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SITA sets aside sizeable investment to upgrade network

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The State IT Agency (SITA) plans to commence its R400 million core network upgrade programme as soon as a service provider is appointed, says the agency.

As the official provider of IT-related services to government departments and public entities, SITA has often caught flack for network performance challenges that hamper some of the state’s agencies.

The chronic network outages at the Department of Home Affairs offices, in particular, have often been placed at SITA’s doorstep.

However, the IT agency is taking much-needed action to address the network challenges, SITA executive caretaker Luvuyo Keyise recently confirmed to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs.

Based on the information slides presented to the committee, SITA is appointing a partner to modernise its core network to be software-defined network (SDN)-ready and implement a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) for clients.

Furthermore, the agency says a tender has been published and closed on 23 July, with the next step being tender evaluation, adjudication and contracting.

“In terms of the core network, we can confirm we are upgrading our network,” says Keyise. “We’ve set aside half-a-billion to upgrade the entire network to make sure it’s as resilient as possible.

“Whatever systems, applications or solutions that home affairs or any other government department put through that network, at least we will ensure it is as stable as possible.

“By the end of December, we should’ve upgraded a greater majority of our network, as we are about to award [the tender], which we hope to do before the end of September.”

Tlali Tlali, SITA head of corporate services, told ITWeb the network upgrade programme will cost around R400 million over a period of five years.

He notes the agency began the SDN programme in the 2020/21 financial year. “This is a five-year programme and the replacement of infrastructure will be done in a phased manner, in order to ensure continued and seamless service delivery. The five-year period will commence once a service provider is appointed.”

Tlali says the network upgrade was necessitated by the need to meet the ever-evolving requirements of SITA’s clients.

“Government must have secure, scalable and resilient infrastructure,” he states. “COVID-19 has also had a significant impact on the public sector, which has intensified the need for more online government services, with the requirement for reliability, speed and efficiency.

“These need to be balanced with the significant capital investment and expenditure which is associated with the network infrastructure requirements to meet these needs.”

The network revamp will enable improved service delivery to citizens, reduced turnaround times to restore contracted services on SITA switching centres, minimised travel costs and proactive detection of incidents prior to experiencing downtime, among the added benefits of upgrading the agency’s network, he notes.

“The upgrades cater for increased demand from clients for new products and services. SDN should lower overall operating costs and result in administrative savings, since many of the routine network administration issues can be centralised and automated.”

As to internet services, the maximum available bandwidth at each breakout point will be scalable to ensure efficient services that provide redundancy and resilience, he adds.

Tlali indicates that as part of the broader SDN programme, SITA plans to implement a number of projects, namely:

  • NGN remedial plan: SITA will appoint a service provider for the provision of the SDN core, DMZ refresh and SD-WAN solution, with maintenance and support for a period of five years.
  • Remote environmental management solution: This will remotely manage and monitor critical devices and environmental conditions of the SITA switching centres to improve availability of critical services.
  • Inter data centre connectivity: The connectivity between data centres in SITA Centurion and Pietermaritzburg has been completed.
  • Internet service redundancy: SITA is ensuring the provision of internet breakout redundancy, which will be implemented within the current year.
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