Chris LaPoint SolarWinds

Commentary

Mobilizing the network? All those data sources can be a real drag

In the military, the word “mobilization” once exclusively meant preparing forces for battle – but that’s no longer the case. Today, mobilization may also mean coordinating and managing an actual mobile technology strategy.

Core to the effort is an approach that has been heavily inspired by today’s mobile environment. This approach is dependent on information sourced from places like mobile command posts, unmanned vehicles and wearable video and communications equipment. It’s an innovative strategy that could only be done by a federal agency that understands the potential of technology.

But with that potential comes increased network complexity, which has become a major concern. In fact, a recent survey of public-sector IT managers by my company, SolarWinds, found that 94 percent of respondents said that increasing complexity has impacted their roles.

Further, we’re rapidly moving beyond smartphones and tablets into the realm of virtually everything being connected. We have clothing that monitors soldiers’ stress levels, cockpit navigational systems that allow pilots to navigate and monitor enemy forces without having to even be inside of a plane, and more. Even Google Glass is being tested for military use.

Like a flock of birds on a wire, the weight of these devices, all on the same network, will inevitably drag it down, even more so than today’s connected devices. Today IT departments are dealing with the burden of heavy-duty data hogs such as video (being used extensively for the purposes of conferencing and remotely piloted vehicles), but soon they’ll have to deal with the addition of other network clogs derived from many points. The result could be even slower speeds due to reduced bandwidth, data management becoming an even more precarious exercise, precious uptime taking a significant hit, and a dramatic increase in security risks.

As such, the Defense Department must continue to expand efforts at monitoring bandwidth usage and network performance and prioritizing traffic before serious issues arise, which they likely will as new devices begin to appear. For example, unlike smartphones, wearables and other types of new connected devices may not possess the intelligence to regulate the data they consume, and could greatly tax the entire network. IT professionals will want to be able to closely, accurately and automatically monitor data consumption, along with specific patterns, to maintain an optimized network.

Of course, security will remain a growing concern. Whereas threats once could be relegated to a fairly contained group of specific devices, soon they’ll be everywhere. This concern was in evidence during a conference in July 2014 on “The Future of Warfare,” where CIA luminaries expressed dismay over the “Internet of Things,” which is a nebulous term to describe all manner of connected devices. They noted that even smart refrigerators have already been used in denial-of-service attacks.

The message was clear: threats will come in many shapes and forms. Many new devices will likely be produced by different organizations and have their own vulnerabilities, making it hard to lock them down. Perhaps even more unsettling, new devices mean new ways through which cyber terrorists can strike – ways that no one in DOD has likely even considered yet (who would have thought a refrigerator could be so dangerous?). 

Security is always a concern, but in the months and years ahead, DOD IT managers will need to accelerate efforts, starting with log and event management. These processes automatically monitor devices, report on suspicious and problematic activity, and allow managers to respond to potential security threats.

They will also need to continue to invest in the development of self-healing networks, which can repair and automatically correct issues on-the-fly. DOD is already on this, researching and funding efforts toward things like self-healing cloud networks. These efforts will continue to prove extremely important.

As Gen. George S. Patton once said, “A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” Fortunately, DOD’s embrace of technology has laid the groundwork for the future. It just needs to be continually built to ensure that future remains strong.

About the Author

Chris LaPoint is vice president of product management at IT management software provider SolarWinds, based in Austin, Texas.

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