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Trends In Management and Control
Stovepipe Systems Are Out—Net-centric Is In!
by Scott Herrick, Director of Government Business Development, Newpoint Technology.

Traditional satellite Network Management Systems (NMS) that may have served mission unique, closed network systems, or focused exclusively on the management of discrete point-to-point SATCOM links, are increasingly called upon to support network centric applications. The Defense Acquisition Guidebook defines this as “…a shift to a “many-to-many” exchange of data, enabling many users and applications to leverage the same data-extending beyond the previous focus on standardized, predefined, point-to-point interfaces. Hence, the net-centric data objectives are to ensure that all data are visible, available, and usable-when needed and where needed-to accelerate decision cycles”.

Department of Defense (DoD) requirements for net-centric solutions offer the NMS provider many potential business opportunities. They span everything from border security and worldwide military operations to emergency response and disaster relief operations. With the opportunity comes the challenge of remaining competitive and being able to maintain a viable NMS solution that is adaptable, scalable, and cost effective from a product development perspective.

In the net-centric environment, the NMS provider that can offer solutions that support a variety of interface protocols, can control diverse systems, and share or distribute information vertically and horizontally across platforms and organizations will have the advantage. As I see it, the landscape for doing business as NMS provider is shifting, demanding fewer point-to-point Monitor and Control (M&C) systems to more service oriented network architectures capable of managing systems-of-systems.

As recently as 2006, the report to the President on the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina outlined actions for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a deployable communications capability to quickly gain and retain situational awareness when responding to catastrophic incidents. Specifically the report stated, “To restore operability and achieve interoperability, there is a strong need for rapidly deployable, interoperable, commercial, off-the-shelf equipment that can provide a framework for connectivity among Federal, State, and local authorities”. Since Hurricane Katrina and the report to the President, considerable work has been done to resolve communications interoperability issues. Federal, State and service organizations have demonstrated and used Hybrid networks to rapidly establish critical communications in response to disaster and emergency situations. The use of Hybrid networks to provide voice, video and data services to first-response organizations offers part of the solution to the interoperability problems brought to light by Hurricane Katrina.

A key enabler supporting these ad-hoc and Hybrid networks that can be initiated at the onset of a crisis, and then disbanded when no longer needed, are net-centric management systems. They link together multiple technologies to provide an integrated view of an operator’s entire network. This may require the combination of satellite and/or microwave links, leased lines, and frame relay connections. They have the ability to incorporate legacy and next generation equipment with a large variety of standards and non-standards based device interfaces (such as TL1, SNMP, GPIB, contact closure and serial communications protocols), or even the ability to integrate with an existing point-to-point M&C system.

As the situation changes, the NMS structure should be able to add additional capability (through a thin client web interface for example), allowing any number of authorized users access to the system from any computer with an Internet connection and a compatible web browser, irrespective of the computer’s operating system. Additional capability includes such things as the monitor, control, and display remote sensor status, webcam video, sending voice and email notifications based on operator defined parameters, or incorporate and display existing SNMP IP equipment into the network monitoring structure. This is where we begin to see net-centric benefits.

Consider a simple notional example outlined in Figure 1. A Hybrid network is established in response to a disaster scenario to provide voice and data capability to the first responders. The systems-of-systems approach to NMS allows the Network Operations Center (NOC) operator (on scene, for example) to monitor and control any number of networks, down to the individual piece of equipment, providing communications and local situational awareness. Through a web interface, other authorized users at different locations can log in and view the identical status in real-time, without interfering with the ongoing situation.

Figure 2 shows notional screens that users could display information on, from a single console (webcam, map overlays with status, block and level status screens, alarm status and individual equipment status) at one or multiple locations. This offers a capability that can be very beneficial to organizations at the city and state level, or fire and law enforcement agencies that may not have access to classified networks or a common operational picture.

The systems-of-systems approach starts to address what was called for in the Katrina report to the President. “…the net-centric data objectives are to ensure that all data are visible, available, and usable-when needed and where needed-to accelerate decision cycles”, blurring the lines slightly between traditional management of satellite equipment networks and terrestrial networks into a system capable of sharing information vertically and horizontally using a common structure.

Newpoint Technology provides products and services for managing communications infrastructure. They include satellite, terrestrial, Internet, and broadcast services. The company recognizes the need for flexibility in the next generation NMS and are actively evolving their traditional satellite NMS product line to manage and control systems-of-systems.

Remote site management is one area where Newpoint has had considerable success and where the company is looking to build synergy with the system-of-system concept. Newpoint’s Compass network management system and Mercury suite of products (Mercury Element Manager and Remote Site Manager) used for managing remote sites and portable communications terminals operate in the net-centric environment. For example, Newpoint has fielded a number of systems that provide NOC operators the capability to initiate low overhead connections using satellite links to any location in the world over the Iridium network. This allows operators to restore services remotely, or at a minimum identify, the cause of a failure and, in the event of a loss-of-communication event, to dispatch technicians with the proper equipment to remedy the situation. By itself, this is traditional M&C. When we integrate this capability into a NMS solution working across applications, we begin to see the benefits of the systems-of-systems approach.

A recent example is the integration and deployment of Newpoint’s Compass network management software into military communications terminals deployed to Southwest Asia. After a terminal is deployed to the field, an operator with minimal training can quickly set up the terminal from a laptop or PC through a simple menu driven graphical user interface (GUI). The Newpoint software then allows these terminals to be controlled and monitored from a NOC located safely away from hostilities and in many cases from locations within the United States. Remote monitoring is usually done through the engineering service channel or a small amount of bandwidth on the terminal using the primary data link. However, if the primary link is lost, or the terminal is no longer communicating, the operator can access the terminal via the Iridium network and can access the link through a secure, alternate connection and recover the terminal.

NOC operators can monitor the entire network and manage multiple communications terminals from a remote location. The efficiencies are clear—if you have 30 terminals that can be remotely supported by one or two personnel, and you don’t have to deploy an IT person to support each terminal, you’ve dramatically decreased your forward deployment footprint. Because of built in flexibility in the Network Management system, the NOC can remotely maintain the same level or provide a higher level of service to the end user. Such frees up the operator or soldier in the field to focus on their primary mission objective.

Other applications of Newpoint Compass management systems provide monitor and control of sensors to control domestic oil pipelines. The NMS interfaces with all remote site equipment from legacy serial interfaces, to contact closures for sensor and alarms, to SNMP IP equipment combining gateway earth stations, marine radio, transmitter/repeater sites, microwave, VHF/UHF, fiber, and copper cable into an integrated system that provides status and real-time situational awareness to a single operations center. Status information can be shared or distributed across organizations simply by providing users (defined and controlled by the administrator) the network’s IP address.

As a NMS system provider, there is not much difference between monitoring hundreds of miles of oil pipeline and monitoring sensors and data links along hundreds of miles of border. Because this commercial-off-the-shelf technology is already fielded and operationally tested, it can, with little or no modification, be applied to other applications where there is a need to monitor and manage remote assets. Examples include, but are not limited to, along a border, at sea, or in austere locations around the globe where military or government personnel are deployed.

In terms of market positioning strategy for NMS providers in general, there is a clear requirement to continue to refine the move toward a systems-of-systems solution. Look at any ongoing or future DoD program; they all require some degree of net-centric network management capability. The DHS Secure Border Initiative (SBI) and the SBInet being deployed by Boeing will link mobile sensors, command, control and communications elements, vehicles, satellite phones, and remote ground systems and feed this information into a common, operational picture, as just one example. To meet these types of requirements will require network management solutions that can incorporate and link divergent technologies, including legacy stand-alone M&C systems, and present them as an integrated, operationally transparent, network.

From a strategic perspective, Newpoint is looking at the expansion and evolution of our core products that were originally developed as satellite Network Management System tools serving a niche market into a net-centric system that has many applications outside of our traditional business area. We see the potential to provide value-added capability and meet diverse network management requirements across a very broad spectrum of government systems and activities.

Scott Herrick is the Director of Government Business Development for Newpoint Technology. One of his primary functions is to identify new Government market areas and applications for the Company. Prior to joining Newpoint Technology, he served for more than 20 years as an Air Force Officer in various Space and Command and Control assignments.