Bob Kimball Ciena


How network virtualization can aid military readiness

While the advantages of virtualization are widely acknowledged with regard to servers, desktops and storage devices, this is also leading military organizations to examine how virtualization can be incorporated in military networks, as a way to help scale and streamline operations, and aid in reducing costs.

By now, military and intelligence organizations understand the basic tenets – virtualization describes the use of “virtual” rather than physical resources, as a way to transform traditional computing to make it more scalable and less expensive. Over the last two decades, virtualization has been applied across operating systems, hardware, servers, storage and even some network devices such as routers. The use of software-based logical partitioning rather than traditional physical devices will help build shared working environments that deliver scalability, and enable greater collaboration within and across agencies.  

In military sectors, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is expected to extend enterprise operations into next-generation networks, especially the ability to monitor demand, and more easily manage enterprise applications. Network virtualization solutions can also deliver reduced planning cycles and operating costs for delivering services over a geographically diverse and dynamic environment.

The enhanced flexibility offered by virtualized network operations also simultaneously raises the bar on security requirements. Military officials maintain that security functions must keep pace with the level of innovation taking place in virtualized networks. However, industry observers maintain that virtualized networks will ultimately improve security and enable greater situational awareness. This would help the U.S. Cyber Command and its subordinate commands, for example, as they work on joint strategies to defend their networks and strike against confirmed adversaries.

When added to Software Defined Networks, NFV delivers agility and flexibility in network operations by reducing the time it takes to deploy new network services and helping military organizations keep pace with changing mission requirements. NFV lowers costs as well, by reducing requirements for purpose-built hardware, and supporting pay-as-you-go pricing to reduce wasteful overprovisioning.

NFV also addresses the cost and inflexibility challenges inherent in special-purpose network appliances, such as firewalls, server load balancers and WAN optimizers. By virtualizing these features and running them on COTS servers, NFV can help defense and intelligence agencies quickly deploy network services, and move these services to new locations as needs dictate or as missions shift from one location to another. When individual workloads are abstracted away from underlying hardware, software can be used to determine where best to place and connect workloads so they run most efficiently.

Since coalition networks are now a fact of life, NFV can also reduce associated challenges involved in setting up mission-specific networks with international partners around the globe. Using NFV, military organizations could roll out services to specific partners, based on the level of trust or specific mission requirements. Also, military analysts may soon be able to use NFV services, for example, to encrypt and decrypt classified files that must be sent to other locations. Much like an app store, analysts could access an encryption app, downloading the service to locations where encryption is needed, and installing this capability at necessary endpoints, setting up and using such a service in minutes, rather than the days or weeks required today.

Due to the advantages virtualized networks bring, military organizations are examining how best to modernize and transform their military networks. Security requirements will obviously remain a top priority. Yet military readiness may someday depend on how quickly military organizations can turn up and take down critical network ops, anywhere in the known world.

About the Author

Bob Kimball is Chief Technology Officer for Ciena Government.

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