The passage of the 2016 Modernizing Government Technology Act makes it clear that the government has placed a priority on network modernization. This will lead to data centers that play host to an entire ecosystem of technologies, including virtualized compute, storage and networking equipment and software, not to mention hybrid cloud environments where part of the cloud infrastructure exists on-premise, while another part is hosted in the cloud.

This vibrant and diverse infrastructure will certainly become more dynamic and virtualized over time as government agencies strive for greater agility and efficiency. As this occurs, they will need to automate the management of an increasingly complex environment.

Some agencies have taken steps toward automation — a positive sign. But automation really represents the start of the cloud journey. It should be accompanied by cloud orchestration — the arranging of various automated tasks into coordinated, seamless and highly efficient workflow processes.

Unification through orchestration

Cloud orchestration allows agencies to integrate data center infrastructure management and automation tools with the underlying cloud infrastructure. It allows for unified and simplified management of the infrastructure to ensure that the system is working in a highly efficient manner.

In a cloud ecosystem, all components are dependent on one another to create an optimized, reliable, secure and agile network. Whenever a new resource is introduced — for example, a new virtual machine (VM) or server — it will inevitably impact all of the other components in the infrastructure, creating slowdowns, security gaps or other concerns.

Orchestration allows agencies to turn their cloud infrastructure into a platform for new applications. When that new VM or server is added, changes to network configurations happen immediately and automatically, and network and security contexts are instantly configured without the need for manual intervention. This keeps all resources running smoothly, collectively and without impediments.

To achieve this level of harmony, it’s important to keep in mind these three points:

1. Apply automation and orchestration across all phases of the infrastructure lifecycle

This lifecycle is comprised of four phases — testing and certification, building and deploying, operating and maintaining, and auditing and troubleshooting. The success of each phase is dependent upon the success of the others. Automation and orchestration must be applied across all of them to ensure that the different resources being used throughout the lifecycle are operating effectively and in conjunction with one another. Use intelligent automation to automatically configure the infrastructure with minimal manual intervention.

2. Embrace open standards

A unified, well-orchestrated network is one built on open standards. Agencies should mix and match a variety of open flow, interoperable solutions and automation tools (such as popular open source options Puppet or Chef) in order to create a network infrastructure without barriers. Software-defined network solutions that run on open source code and operate independently from physical networks can be seamlessly integrated into the mix and help improve flexibility and avoid unwanted vendor lock-in.

3. Integrate security into the cloud infrastructure

Security is of the utmost concern for government agencies with distributed cloud architectures. Security should be integrated directly into any solution, so when a new firewall is added it’s unnecessary to undergo manual processes to ensure it’s working well and protecting servers and applications. Everything should simply be “plug and play.” This is particularly important in hybrid environments, where some in-flight data is the norm. Use cloud-based Security-as-a-Service solutions, such as firewalls and advanced threat protection, to ensure the security of the cloud infrastructure.

Fulfilling the promise of the cloud

Orchestration is vitally important to fulfilling the promise of an agency’s cloud infrastructure. Done correctly, it allows government agencies to maximize cloud efforts and ensure that infrastructure is completely in tune. If the various automated components of a network are not working together and creating effective workflow processes, agencies run the risk of undermining efforts toward achieving true efficiency and network agility, and could introduce unwanted network slowdowns, higher costs, and less reliability. In addition, orchestration lays the groundwork for additional network capabilities, such as network functions virtualization, all while improving return on infrastructure investments and enabling IT staff to focus on mission-critical tasks.

David Mihelcic is the head of federal strategy and technology supporting the Juniper Networks Federal sales, engineering and operations teams. David joined Juniper Networks in February 2017 following 18 years with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), where he retired as chief technology officer, a position he held for more than 12 years.