Bringing enterprise-class Ethernet networking to rugged deployed systems
As the demand continues to grow for network connectivity all the way out to the individual warfighter at the network’s edge, aerospace and defense system designers must choose between alternative approaches for architecting their Ethernet switch and router environment. One option, the least costly at the outset, is to “roll your own” Linux router to provide basic routing functionality. One downside is that the Linux router can’t supply advanced enterprise-class features that are becoming increasingly desirous, such as mobile technologies.
One of the industry leaders for enterprise-quality networking is Cisco Systems. According to the company’s market research, more than 69 percent of all Ethernet switches worldwide are Cisco-based. What’s more, Cisco supplies 51 percent of all network routers. There are suppliers of “Cisco-like” or “industry-standard-like” network technologies that can address unique rugged system requirements unmet with current rugged Cisco offerings, such as very high Gigabit or 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) port counts, but they bring the added task of managing software from a non-standard vendor. Sticking with Cisco provides a familiar interface. Because there are more than 10,000 Cisco networking academies in 165 countries where every year more than 700,000 students get trained and certified to support, maintain, and configure Cisco equipment, the acquisition of experienced technicians is greatly eased. With thousands of certified Cisco network engineers available to support an Ethernet environment, the U.S. government has shown a preference for those Cisco technologies that are suitable for tactical use.
Because Cisco is the de facto industry standard for Ethernet networks, it’s logical for system designers to leverage Cisco’s technology in defense and tactical edge applications. Responding to the demand for mobility at the network edge, Cisco now supports voice services (for example, Voice over IP (VoIP)) and related applications in their embedded routing products. In addition to the cost and support advantages associated with deploying enterprise-compatible networking in tactical environments, other significant advantages include the benefits derived from having the same familiar Cisco IOS look and feel, configuration, and command files.
Compared to homegrown or Cisco-like alternatives, the Cisco IOS software takes a “kitchen sink” approach and includes all the features a network architect may want, and then some. For example, Cisco Embedded Services Routers include features for mobile applications that one isn’t likely to find in a traditional network switch designed for use in a fixed network. One advanced enterprise networking capability built into Cisco IOS is Communications Manager Express, which supports in-the-field voice or video conferencing. Another attractive enterprise feature is support for Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET), which enables a router to deploy a self-configuring, infrastructure-less network and connect to various wireless links while in motion. In the Military Embedded Systems’ February 2011 article “Top technologies for the warfighter,” Radio Aware Routing (RAR) was named as one of the most desired technologies. RAR technologies is integrated into MANET capabilities in Cisco mobile routers. It enables a user to maintain high quality video or voice capabilities even if the quality of the radio is highly variable. It looks at the quality metrics of the network and anticipates the lowest cost and strongest routes. If the signal is fading or failing it enables the router to react in milliseconds instead of waiting for the link to timeout, which would take tens of seconds to reconnect to another link.
Another key reason that makes Cisco network technology attractive to the government is the investment the company makes in Information Assurance (IA) certifications to ensure that its products don’t introduce vulnerability into the network. Cisco puts its products through a number of government-sponsored IA compliance tests, such as FIPS 140-2, Common Criteria Evaluation, and the DISA Approved Product List (APL).
There are a variety of Cisco partner Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware vendors in the embedded market today that offer Cisco technology in a rugged form factor. While some offerings aren’t rugged enough for aircraft or ground vehicle applications, with packaging better suited for 19" rackmount naval or ground station applications or backpack-based communication portable kits, some vendors provide Cisco technology in the Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP)-optimized form factors rugged enough to be used in extreme dust, water immersion, high altitude, and extreme shock and vibration environments.
One example of a rugged Cisco mobile router is Curtiss-Wright’s Parvus DuraMAR 5915 router (see Figure 1). This mobile IP router LRU is integrated with Cisco’s 5915 Embedded Services Router (ESR) card in a rugged chassis designed for unmanned vehicle installations in harsh environments. It features dual WAN uplinks and is available as either a standalone 5-port network router or with an integrated GbE switch.
Mike Southworth Product Marketing Manager, Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions www.cwcdefense.com