Feb 07 2022

Automated Network Management Offers Tighter Security, Increased Reliability

Government agencies find flexibility, scalability and a reduction in human error through automation.

When asked why his agency moved to automated network management, Joseph Daniels, CIO of the Illinois State Treasurer’s office, responds quickly and emphatically: It’s all about security.

“We’re responsible for $40 billion in assets, and we know that automation is the only way you can stay on top of security threats,” Daniels says. “We want to set ourselves apart from conceptions of government being slow to modernize. We are here for our constituents, who expect us to do good things.”

Cybersecurity and patch management are drivers of automated network management deployment, says Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute.

“Cybersecurity without automation means paid staff poring over logs looking for anomalies,” he says. “Automating network security reduces cost and eliminates human error.”

In dynamic environments where software and devices on the network change rapidly, automating functions such as provisioning, configuration and policy management increases efficiency, eliminates many vulnerabilities and improves compliance, Shark says.

For functions such as patch management, automated systems both push out the patches and test to ensure they have been properly installed.

“Technology is moving so quickly, we’d be crazy not to keep up and use the advantages it provides — having automated systems do what humans used to do, only doing it faster, better and more reliably,” Shark says.

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Illinois Treasurer Gets Insights into Its Network

In 2020, the Illinois State Treasurer’s office replaced its legacy security solutions with automated Fortinet tools: FortiGate next-generation firewall (NGFW) solutions; FortiSandbox, which isolates and executes suspicious code to determine whether it represents a threat; FortiAnalyzer for logging, reporting and threat analytics; and FortiWeb, a web application firewall, to protect applications in the Microsoft Azure cloud.

FortiGate Cloud manages firewalls and generates threat assessment reports. The security fabric can be managed from a single dashboard that provides more insights into network security than were possible without automation, Daniels says. 

The Fortinet deployment yielded an unprecedented view into the operations of the network, he adds.

Joseph Daniels, CIO,  Illinois State Treasurer
When you give technology experts the tools that help them grow and learn and become more efficient and happier, that positive feeling flows through the organization.”

Joseph Daniels CIO, Illinois State Treasurer

“After the deployment, for example, we got an alert that indicated data connections to a nation-state,” Daniels says. “We had security in place to deal with the intrusion before the Fortinet installation, but we now had visibility into exactly what that traffic was trying to do. We were able to share the ­information within state agencies and with our sister states.”

The automated security infrastructure reduces cost over time and saves staff time that can be used for higher-level tasks, Daniels says. The automated Fortinet reporting also simplifies preparation for regulatory compliance audits.

RELATED: How can refreshing network switches help your agency?

How Government Can Get Enhanced Network Visibility 

Littleton, Colo., a Denver suburb with a population of about 48,000, implemented Aerohive Networks technology to automate management of its wireless network about a decade ago, says Scott Rogers, the city’s infrastructure and platform services manager. The ­pandemic made a reliable wireless ­network even more crucial, so in 2020, Littleton upgraded to ExtremeCloud IQ from Extreme Networks (Extreme acquired Aerohive in 2019).

“It’s a single pane of glass for us to see the total health of the wireless infrastructure,” Rogers says. “We can manage the devices in a couple of clicks, we can do predictive modeling, see floor plan layouts with signal mapping and much more, all from one place.”

Other organizations evaluating network automation tools should first consider whether the technology being assessed is easy to use, Rogers says. Visibility and granular control of the whole network from a central point are key. Not as critical but still important is making sure the system’s reporting matches the organization’s needs.

58%

The percentage of network downtime caused by human error1

Source: axiatp.com, “Causes of Network Downtime and How to Avoid Them,” Jan. 7, 2020

Littleton would like to expand ­automated management to its wired network, but funding is a challenge, says Rogers. That money crunch is, however, one of the reasons that automation is in the future of public agencies, he says.

“The tighter budgets get, the better it is to have tools to make managing the network simpler and more reliable,” Rogers says.

EXPLORE: How can network segmentation enhance visibility for agencies? 

Automation Enhances Government Networks’ Scalability and Flexibility

When Dublin, Ohio, a ­suburb of Columbus with a population of about 50,000, upgraded its Dublink fiber-optic ­network to 100-gigabit speeds to meet the needs of the city and enterprises headquartered there (Wendy’s and Nationwide Mutual Insurance, among others), innovative city leaders saw a chance to attract small businesses with the promise of reliable, high-speed connectivity to legacy venues.

“We had a backbone and could offer the network to providers for free, which is attractive to small business and works out better for the city than tax breaks,” says Dublin CIO Doug McCollough.

The city launched the project by deploying Juniper Networks tech at an older office park: a Juniper 3D Universal Edge Router, EX 3300 Ethernet switches and the SRX220 Services Gateway for VPN. Juniper’s Junos Space Network Director streamlines network management and centralizes ­provisioning, monitoring and reporting. During selection, it was important to mind costs but also ease of maintenance, available staff training, security and the scalability of the managed ­network over time, McCollough says.

“The automation and intelligence of the system gives us the reports we need, along with analysis of usage and bandwidth, and automatically balances the network,” he says. “The flexibility to easily expand the automated network infrastructure is also critical.”

The adoption of smart city technologies for public safety, parking access, traffic management and a host of other functions will make automated network management in the public sector increasingly essential, McCollough says.

“The Internet of Things is beginning to bear practical fruit, and we’ll need to add new policies, new security and new devices on a network that’s the size of 10 networks,” he says. “How are we going to manage that without automation and the flexibility it gives us?”

READ MORE: Find out how network segmentation can help defend smart cities. 

Illustration by JC

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