Portsmouth, Va., CIO Daniel Jones seeks network visibility and security at a low cost with SD-WAN solutions.

Sep 23 2019

SD-WAN Grants Agencies Flexibility at a Low Cost

State and local agencies find an effective solution for security and visibility in software-defined networking.

Like many municipalities across the country, the thriving coastal community of Portsmouth, Va., has made becoming a smart city part of its mission. Portsmouth’s goal is to provide state-of-the-art connectivity among all municipal facilities and operations, says CIO Daniel Jones. “The foundation for any smart city is the technology used to transport data,” he says. “And for us, that’s going to involve a new fiber network, and it’s eventually going to include SD-WAN.

Software-defined WAN technology, which uses software to control network operations across a large geographical region, is essential to Portsmouth’s plan for several reasons, Jones explains. “Secure transit is a priority, of course, and SD-WAN offers end-to-end security with the least cost of implementation.”

Second, he says, are management-related advantages an SD-WAN solution can provide. Portsmouth is home to about 100,000 people, but Jones’s IT staff totals only 33. “We don’t have a big team, or a big budget, to dedicate to our network. But with SD-WAN” — the city is implementing a Juniper Networks solution called Contrail Service Orchestration “we can integrate all the management work under a single operating platform.”

The Juniper technology will simplify Portsmouth’s network operations by giving IT centralized control, Jones says. And because of its built-in flexibility — for example, it can serve as a conduit for deploying new services remotely — it’s a solution that should offer dividends for years, no matter what their growing city demands.

“We can use it to incorporate just about any type of architecture we want in the future, and be sure that new developments that come out of this initiative won’t be held up because the connectivity component isn’t right or because the technology we need isn’t available,” Jones says.


Agencies Gain Flexibility, Control with SD-WAN

Portsmouth isn’t the only city enamored of SD-WAN. The technology is attractive in particular to state and local agencies because their services usually span a large number of satellite offices, says Ray Mota, CEO and principal analyst for ACG Research.

“If you’re a public sector entity with a lot of remote sites and you want to run your applications over the cloud, to be compliant with traditional architectures you normally have to backhaul your traffic to headquarters,” Mota says. That can create a bottleneck, and potentially slow network traffic to a crawl, he adds. “SD-WAN allows for faster access because it eliminates the backhauling, and it gives you the freedom to set up a template for a policy and apply it to all of your offices with a single click.”

Daniel Jones, CIO, Portsmouth, Va.
Secure transit is a priority, of course, and SD-WAN offers end-to-end security with the least cost of implementation.”

Daniel Jones CIO, Portsmouth, Va.

Beyond its operational advantages, the other big plus with SD-WAN, Mota says, is the “complete visibility” it offers government IT teams. “With SD-WAN, you have control of your network, not the telecommunications company.” 

ACG recently released a report showing that the market for SD-WAN is poised to climb from $539 million in 2018 to more than $2.9 billion by 2023.

“It’s definitely something that’s becoming more popular. We see it picking up tremendous steam,” Mota says.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how 5G wireless networks will impact smart cities. 

SD-WAN Can Help Improve Application Performance

Mahoning County, Ohio, is among the state and local governments now riding the SD-WAN wave. The county recently piloted an SD-WAN solution from Riverbed Technology, and the government is now moving forward with full implementation.

“The main thing we wanted to do was enhance application performance over the network,” recalls Jacob Williams, Mahoning County IT director.

Riverbed’s SteelFusion — a product in the company’s SteelHead SD line created specifically for managing mission-critical remote and branch office locations — accomplished that and more, Williams says. “When these SteelHead appliances are running, we see a notable improvement, and our users notice it as well. And it’s helping us cut our maintenance costs by reducing the need for infrastructure at some of our remote sites.”

His 12-member IT team supports about 50 unique departments operating in nearly 20 locations, Williams explains. Over the years, as they’ve moved away from paper processes, the volume of data generated electronically at each site has grown exponentially, as expected.

For a while they were able to manage that data successfully, but eventually they couldn’t keep up, he says. Some-times they’d start a backup on a weekend, for example, and it wouldn’t be finished until the middle of the following week. “The impact that had on our applications was terrible. It slowed down everything, and people just got frustrated,” Williams says.

They tried adding bandwidth, but that didn’t get them very far. “It was a never-ending cycle because we needed more and more. We were basically just throwing money away,” he says.

Finally, in 2017, the county realized it might benefit from a different approach. The IT team replaced the infrastructure at each remote site with a single Riverbed appliance about the size of a pizza box, and they installed another appliance at headquarters to handle data storage and backup. 

Now, with SD-WAN, Williams’s team can do most of its work behind the scenes, without the need for extensive travel, and their backup-related logjams are a thing of the past.

“We’re still evolving, and like anyone, we can improve. But we’re much more efficient and productive now. Everything is working out great,” he says.

Photography by Keith Lanpher

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT