In the push toward IT Modernization, agencies are quickly moving away from stovepiped legacy apps and outdated process. But what are they moving toward? Edge computing – putting processing power in the hands of users, wherever they are – can amplify the capabilities of cloud services, and 5G wireless communications is making edge computing a practical reality.
To understand how this landscape is unfolding, and how it may impact the digital transformation efforts of federal agencies, we spoke with Steve Lefrancois, CTO for Verizon’s Public Sector Group. He explained how we are on the cusp of a new wave of innovation.
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Government Technology Insider (GTI): After years of centralized servers and processing power, edge computing is moving data capture, storage and analytics closer to the user. How is this impacting decisions about technology modernization?
Steve Lefrancois, Verizon (SL) : First, just a level set on what is edge computing — like you have mentioned, it is bringing compute closer to the user and the application. But it’s really about extending the ease, speed and security of cloud services and cloud consumption to applications that really require it. So, when we start talking about how it plays and why do people care, it really is for those high performance applications that really need to be dynamic in the way they’re responding.
When we start talking about application spaces, we start looking at things like augmented reality and virtual reality… and peer to peer networking, even, around vehicles talking to vehicles in a way and in a speed that humans can’t even fathom.
We’re really at the beginning point, when we start talking about edge computing, and its role within the 5G ecosystem. It is a foundational element to ensure low latency high performance networking can be achieved.
When we start looking at the use cases, we really start to have to consider and have a firm understanding of what’s happening for that particular user base, whether it’s a public safety application or some sort of manufacturing or call center/citizen outreach application or even in the healthcare space. We’re seeing use cases across our entire customer base where they’re coming up with new ideas around how to leverage this type of technology.
GTI: How does 5G wireless fit into the edge computing ecosystem?
SL: Today, your applications may be traveling on a two lane highway or a four lane highway. And when we move to 5G, now you’re moving onto a 100 lane highway. You’ve got much more access to capacity so you can improve throughput from an application perspective. Things like augmented reality and virtual reality are now truly becoming real in their ability to be able to have that kind of carrying capacity and performance, so that you can do things like driverless vehicles without having to wait for a packet or the application to respond sitting in a cloud somewhere halfway across the country.
When we start looking at 5G, you’ve got much wider access to that bandwidth. You improve the performance, because a big part of this ecosystem of 5G is having this edge compute closer to the sites. But it’s also about having those signals travel in places that they could not have traveled before.
So when we start looking at some of the other use cases around infrastructure, the United States has a large embedded base of infrastructure that needs to be upgraded and has been around for 20-30-40 years. And so, we start talking about transportation systems, we start talking about things like “smart bases” and “smart campuses.” They’ve got an embedded base of infrastructure that can really benefit from the 5G ecosystem without having to go lay down new copper and new sensors and new capabilities because they can start leveraging this wireless ecosystem in a much more efficient way, both from a cost perspective as well as from a security perspective.
GTI: Now that you’re moving a lot of the computing away from that centralized server model and those legacy systems, you’re bringing in all these mobile devices and remote access capabilities. How does that impact security? What do we have to think about differently?
SL: From a security perspective, what you really are starting to see with enterprises, is the need to have those mobile endpoints. They’ve always been treated as sort of a separate boundary from an enterprise security perspective but now they are ingrained and active components within a customer’s enterprise.
So getting better visibility into what’s happening in those mobile environments, looking at the behavior of where those mobile devices are, what data are they interacting with, who are the humans involved in activating and using those devices…. and it goes beyond just the traditional cell phone, because as we start looking into the 5G ecosystem, things like IoT devices and additional sensors, more video cameras to improve situational awareness from a security perspective and a public safety perspective — all of those endpoints have to now operate as if they’re part of the customer’s extended enterprise.
The awareness to the application, the awareness to the data becomes that much more important. In the typical model of most agencies or most even most commercial customers is they have different silos of teams working the security or working the application performance, and a separate networking team. All of those groups need to be working and harmonize their activity to improve the awareness of what is occurring across their enterprise space. And having those in separate organizations with separate tools will not allow them to get too a much-enriched view of what’s occurring across the enterprise.
GTI: As it stands today what are the limiting factors to IT transformation in the government?
SL: I think the greatest thing we see from a factor on transformation has nothing to do with the technology and it has everything to do with some of the organizational boundaries that we see across our customer base. Because typically, again, the application teams and the security teams and the networking teams have all operated as independent organizations, and they really need to work together to say, “How can I deliver on this mission space faster?” Having these organizational boundaries creates a lot of noise in the system, which slows them down. And in some cases, that also creates a lot of misunderstanding about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable from a security perspective.
So I think from an agency perspective, it’s really having the right kind of organizational constructs in place to allow them to operate at the speed of mission for the particular agencies, and making sure that they are an active part of that mission operation.
GTI: We’ve seen a lot of transformative technologies appear over the last several years and every time we make assumptions about what we can do with them and then we’re surprised about all the other possibilities. 5G of course as we’ve discussed is a very hot topic right now because of all the new capabilities it can support. Do we even know what questions to ask when it comes to what 5G can do for civilian agencies and the DoD?
SL: I get this question quite often. I go back to the mid-90s when the Internet was really first taking off with some of the work the U.S. Department of Defense and National Science Foundation was working on. As part of the teams that got to work on that, I got to see it from a technology perspective. But at the time, a lot of folks didn’t really see the real upside and the potential.
The Internet was originally built just to allow different computer technologies to speak with one another in a way that was somewhat standard. But then others started looking at, “OK I had a vision for how I organize data,” and that started things like the World Wide Web. And then others saw the value of putting paid content, whether it was video or some other content — an ad supported computing infrastructure to support those.
That kind of innovation — we’re right at the beginning stages of that with 5G, as we speak. When we start talking about the use cases for 5G, it’s really only limited by the originality and the creativity of our customers to apply it into their mission space. We as a service provider, we’re spending a lot of time in investment and making sure that framework on the platform is available for, not only our customers, but also our partners who will help innovate into particular areas.
When we start talking about some of the creative things that are happening today— we’ve talked a little bit earlier about infrastructure modernization and the potential around smart military bases and smart campuses in the education space and how that can help drive improved performance both from a security perspective as well as from running and operating one of those small cities.
We also start looking at things like how this can help law enforcement with body cameras, but also adding intelligence to those body cameras to help them be more effective in making decisions in a dynamic way. I think the only limiting factor we see right now in the questions to ask are, “How can we help you ideate around your mission space,” to show how 5G and some of the underlying technologies can really help you drive more effective mission delivery.