May 18, 2010, 2:27 PM — The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs will complete a major network transition this fall, migrating from Sprint as its primary service provider to a new architecture that splits telecom traffic across three other carriers: AT&T, Qwest and Verizon.
The migration is significant given the size of VA's network, which links more than 150 hospitals, 780 outpatient clinics and regional offices scattered around the country. The network supports high-bandwidth, high-security applications used by VA's 300,000-plus employees.
The VA's network migration is a sign of the times for federal agencies, which are in the process of transitioning from the expiring FTS2001 telecom contracts to Networx, a 10-year, $20 billion program offering cutting-edge voice, data, video and wireless services. FTS2001 contracts have a continuity of service clause that expires in June 2011.
While the VA is near completion on its network overhaul, many other federal agencies are behind schedule in migrating from FTS2001 to Networx. The issue is attracting the attention of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, whose chair said in April that 62% of the Networx transition effort is incomplete. The committee plans to hold a hearing on Networx migration issues in May.
"The VA has had very, very clear expectations about what they wanted to do, and this [transition to Networx] has been a good one," says Jeff Mohan, executive director of the Networx Program Office at AT&T Government Solutions. Mohan added that for many other agencies, "there is still a lot of work yet to be done."
Powering e-health records
With demand for capacity growing at a clip of 6% a month, the VA's network is at the heart of the agency's mission of providing healthcare and other benefits to an estimated 23 million U.S. veterans. The network's key application is the VA's electronic medical records system known as VISTA.
The VA chose to do a like-for-like network transition using the Networx Universal contract, which is held by AT&T, Qwest and Verizon. Sprint, the VA's incumbent carrier, was the only bidder that lost Networx Universal back in 2007.The VA ended up with multiple carriers because it split its network services into three categories and bid each one separately under Networx Universal.