of Global Professional Services and Enterprise Solutions at Verizon Business. "We've got a handful of people on any given shift that can watch and maintain the global IP network due to the systems we have."

To resolve complex forensics incidents at the highest level of security, operations managers will turn to technicians who were formerly part of NetSec Security Services, a security management company acquired by MCI Corp. in 2005. A year later, Verizon Communications merged with MCI.

"The security challenge grows every day in the government ? the requirements, the standards ? so that was the other reason for building this center," Zeleniak said, adding that the Ashburn center manages about 70,000 government devices, including routers, switches and wireless access points.

"We provide service to every federal agency," she said. "We just don't have every agency having managed security service yet. We'll see that by the end of the decade. Every large agency is moving in that direction."

The first design requirement for the center was to ensure that all provided services are secure. "Secondly, how do we manage it ? for a customer who may want us to manage that ? from a security basis?" Zeleniak asked. "For every one of the 50 services we bid on Networx, that's how we approached it, and building this center was to support that approach."

She said federal customers also benefit from the center because it offers shared knowledge of network operations, threats and technical concerns, something a single dedicated site cannot provide. "When you put several agencies in the same facility, they're all learning from each other, and so the quality of management improves on a consistent and steady basis."

Backup facilities reduce network outages to a minimum, Starks said, with built-in redundancy for critical networks. Some classified DOD networks in Texas and elsewhere are replicated in the Ashburn complex, protected from unauthorized access by the facility's security measures.

With Verizon's place on the Networx telecom contract, the center plans to help agencies upgrade their equipment from the old FTS 2001 contract, which Zeleniak said was a major source of business for Verizon Federal. "Networx for us is a big opportunity to continue that level of business with the government."

"We're in the process right now of completing our operations and systems testing capability with the government," she said. Testing is due to be completed this month. Verizon Business will then be ready to take Networx orders.

"There's been a lot of push from some of the nonmilitary parts of the government" for almost immediate access to Networx, Bates said. "But GSA is saying, 'We need to complete a few things before we can let you buy off it.' "

Associate Editor David Hubler can be reached at dhubler@1105govinfo.com.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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