Accelerating the Networx Transition
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By Beth Aluise
No one ever said that the process of transitioning all federal agencies to the largest telecommunications contract in history would be an easy job. That’s because in and of itself, the promise of lower prices and higher functionality can’t magically make the task easier for Networx contractors and their customers. “From a vendor point of view, I think the initial concern was around the slow movement of agencies to the new contract,” Kevin Plexico, senior vice president for research and analysis at INPUT, told 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media. “And I think that’s still plaguing us today.”
From an agency perspective, much of the delay in transitioning to the new contract can be chalked up to its complexity. The Networx opportunity – its service offerings are far more robust than the forerunner contract FTS2001 – is also the source of the challenge, because greater choice and more contractors make for a far more difficult transition.
Networx does more than replicate the same services available under the FTS2001 contract – it makes available the newest technologies, including federal network security offerings. FTS2001 made 26 categories of services available to federal agencies, while the Networx Universal and Enterprise contracts offer 44 categories. The Networx Universal contract boasts the most categories of service, including IP-based networks and wireless. Networx Enterprise has fewer services, but a wider range of contractors.
There were other factors early on in the process that complicated the issue for federal agencies, Gartner Vice President Rishi Sood told 1105 Government Information Group Custom Media. “You had a pushback against it up front,” he said. “They had delays in the rollout of the actual announcement of the contract. It’s not an easy thing to make a wholesale transition from one contract to another.”
The nature of the delays illustrates the fact that government organizations today are being squeezed from all sides. “There’s a lot of time and planning that needs to be put in as part of these processes,” Sood said, “but we don’t have the same level of acquisition workforce that we’ve had in past generations of contract transitions.”
Agencies that directly accepted federal funding to support their transition to Networx were able to be more aggressive in the deployment, Sood noted. Those early players have paved the way for the second wave of agencies to begin to make their move. “I think we’ll see the movement over and the adoption of either of the two contracts really speed up here over the next 18 months,” Sood said.
Security Issues Move Front And Center
Beyond the cost savings, there are other imperatives – most notably security – driving the need to transition to Networx. Last November, the Department of Homeland Security began to approve Networx carriers’ plans for Managed Trusted Internet Protocol Services (MTIPS), which are being offered through both the Universal and Enterprise contracts.
GSA developed MTIPS for the Networx program to allow agencies physically and logically to connect to the Internet in full compliance with the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Trusted Internet Connections initiative (TIC). MTIPS aims to make it easier for agencies to reduce the number of connections to the public Internet and provide secure IP portals for agency traffic to and from the public Internet. MTIPS also provides standard security services to all government users.
“MTIPS services are about complete,” Karl Krumbholz, deputy assistant commissioner of network services at GSA, said last November. “The carriers will have built out their capabilities by the end of this year, and agencies will be able to take advantage of MTIPS services in the very near term.” MTIPS comprises the network infrastructure to transport IP traffic between the agency enterprise wide-area network (WAN) and the TIC portal. Together they create an agency TIC Trusted Domain (DMZ) for IP traffic.
No one will argue that this is a critically important mission when the security of federal networks is at stake. But working through security issues further complicates the challenge of transitioning to Networx. Agencies are grappling with two key issues regarding security, according to Sood: compliance with existing mandates and the price and logistics of security audits.
“I think Networx modernization is the core component of how they will approach security responsibilities wholesale throughout the agency,” Sood said. “Simply having the old traditional way of doing business within the agencies provides too many security gaps in the modern infrastructure. So to me, that’s where Networx modernization really helps clarify and get rid of a lot of the suspected openings and backdoors that security violations cause.”
Taking The Plunge
Despite the challenges of transitioning to Networx, agencies are not sitting on the sidelines. Recent contract awards include (but are not limited to) those made by Health and Human Services (HHS), NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Last fall, Qwest Government Services received a $14.2 million contract award to upgrade NASA’s Corporate Backbone circuits from an existing speed of 2.5Gbps (gigabits per second) to 10Gbps.
NASA’s Corporate Backbone is the high-speed broadband network that provides corporate wide area network (WAN) transport for e-mail, collaboration, and scientific, financial and business applications for the agency’s headquarters, field centers, and numerous facilities and partner locations across the country and the world.
That deal, which featured Qwest’s Optical Wave Services (OWS), followed another $18 million contract with NASA for voice and data services, as well as a $60 million contract for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last month, AT&T Government Solutions won a task order worth approximately $29 million to deploy a WAN solution for the EPA’s WAN 2010 Project. AT&T also will provide MTIPS to enhance the security of EPA’s network and will leverage its transition planning and network management services to deploy a converged, managed IP network solution that will enable the EPA to transform and modernize its WAN architecture.
Also last month, HHS awarded Verizon Business a $187 million contract to deliver an integrated customer contact solution that will route one million customer calls each week. The agreement provides the agency with a range of audio and web-based collaboration services to help HHS boost productivity among its employees so that the agency can better serve callers.
These kinds of agency commitments are a good sign for the future of the Networx transition, Sood believes. “Now that we’re through the first wave of agencies – EPA and NASA and HHS all making decisions now – you’re certainly through a host of agencies that have made the argument in favor of Networx,” he said. “I think you’ll see those other mid-tier agencies come along as well.”