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Software-Defined Networking (SDN) for the Public Sector

Why SDN Is Becoming Essential in State and Local Government

Many government agencies at the state and local level are using smart devices and data-driven applications to improve the services they provide. These tools increase productivity and accuracy by automating data collection, and enable better decision-making by ensuring that staff have the information they need.

Latency can be a serious problem, however. If data must travel from a remote device to the data center for analysis, the real-time value of that information is lost. In light of that, many agencies are pushing storage and processing power out to the network edge where data is created.

As the network edge continues to expand, IT teams often struggle to keep up. In many agencies, network architectures haven’t changed that much over the past 20 years. These legacy networks are highly complex and inflexible, making management equally complex. Any change to the network requires multiple updates at the device level using vendor-specific protocols — a time-consuming, resource-intensive process. That’s simply not sustainable as the network rapidly evolves to support more devices, applications and cloud-based services.

The Software-Defined Approach

Software-defined networking (SDN) can help government agencies overcome these obstacles. SDN moves the network “control plane” from individual routers and switches to a centralized controller that works with all physical and virtual devices. The controller is programmable, enabling network administrators to use software to manage how applications and services are delivered.

SDN can also enhance security through identity- and context-based access controls for both users and devices, and the uniform enforcement of policies across the network. By providing greater visibility as well as automation capabilities, SDN can also help IT respond more quickly to security threats. The network could even be programmed to defend itself.

Most people think of SDN in terms of the core data center network, where it can reduce costs and complexity, improve performance, and make administration much more efficient. However, SDN technology is also being applied at the LAN access level, creating a more flexible and scalable network edge that can be optimized dynamically according to application demands.

Overcoming SDN Challenges

Ironically, security is one of the top impediments to SDN adoption, along with cost and integration challenges. In addition, SDN implementation isn’t easy. It takes significant effort and extensive testing to ensure interoperability between the SDN software and various network devices.

Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Cisco’s “intent-based networking” approach to SDN, can help government agencies overcome these challenges. The Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) provides visibility across the network fabric along with centralized management and policy-based automation. ACI simplifies connectivity across on-premises and cloud environments and includes pervasive security features.

Cisco ACI Virtual Edge brings these capabilities to remote locations, co-location facilities and cloud platforms without the need to purchase, install or manage hardware. Virtual Edge is a next-generation virtual switch that uses open source protocols to integrate with the ACI network fabric and extends ACI policies to legacy infrastructure.

SDN is becoming a near necessity for government agencies as they take advantage of connected devices and advanced data analytics. The experts at Cerium Networks can help agencies leverage Cisco ACI to create a more agile, efficient and manageable network architecture that extends to the edge.

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