Defense IT

Monitoring is the key to Navy's NGEN transition

Every agency within the Defense Department is undergoing transformation, but perhaps none more so than the Navy. For a few years, the organization has embarked on a massive network overhaul as it transitions services away from what the Navy describes as the “monolithic” Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) to the more “segmented” Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN). This process will create new IT challenges for a military branch already grappling with unprecedented network complexity.

Part of this complexity is due to the fact that, at least for a while, the Navy will have two coexisting networks that, superficially, appear to be very similar. NGEN will initially follow the same model as NMCI, as it will be contractor-owned and operated. And although NMCI services will be transferred to NGEN vendors, the old network will remain in place in the short term.


But while NGEN will start as an acquisition tool meant to further the process initiated with NMCI, the ultimate goal for the new network is far more ambitious than simple acquisition. The Navy wants NGEN to offer a host of services across different areas and intends to use it to provide processes and solutions to warfighters, scientists, administrators and more. In fact, according to the Naval Enterprise Networks Program Office, NGEN will provide IT services to more than 700,000 Navy and Marine Corps users. These services will have to be provided securely and in a budget-constrained environment that is always under the threat of attack.


In short: Now, more than ever, the Navy must employ a plan to ensure that its networks remain secure and operational. To do so, Naval IT personnel must go back to the basics and ensure that their network monitoring strategies are up to the challenge.


First, they’ll need to ensure they’re using quite possibly the most robust monitoring system they’ve ever deployed. This will not be a simple network that only serves a few thousand users within the borders of the United States. The Navy will be incorporating multiple networks globally to service international mission partners and fleet users.


To maintain the security and reliability of such an effort, Navy IT administrators will need to be able to monitor the entirety of their networks, regardless of the different vendors and tools in use. Some of these will be commercial off-the-shelf software, while some others may be of a proprietary nature. Either way, it’s likely that there will be even more combinations employed as the Navy moves toward NGEN.

Navy IT administrators must develop a strategy to monitor all of these disparate solutions. This involves taking a platform-independent approach to network monitoring that can detect latency and bottlenecks regardless of the hardware or software that’s being used. The process must also be able to help them identify when the resources of a particular component are about to be exhausted, so they may plan accordingly and prepare for future requirements.


It’s not just the technologies that need to be monitored, but overall network usage. It goes without saying that the introduction of hundreds of thousands of users to Navy networks could create significant strain. And while the Navy already has well-established traffic and bandwidth estimation and monitoring processes in place, administrators will want to ensure that these procedures are ready for any additional strain that NGEN will undoubtedly present.


The complexity of the network will call for detailed processes that allow administrators to track network traffic and bandwidth in near real-time. To maintain optimization, they will need a clear view of who, what and how with regard to bandwidth use in order to ensure continuous network reliability.


Administrators will want to be able to monitor bandwidth usage at the user level, with the ability to identify who is using the most bandwidth. They’ll want to be able to ping those users in case a problem arises. This is critically important for a network of this size, with this many people.


In addition to the multitudes of users, there are going to be thousands of devices and applications running on the networks. These may hamper bandwidth and, in the case of devices, introduce unwanted security risks. Administrators will want to monitor both of these factors to minimize the impact of bandwidth upon network performance and keep unauthorized devices and users from accessing the network. 


All of this is only taking into consideration what we know to be true right now. Who knows how NGEN will ultimately evolve, and what additional complexities that evolution will introduce? The only certainty is that it’s best to plan for those complexities now by laying the groundwork that will help protect and ensure the success of the Naval network today.

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is director of business development for federal markets for SolarWinds.

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