EIS and software-defined networks to play key role as operations bounce back from COVID

In the post-pandemic environment, the software-defined network capabilities of GSA's EIS contract might hold the key for more dynamically managed networks.

NOTE: This story first appeared on FCW.com.

The General Services Administration is counting on software-defined networking services to help it manage demand for connectivity in offices nationwide, according to one of the agency's key IT managers. GSA, which manages the $50 billion governmentwide Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions contract vehicle selected SDN capabilities when it came to modernizing its own telecommunications profile.

Beth Killoran, the agency's deputy CIO, said SDN capabilities will help the agency adjust network capacity at its offices across its operating regions as the pandemic progresses.

GSA tapped EIS contractor MetTel in June to provide network and voice services for the agency.

GSA is working with its EIS provider on network-as-a-service capabilities to dynamically adjust network capacity to its offices as workers return after the pandemic eases, according to Killoran's remarks during an Aug. 26 AFFIRM webcast. Mobile services will also play an important role in GSA's post-pandemic networking environment, she said.

With the expansion of GSA's remote workforce, the "capacity in those buildings has changed," she said. GSA has been interested in being able to more nimbly shift network capacity for some time, according to Killoran. The agency had been looking at SDN even before the pandemic crisis, she said, running technology pilot programs to see how it could handle shifts in employee occupancies at its buildings.

That flexibility has been important because it can reduce costs significantly when applied to the agency's many buildings spread across the country. Traditionally, the year's end, she said, has a spike in building occupancy rates as agencies' management staff work on the crush of end-of-year acquisitions.

With the pandemic, that flexibility is more important than ever, according to Killoran. Building capacities are far from certain as workers transition back to the offices from remote work. SDN, she said, can help deal with that uncertainty.

"SDN is based on capacity and need," said Killoran. "It allows us to throttle" network use depending on demand, she said. The ability to flex capacity and save money and network resources for telecommunications services, as well as have the telecommunications provider manage them more efficiently, are the same reasons that made the federal government's move to cloud technologies so compelling, she said.

The pandemic has not dramatically affected the Department of Homeland Security's EIS contracting, according to Soraya Correa, the agency's chief procurement officer.

During the Aug. 26 AFFIRM webcast, Correa said DHS has issued its EIS solicitation. The agency issued a draft solicitation for its headquarters operations in March.

The increased telework, she said, has not made any significant changes to the agency's plans for how EIS will be used by the agency. "We were already in various stages of telework," she said.

The shift away from centralized offices to remote work, said Correa, may not continue as the pandemic eases. "Remember a few years ago when the 'open workspace' was popular?" she asked. That model has lost its luster, according to Correa. Forecasters who are predicting the continued emphasis on remote work "should be a little more measured," she said.

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