From PSN to P2P? Hint of public network transformation
The core architecture of the single Public Services Network (PSN) could move from a federated gateway of four major suppliers to a peer to peer model, still private but mirroring the internet to simplify and speed up network services, a PSN supplier representative has said.
"With the PSN team in government having moved to the Government Digital Service, it gives us an opportunity to have a really good look at the way it works, to see if we can simplify it and improve it", Neil Mellor, marketing director at supplier association PSNGB told UKAuthority.com.
As well as simplifying the security compliance procedure for public bodies connecting to PSN - a source of much anguish to local authorities and others over the past two years - this work could also involve reviewing what is called the PSN Operating Model, defining how the PSN works at a high level, Mellor said.
"The architecture was drawn up five or six years ago, and it was entirely appropriate at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, we could make it simpler and take some of the costs out."
The way service providers pass information across the network core could be changed to become a peer to peer system more like the internet, though staying secure, he said.
Currently, there are two classes of service provider: ones which are and ones which are not cleared to connect with a core PSN gateway known as the Government Conveyancing Network (GCN). The GCN is run by four carriers - Virgin Media Business, BT, Vodafone and Level 3 - which route all traffic through and across.
"So if one council is with one service provider and another council with another, there is an exchange between the two networks", Mellor said. "And if a district council over here has a smaller service provider, which is not certified to connect directly into the GCN, then that will need to go via another provider. Then if they want high bandwidth for something like real time video streaming, it could become a problem.
"The model works fine at the minute, but if keep scaling up, it could become a bottleneck."
To solve this, PSN could use a more internet-like approach and peer more directly between all service users and providers, he said. "Not all users will want to, rather like with the internet model, but I think we could take a layer of complexity out of it. If we peer directly, then if this customer wants a gold-plated service, with high bandwidth and quality, it could be easier to negotiate."
This concept is still speculative, and "has not yet been agreed with anyone", Mellor stressed - but he said there were no good security or other reasons not to investigate going down this route.
"You would still have end to end accreditation for every part of it, like private cloud, and in any case GCN was never there for a security reason: originally, it was more out of a concern that one service provider might dominate at the core", he said. "But in practice you can have mixed economy without a single gateway: arguably in fact, it could be even more competitive."
Such a development would take time to reach agreement, and unpicking of technical architecture - but moves could be made as soon as next year, Mellor said. "It could make it faster, better, cheaper - I think the time is right for us and industry to ask - can we do this better?"
Another simplification already in the pipeline is of the commercial structure of PSN, he said, with the combination of two supplier frameworks into one starting next week. "Up to now, there have been two separate PSN frameworks, one for the network and one for services- now a new single framework is in development, the Network Services Framework.
"So now if you want a WAN [wide area network] with voice services, you will be able to do it all in one. It will make it much more straightforward for suppliers to get on as well, giving them a lot more flexibility in offering services. From a local authority point of view, it will make the procurement more straightforward: so whether you just want couple of network connections or a full WAN and mobile network all in one go - you will be able to do it."
There will also be a presumption towards direct award to suppliers rather than running competitions, Mellor said. "Buyers will use catalogues, where the local authority finds what they want and place a direct order, rather than go through the rigmarole and cost of procurement, though they can still do that if they have a complex or larger need."
This change could open the door more to SMEs offering PSN services, and could boost councils' use of PSN more generally too, Mellor said: " There might be some authorities holding on until the new framework is there."
An OJEU notice for the new framework is expected on 8 October, with the new system set to go live in February, he said.
Overall, PSN is set to enter a new phase, beyond solving technical and infrastructure issues and into the realm of realising major service benefits, Mellor said.
"We have reached a watershed as of last week, where all of central government and all of local government now have some kind of PSN connection", he said. "There are still large tracts of public sector to be brought on board, with the police transition next year, and there is enormous work to be done to bring health services on. Also some council connections might not be very deep yet - it might just be a few people connected in some authorities.
"But overall, the extent of connection and penetration is key: if you are really going to save money on shared resources such as datacentres, buildings or business support systems, you need to have more people able to access a common network. Then the big opportunity is not just to save X per cent on networking in government, but to start using this platform to take cost out of public service delivery in other ways, way beyond the IT budget."
Pictured: PSNGB marketing director Neil Mellor