GDS takes steps to support move away from PSN

Five-month programme aimed at understanding of standards based approach for use of internet communications in place of Public Services Network

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is beginning to look at ways to support public sector organisations in moving away from use of the Public Services Network (PSN) while maintaining the appropriate technical controls.

Diagram of computers connected to serversIt has put out feelers for specialist support in a five-month programme to develop standards and guidance for using the internet in place of the PSN.

The move comes more than a year after it first signalled that the PSN would not be necessary into the long term because of improved standards around issues such as email security, transport security and virtual private networks; although it followed this up with an indication there is still a need to comply with the shorter term.

GDS has indicated that it plans a discovery project to understand public sector user needs at network level for communications and security, and to get a good view of the market options.

This will be followed by an alpha phase to establish an automated mechanism for the deployment of common standards, architectural patterns, guidance and services. It will also lead to recommendations for the beta phase.

Direction for future

In a blogpost on the move, John Strudwick of GDS says this should set the direction for government network strategy for the foreseeable future. Also, some of the necessary approaches for moving away from the PSN are already being adopted but need to be tested and show they meet government design principles.

“By the end of this alpha, in around six months’ time, we should have a good understanding of how we can assure connections for a wide range of public sector organisations using the best available standards based approaches. We’ll then move into beta,” Strudwick says, adding: “We’re really keen to create a healthy supplier market around the technology we use to establish high quality connections, just as we did with PSN.”

The PSN was launched in 2011 as a ‘network of networks’ for the public sector, with the aim of providing a level of information security not obtainable at the time through regular internet connections.

The move attracted a cautiously favourable response from Innopsis, the association for suppliers of digital infrastructure and services to the public sector. Its information governance director, Des Ward, said it has been asking GDS to review PSN for some time.

Seven years

"The PSN operating manual was written seven years ago and both technology and the environment in the public sector has changed," he said. "PSN was built for a different age and that gated community is no longer viable.

"It makes complete sense to leave a closed community behind in favour of a more open one, but information governance should be at its heart. The new Health and Social Care network (HSCN) is a fine example of that in practice. But, when we leave a world of strong walls, the need to understand risk management and governance is crucial."

He added that 5G networks and software defined networking will give the public sector new options in connecting and sharing information, but that there will be risks and it will require a lot of attention to data protection.

Image: Rozszerzonej Gwiazdy, public domain