DFAT lifts lid on huge IT infrastructure upgrade


news The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has kicked off a huge outsourcing initiative which is slated to see several hundred million dollars ploughed into a substantial upgrade of the department’s far-flung global fundamental IT infrastructure, including both telecommunications and desktop platforms.

DFAT is not only one a substantial Federal Government Department, but also a global entity courtesy of its diplomatic facilities in most major and many minor countries globally. To provide these offices with IT and telecommunications infrastructure, in 2003 and 2004 the department implemented what it calls its Secure Australian Telecommunications and Information Network (SATIN).

SATIN is much more than a global wide area network of the kind operated by corporations operating across many countries. It encompasses both telecommunications systems as well as desktop and device infrastructure, as well as supporting IT systems, to allow secure diplomatic messages to be sent across national borders. It replaced a previous ageing platform known as the Australian Diplomatic Communications Network. In 2009, SATIN had over 150 points of presence with 6,000 users around the world and was the largest Australian Government international network. It’s not clear how extensive the network is at the moment.

However, with SATIN itself having aged substantially since its initial deployment a decade ago, DFAT is currently seeking to upgrade the system. It received some $216 million in this year’s Federal Budget for the upgrade problem. “The upgraded [International Communications Network] will strengthen classified connectivity and information sharing, increase protection against cyber threats, strengthen coordination and decision-making through improved connectivity, and improve productivity by addressing limitations of the current system,” the Federal Budget papers in May said about the funding.

Late last week, the department formally flagged a briefing to be held with the Australian IT industry in Canberra next week that will outline the department’s requirements for the upgrade. Leading the briefing will be DFAT chief information officer Tuan Dao.

The wide-ranging nature of the briefing does much to highlight the comprehensive nature of the SATIN platform. Industry capabilities are sought in the areas of unified communications, telephony, video conferencing, global wide area network carriage, LAN/WAN hardware, security technology, ICT service desk support, IT service management software, secure mobile telecommunications and so on.

Computerworld reported in March that the SATIN network would transition from be a hub-and-spoke topology to being IP-based. In addition, the department is reported to be simultaneously upgrading its desktop platform to Windows 7.

A key supplier to the SATIN network currently is Fujitsu, which won a contract with DFAT in 2009 to supply ICT help desk support to the department. At the time that contract was signed, Fujitsu noted that it had worked with DFAT for many years.

“Prior to this project, Fujitsu has worked with DFAT since 2004, managing a number of successful project engagements across the department, including the ICT fit out of overseas posts and embassies, bespoke application development of the Passport Appointment System and the secure hosting, support and enhancement of Passports Online,” the Japanese company said at the time.

Fujitsu also won, in March this year, a wide-ranging project to to provide a comprehensive system for issuing Australian passports as part of the department’s Passport Redevelopment Program (PRP). With increasing demand by Australians for passports, and a forecast of up to two million passport applications per year by 2015, the new system will enable the Australian Passport Office to maintain the service level commitments of its charter, according to Fujitsu.

It doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot to say here, apart from the fact that it looks as though this is a stereotypical government IT upgrade: A fundamental piece of infrastructure key to Australia’s operation is put in place a decade ago with only minor upgrades since that time. Finally the department responsible for it is given a budget to upgrade it, meaning it’s now a major headache of a replacement project. I’ve got a little word for the politicians in Canberra — if you constantly, incrementally, upgrade government technology infrastructure, then you won’t need to do these kinds of once in a decade, highly risky, upgrades.

We’re talking about Australia’s diplomatic communications network here. It should be state of the art, if we’re going to do this at all.

Image credit: NASA, Creative Commons