Flemish government opts for SD-LAN
Published on 25/02/2021 in Customer Stories
The Flemish government opts for a software-defined network. This simplifies management and increases user security, while providing the indispensable basis for the continued digital transformation of the government.
The agency Het Facilitair Bedrijf of the Flemish government manages the ICT network for seventy departments, administrations and local authorities. The network is spread across some 250 buildings. It connects 17,000 users and 40,000 IoT devices. “The network is definitely business-critical,” says Stefan De Smet, who, as head of the department, is responsible for the joint ICT services of the Flemish government. “Because the time has come for replacement, we are now investing in a network of the latest generation: software-defined.”
The Flemish civil servant is thus always correctly connected, independent of his physical workstation.
Stefan De Smet, head of the ICT department of the Flemish government
With an SD-LAN (Software-Defined Local Area Network), management is done entirely remotely, using software. The administrator no longer has to configure each switch manually. They control access to the entire network in one go via the software. This is why the term Software-Defined Access is often used in this context. “A classic, static network offers little overview of what is happening on the network,” says Luc Verdegem, program manager for networks at the Facility Management Department. “Moreover, we are asking more and more of the network. So it was about time for something new.”
Faster than planned
The roadmap for the network replacement originally ran from 2019 to 2024. “In what has been a good year we have, together with Proximus, already come a long way,” says Luc. “We expect to complete the project in mid-2022, a year and a half earlier than predicted.” Over the past year, more than 100 sites have been made SD-ready, by replacing old hardware.
As a test, one site has already switched completely to SD-LAN. “It's a big change,” Stefan stated. “That's why we certainly provide the right support for the staff everywhere. The aim is to arrive at a situation where the network is no longer a topic. SD-LAN should help us to realize completely frictionless ICT.”
Thanks to the zero-touch deployment we will gain a clear view of the nature and volume of network traffic.
Luc Verdegem, program manager networks at Het Facilitair Bedrijf
At first glance, many of the advantages of SD-LAN are on the administrator's side. “SD-LAN allows you to roll out new hardware very quickly,” Luc explains. The network is largely self-learning, which means that it recognizes certain hardware, such as IoT sensors, automatically provides it with the right security, and places it in the right network segment. Luc: “That zero-touch deployment will make all the difference. Moreover, we will get a clear view of the nature and extent of the network traffic. If an incident occurs, we can deal with it much more quickly via the central management.”
Nevertheless, every customer of Het Facilitair Bedrijf – such as an administration or a local authority – also benefits from SD-LAN. “Each customer can develop its own customized network access policy,” says Luc. “They each have a separate, own virtual network, with adjusted rights, the necessary capacity and so on.” The centralized approach simplifies the network administrator's tasks, which ultimately increases efficiency and reduces costs.
The greatest advantage, however, lies with the user. Software-Defined Access makes the use of passwords superfluous. Security is based on certificates. Via the certificate on their device, the user automatically gets access to the right network segment, with the right access rights for applications and data, perfectly attuned to their role. “The Flemish civil servant is thus always correctly connected, independent of their physical workstation,” says Stefan. “To do this, we use the zero-trust security principle. The employee only gets access to the applications and data that they are allowed to use as part of their job.”
In that respect, the roll-out of SD-LAN comes at exactly the right time. “In the context of corona, most civil servants now work at home,” Stefan continues. The network plays an essential role in this. “The expectation is that even after the corona crisis we will work more from home. SD-LAN fits in perfectly with the concept of the hybrid workplace, precisely because it enables a very transparent user experience.”
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An additional growth area for the network is IoT. “I am thinking, for example, of IoT applications to control the cleaning and maintenance of buildings more intelligently,” concludes Stefan. “Applications are constantly being added and more and more data is flowing through the network. However, with SD-LAN we have a solid basis to support the further digital transformation of the Flemish government.”
Proximus takes care of everything
A fundamental part of Proximus's #Inspire2022 strategy is the rollout of tomorrow's gigabit networks. That is why massive investments are being made in fiber and 5G. Proximus is also building networks at the request of organizations. “For the management of such a network, the software-defined approach offers a great advantage, because each change in the configuration can be captured via software and immediately activated on thousands of devices,” says Erik Hendrix, Account Executive for the Flemish Government at Proximus.
Proximus is responsible for the rollout and management of all network and workplace services for the Flemish government. “The Flemish government has chosen to replace the existing LAN by an SD-LAN”, Erik explains. “We are now in the process of implementing this.” Proximus is installing new SD-ready network equipment in all Flemish government buildings. Once this installation has been completed, the Flemish government will be able to switch to the new SD-LAN.
Cisco is also closely involved in the project. “The unique aspect is that the Flemish government has its own fiber network”, says Erik Hendrix. “That makes it possible to roll out one large SD-LAN – for 17,000 users – across Flanders, instead of an SD-WAN. This way, everything stays within this one network.” For Proximus, the challenge lies partly in the speed of the rollout. “Over the past year, we have installed new equipment in 100 buildings. So the pace is really high – and will remain so until all buildings of the Flemish government are ready to switch to SD-LAN.”
The agency Het Facilitair Bedrijf is the central service provider of the Flemish government. It provides ICT and facility services, among other things, and acts as a central purchasing body.
Stefan De Smet studied economics and computer science. He is head of the ICT department of the Flemish government.
Luc Verdegem is an analyst-programmer by training. He is a program manager for networks at Het Facilitair Bedrijf.