After a successful testing phase, the Cabinet Office has launched the UK's first compliant, national Public Services Network (PSN), with Kent and Hampshire County Councils.
Under the newly-completed Project Pathway, the government's central PSN team worked with network providers Global Crossing and Virgin Media Business, and Hampshire and Kent County Councils to prove the processes and concepts for building a PSN, and sharing services and applications via the network.
The Government Conveyance Network (GCN), a mesh of existing telecoms industry networks, forms the core backbone infrastructure of the PSN (which was formerly known as the Public Sector Network).
The aim of the PSN is to encourage more collaboration between public sector organisations and to achieve cost efficiencies by reducing the number of network connections.
For example, Kent County Council developed its own regional network (KPSN) between 2006 and 2008, to facilitate shared working across public sector organisations across the county.
Building the regional PSN, and aggregating local authority and school networks, allowed the council to achieve £2.4 million in cashable and cost-avoidance savings.
"The national PSN should enable me to use national PSN services and enable other public sector organisations to use PSN accredited services that Kent wishes to publish," said Jeff Wallbank, Kent PSN partnership development manager.
The Kent network is based on BT's infrastructure, with Unisys providing the managed services. Regionally, the network provides services such as internet to all local authorities and police in Kent, email to all local authorities and fire services and centralised remote access services.
It connects to the national PSN via a single Global Crossing connection.
In addition to this PSN connection, the Kent network currently has two connections to the UK's Government Connect Secure Extranet (GCSX) network, and two N3 connections to the NHS - which Wallbank aims to eventually reduce.
"In an ideal world I would have two PSN connections, for resilience purposes, and I can take away the GCSX and N3 connections [and connect to these via the PSN]," said Wallbank.
There are no services available on the national PSN yet, but Wallbank expects the GCSX connection, which provides access to Department for Work and Pensions services, to be available on it shortly.
"We are pushing hard to make the GCSX connection," he said. "We will want to test it and then use it if it is stable enough."
Only accredited network providers will be able to create connections to the national PSN, and the government is expected to announce these in the next few days. Furthermore, only accredited services may be provided via the PSN.
Kent and Hampshire County Council have connected their regional networks into the national PSN in order to test the concept, but any individual public sector body, not just regional networks, will be able to connect to the PSN as soon as it is rolled out more widely.