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The Download - June 2014

Did You Know...

Exploring Software-Defined Networks (SDN)

During the past couple of years, we have heard the term “Software-Defined Networks” many times, specifically from different vendors regarding how their software products can help us manage and deploy our infrastructure. While this is becoming a popular buzzword, I would like to explore the concept in terms of how it can enhance our service levels and help us improve our agility in managing and deploying networks while reducing costs. Furthermore, managing networks with centralized software should improve our capability to troubleshoot issues through a central control panel, without having to troubleshoot each individual component in the equation.

In general, our current network functions can be divided into three conceptual layers: (1) Forwarding layer – handles packet transfers; (2) Controlling layer – routing rules; and (3) Managing layer – configuration and administration. To summarize based on my high-level research, software-defined networks will isolate the controlling layer from the forwarding layer by transferring its functions to a centralized controlling system that will make all routing decisions, instead of each node making its own routing decisions. Essentially, the controlling system will effectively maintain all routing tables on all nodes across the network; as such, all routing decisions are made globally by eliminating issues related to localized matters, such as a spanning tree.

Let’s take an example of a situation where we experience slow performance on a web-based application involving a public-facing website residing on a DMZ, a back-end database native to this application, and another system that provides additional data feeds through API integration. The use case here is slow performance of the system, but in order to troubleshoot this issue, we can take multiple approaches. Overall, we would look at the primary components involved that may create the slow performance. Those components could be any or all of the following: the web server; application web front-end; the database server; application database; the server operating systems; the communication equipment – such as switchers, routers, and firewalls; and the DMZ. This illustrates that our troubleshooting should involve multiple layers and various communication protocols. Needless to say, we may also need to look into data transfers within the application layer up to the packet transfers, including how applications define objects and variables. We might need to examine how database queries, stored procedures, and web service calls are executed as well. This clearly demonstrates that it may take a lot of effort to utilize the “process of elimination” approach to find the root cause of the problem. Imagine instead a centralized software interface that receives data from all of these components using protocols such as SNMP and provides a holistic picture of how these components communicate with each other. In addition, it offers extensive exceptions handling with clearly defined errors. That could give us a good start for troubleshooting through the centralized system. At a minimum, we can eliminate network issues as the root cause very quickly and move toward troubleshooting the application layer. In my opinion, this is the primary business value of moving toward software-defined networks.

As you may know, the Franklin County Data Center is in the process of improving our network infrastructure to support County’s evolving business needs. In this process, we are evaluating some state-of-the-art technologies and concepts to build a reliable network foundation that will also provide for future growth. Starting from network redundancy and reliability projects to security, DR, and web architecture, we are exploring a futuristic architecture that may eventually help us manage through a centralized software. At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to ensure that the County’s business operations are adequately powered by reliable IT systems so that we can provide superior government services to our constituents.

References:
Stretch, Jeremy. Packet Life. Last modified May 2, 2013. http://packetlife.net/blog/2013/may/2/what-hell-sdn/.
“What’s Software-Defined Networking (SDN)?” SDNCentral. Accessed May 28, 2014. http://www.sdncentral.com/what-the-definition-of-software-defined-networking-sdn/.

Process Enhancements

New Encryption Solution

The Franklin County Data Center is retiring the SecureDoc encryption solution and implementing Microsoft Bit Locker. MS Bit Locker is a tool we own through our Microsoft Enterprise License Agreement (MSELA) and it provides improved management by leveraging Active Directory. As such, migrating to MS Bit Locker is a practical move.

Look for further communication and coordination regarding your agency’s migration to MS Bit Locker from Nicole McKinney, the Data Center Project Manager overseeing this project.

Resolving Internet Slowness

The Data Center has collaborated with our vendors and is committed to resolving the matter of internet slowness, which many of your agencies are experiencing.

As we continue to work through this issue, we are following the recommendations from our vendor. The resolution requires configuration changes within our environment and a change on all workstations.

This solution will be completed in a phased approach, with the first stage addressing environment changes. This is scheduled to be completed on May 31st. The second phase will be completed once testing of the full resolution has concluded. All phases are targeted to be completed countywide by June 13th.

If you have any questions along the way, please contact Shirley Stephens, Business Services Manager at Shirley.Stephens@franklincountyohio.gov or 614.525.7472.

Project Updates

2015 Budget Process

As we approach budget season, the Data Center will be working together with our agencies to review their budgets from a different outlook. At the IT Leadership Forum earlier this month, we discussed the importance of capturing the entire needs of our agencies in order to secure the necessary resources for project delivery based on defined expectations. The only way to achieve this goal is by having the “right” conversations and working in an organized manner. As we undertake this new approach, we recognize that our work is divided into the following five basic, prioritized categories:

  1. Break/Fix: A break in a core business process that cannot proceed without the Data Center’s technology and support.
  2. Tech Mandatory: An initiative that requires changes to technologies that can cause potential risks to the current environment if not implemented (e.g. End of Life/ End of Version supported software).
  3. Business Mandatory: An initiative that must be completed due to a compelling organizational need (e.g. legal and/or regulatory changes).
  4. Recommended Initiatives: Projects that have been recommended and have the allocated funding necessary to proceed as part of the budgeted year.
  5. Discretionary: All other projects that have the appropriate business need, justification, and scope identified with the necessary approvals to proceed with the request.

From a prioritization perspective, our resource assignments are driven based on this model. Unfortunately, the majority of the requests from our agencies fall into the last category, while resource capacity is typically consumed by the first four categories. Thus, in the past we have been unable to deliver on all expectations, leaving our agencies frustrated. Now that we’ve defined the problem statement, let’s work together to change it.

As we look ahead to the 2015 budget process, let us take the necessary time to identify the full breadth of countywide needs. Once we have ascertained these requirements, we will work collectively to incorporate the necessary resources into our budget request in order to adequately meet the needs of our agencies. There will be more information to come as we move forward with our budget and project planning. Ultimately, it is important that we focus proper planning to ensure consistent delivery of projects in 2015 and beyond.