Seven agencies prepare for new NZ gov network

Seven government agencies are expected to become foundation customers for the New Zealand Government Shared Network (GSN) with the first expected to go live before Christmas.

Seven government agencies are expected to become foundation customers for the New Zealand Government Shared Network (GSN) with the first expected to go live before Christmas.

The NZ$14 million project is one of a trio of government network developments aimed at improving service, collaboration and introducing consistent compliance with new security standards.

The GSN project, for inter-agency collaboration, received the final go-ahead from the New Zealand State Service Commission at the end of June. At around the same time, requests for tender were being issued to begin design and analysis for a separate project, the Next Generation Health Network (NGHN). A third project, the New Zealand Advanced Network, is underway to service the research and education community.

The projects come as the government embarks on a review of information technology and communications spending due to report in October.

The GSN will provide a platform for agency collaboration through a fibre-optic network in the capital, Wellington, and a data and voice capable wide area network serving the rest of the country. Laurence Millar, deputy commissioner of IT for the New Zealand State Services Commission says the GSN is working with the seven foundation agencies and memoranda of understanding will be executed with these over the next three to four months.

He was not prepared to disclose who the seven were.

The network will deliver a range of high-speed services including off-site disaster recovery, IP telephony and remote access. It is expected to reduce the cost of voice and data traffic and provide improved budgeting through fixed charging.

IBM will provide network management and service delivery for the GSN. It will also provide some network componentry and services along with an array of other vendors such as FX Networks Asnet, Datacom Systems, Kaon, DTS and the former New Zealand HDS, now called Revera. Some contracts have still to be finalised.

The GSN itself is not touted as a network build, however, suppliers to it such as FX Networks are building their own infrastructure which will be used non-exclusively by the GSN.

"The GSN is building core edge infrastructure to implement the government's security standards, however, all connectivity is being provisioned from supplier-owned infrastructure," Millar says.

Neither of New Zealand's major carriers, Telecom New Zealand and TelstraClear, is contracted to the project at the moment, Millar says. These may supply network capability as the project progresses. Millar says the rationale for the project is not cost savings but rather to implement new security standards released by the Government Communications Security Bureau in October 2005 and to facilitate collaboration between agencies.

He says procurement benefits will naturally accrue from the project through aggregated purchasing and a pricing model that does not differentiate among agencies based on their size.

The first stage of the project is limited to the infrastructure layer, Millar says and future deployment of applications will be driven by agency demand. However the network's "build once, deploy many times" model may accelerate the use of advanced applications.

The health sector NGHN has been commissioned by the Ministry of Health as an extension of the existing health network. It comes out of the Ministry of Health's Health Information Strategy for New Zealand which was developed by the health and disability sector and identifies 12 "action zones" for sector focus.

All of these zones are highly dependent on network support but the original New Zealand Health network was built in 1999.

"It is now timely to build on these early gains and to look forward to the next generation of health networking," says Brendan Kelly, the chief advisor on health information strategy and policy at the ministry.

Following recent tenders, a team is being established to identify the sector's future connectivity requirements.

The New Zealand Advanced Network is operated by a not-for-profit company. It comprises an optical network backbone linking research and education institutes in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin with regional connections to Hawkes Bay, Nelson and Rotorua. It will also connect internationally with similar institutions in the US and Australia. Millar says there are parallels between the projects.

"The common theme is provision of network infrastructure on open access principles and with capabilities that are directly relevant to government agencies, such as compliance with the government's security standards, to a broad community of public sector agencies." Officials from all three initiatives are represented on a joint forum to ensure minimum duplicated effort.