Advances in switching bring rugged 1/10 GbE networking to embedded platforms

As advanced network features and increasing speeds are added to next-generation rugged embedded switches, these products become even more useful for military applications by helping to reduce system size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) through a reduction of cabling and the use of Layer 3 switches for basic network routing duties.

At the same time, there’s increased use of 10 Gbps Ethernet network backbones on military platforms to handle new faster intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors, such as high-definition (HD) video cameras. HD video feeds have historically required H.264 or similar compression for transmission over a 1 GbE network interface. Now, with support for 10 Gbps data rates, the latest switches can handle multiple cameras and transmit uncompressed HD video at line rate.

What’s more, 10 GbE can be delivered over fiber optics, providing additional cybersecurity benefits; since fiber is immune to electromagnetic interference (EMI), it can’t be hacked. Bringing the latest performance advantages to deployed embedded applications, the networking world’s industry standard, Cisco Systems, recently announced new embedded services switch (ESS) technology. With the introduction of Cisco’s latest offering, truly rugged Cisco IOS-based networking technology can for the first time support 10 Gbps in harsh military environments with a roadmap towards Layer 3 routing switch software capabilities.

In the OSI [Open Systems Inter­connection] model of computer networking, Layer 2 defines the “data link layer” where switches can connect one device to another using MAC [media access control] addresses within a local area network (LAN). The Layer 3 “network layer” is where routing, using Layer 3 protocols, takes place between different network IP addresses over a wide-area network (WAN, i.e., Internet). In short, for routing, networks connect to other networks, while switching instead links a device to an adjacent device on the same network. With the advent of the Layer 3 switch (also referred to as a routing switch), the paradigm shifts: A switch still primarily serves as a Layer 2 LAN device but adds some enhanced capabilities to support basic Layer 3 routing.

Dedicated network routers, which provide special services different from switches, won’t all be replaced by Layer 3 switches. While routers and Layer 3 switches can both be used for IP routing, dedicated routers uniquely provide security and communications services, such as firewall/Virtual Private Network (VPN) encryption, intrusion detection and prevention services (IDS/IPS), and Voice over IP (VoIP) phone services, etc.

These network services and the IP routing process add overhead to routers, and can reduce router throughput speeds to something less than the line rate speeds (1 Gbps/10 Gbps) of switches. In fact, when dedicated routers are used to secure traffic over encrypted tunnels through commercial standards, like AES or NSA Suite B, their throughput can be reduced by 50 percent or more. Layer 3 switches deliver high switching speeds, but the sophistication of their Layer 3 connection is limited (i.e., which protocols and security capabilities they support). If these security/communications services are not needed, or routing requirements are less dynamic, a Layer 3 switch offers the advantage of high speed with support for Layer 3 routing protocols.

The new Cisco ESS technology brings high-speed switching to the embedded environment, with basic routing capabilities soon to follow. Like previous embedded and industrial products from Cisco, the new switch supports the wide operating temperature ranges required in military and aerospace applications. But unlike previous models, the new ESS module brings an enterprise-class, Cisco IOS-managed switch with 10 GbE support to deployed applications. It also supports IEEE-1588 high-speed precision timing, antitamper features (such as secure boot and IEEE 802.1AE MACsec encryption), Power over Ethernet (PoE), and PoE+ capabilities. PoE helps reduce SWaP, enabling both data and power to be sent over a single CAT5/6 cable and eliminating the need for a separate power connection to IP phones or cameras. For applications with basic routing needs, this new switch architecture roadmaps Layer 3 software support to handle routing protocols like OSPF, RIP, InterVLAN, EIGRP, etc.; such a setup means further savings because a single SWaP-optimized embedded device can handle both high-speed switching and basic routing duties.

As the use of high-speed ISR sensors grows, the availability of 10 GbE Layer 3 switch technology will help eliminate data bottlenecks by bringing enterprise-class networking to the warfighter.

Mike Southworth is product line manager for Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions.

Figure 1: Curtiss-Wright’s DuraNET 30-2020 and DuraMAR 5915 are examples of rugged embedded switch and router systems.