The mother of all government networks is taking shape in the UK with news that Global Crossing and Virgin have been signed as suppliers.
The Public Sector Network (PCN) was conceived two years ago as an end-to-end fibre optic network that could connect every government agency in the UK. A unified voice and data network offering government clients a managed service could thus replace the ’patchwork quilt’ of networks cobbled together at present.
Strategically, the PSN is intended to change the way government departments and agencies, local authorities, and the third sector buy and use voice and data networks. Theoretically, it would make procurement cheaper and lead to an open, collaborative environment for all UK public sector employees.
Technically, the network would consist of at least four layers with different levels of security and government data would be sent over the most suitable channel. So for example, diplomatic bags of the Wiki-leak variety would be entrusted to the highest layer while a public intranet could happily be dispatched over Impact Level 0.
A centralised, high specification and efficient network might be thought to have great appeal to government agencies during an era of austerity. However, Peter Clarke, independent telecoms and public sector analyst, has doubts about how palatable it is to local authorities who may be keen to retain their internal telecoms division.
Crunch time: in or out
“The crunch is whether local authorities and other wish to give up their own networks, some of which have sophisticated voice, data and video capabilities”, he believes. “It’s too simplistic to think that every locally developed network can be shoe horned onto a central version.” Plus, he says, government is traditionally highly reluctant to shed staff, even in straitened times.
The counter argument is put by Ian Pearson, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Global Crossing UK and a former treasury minister: "The Government can generate big savings for the taxpayer through fully implementing its Public Sector Network strategy and should be applauded for driving this initiative forward".
Core network skills
Whether network ownership is kept in house or outsourced, core skills required to build, maintain and support a government network fit for the 21st century include: Cisco certified engineer, network engineer skills, network security and account management.
One of the more appealing propositions to tempt agencies to the PSN may be the ability to pipe mobile calls in and out of the network, thus taking out a huge discrete cost of the telecoms bill in one fell swoop. This is an approach already taken by the NHS in a private deal with 02.
"Telecoms companies and application providers should set aside any proprietary behaviour and join together to make the UK an example for countries around the world of how to build a public sector that utilises a multi-supplier, standards-based Network to deliver both savings and efficiency." concludes Pearson
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