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FEATURE: Addressing Net Development and Maintenance Costs With ASR
by Mark Pitts, V.P., Business Development, Vados Solutions

Improvements in network technology are causing capital expenditure to decrease as a proportion of total cost of ownership (TCO). According to a recent report from Gartner, the capital cost of a network now only accounts for some 10-20 percent of the TCO. This means that to improve efficiency and reduce costs network managers have to simplify their network operations rather than focus on the feature set itself.

Those organizations that use VSAT or hybrid network application scenarios need to examine the total management offering from their suppliers, rather than a focus on capital expenditure items alone. Operational expenditure is often hidden and not taken into account when looking for new products and solutions.

Reducing Network Operational Costs
High operational costs are being incurred by many Service Providers, Network/Satellite Operators and end users when developing new or maintaining existing, multifaceted network architectures. Addressing these costs is vital in ensuring a reduced TCO.

This Auto Sky Roaming (ASR) article demonstrates an alternative approach to managing complex network and configuration schemes, by the implementation of an end-to-end network management and configuration solution that greatly simplifies and blends Inmarsat, VSAT, Coastal Wireless and other network topologies into one service offering.

ASR is a comprehensive, end-to-end VSAT/IP/Legacy communication management solution that provides blended mobility, roaming management, auto-configuration and quick system installation and provisioning, able to operate in any hybrid network environment (VSAT, Inmarsat, IP, PSTN, Lease Line & Wireless).

ASR simplifies the role of network planning and configuration teams. Combined with Vados Systems single platform network solution, it significantly improves network utilisation, helping to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Business Drivers
This article demonstrates an alternative approach to managing complex network and configuration schemes, through the implementation of an end-to-end network management and configuration solution that simplifies the role of network planning and configuration teams and seeks to reduce network operating costs. Together with Vados Systems' single platform network solution, network use and efficiency is significantly improved.

Overcoming Challenges Vs. Reducing Operational Expenditure
Whether you are a satellite operator managing a VSAT network; deploying Communications On The Move (COTM); managing hybrid networks; managing roaming wireless networks; ship owner, or operating in the maritime sector, the challenges remain the same — how to simplify the operating cost model, introduce, integrate and blend new service deployments quickly and reliably, whilst maintaining control of operational costs.

Vados Systems has developed an innovative management solution called Auto Sky Roaming (ASR) that addresses three key communication network needs:
  • Automatic software and configuration downloads — recognition, synchronisation and configuration across all satellite and terrestrial network nodes
  • Automatic traffic re-routing for satellite and/or terrestrial networks
  • Uninterrupted service — maintaining original IP address and contact numbers during satellite and/or terrestrial network switch over

  • ASR is a comprehensive end-to-end VSAT/IP/Legacy communication management solution that provides blended mobility, roaming management, auto-configuration and quick system installation and provisioning, able to operate in any hybrid network environment (VSAT, Inmarsat, IP, PSTN, Lease Line & Wireless).

    The solution is transportable, scalable, and suitable for any organisation that has direct or third party control of their central site infrastructure and has a requirement for fixed or Communications On The Move (COTM) deployable communication solutions.

    ASR Key Elements

    Zero Touch Configuration
    Seamless Network Routing

    Zero Touch Configuration
    Developed to simplify customer management with “Zero Touch” configuration functionality, ASR dynamically builds the configuration file and makes it available to the managed network. Thereby ASR ensures that all network nodes are kept at the latest configuration standard at all times, simplifying the management of the network infrastructure and eliminating the need to reconfigure essential services.

    The solution greatly reduces the costs associated with transporting expensive engineering resources to repair, install and configure replacement equipment in failure and replacement circumstances. In many cases, existing remote-site personnel are able to activate the network component with a quick and simple phone call, advising the service centre of the component identification number, located on the casing. Once connected onto the network, ASR does the rest, auto-detecting the new network component and automatically downloading the necessary configuration files and operating system software and activating the module.

    The solution enables the centralized control and commissioning of any nodes across any network infrastructure. All nodes in the network are kept in synchronisation with the most up-to-date configuration files, reducing downtime due to configuration mismatch and incompatibility errors. Systems that have configuration problems can be controlled centrally with configuration tables managed from HQ or central hub locations.

    Seamless Network Routing
    ASR provides seamless routing between different satellites/network connections, with little or no operator intervention. In operation, the solution continuously monitors traffic and transparently changes the routing to match the current connectivity (e.g., Satellite, ISDN, PSTN, Wireless, Lease Lines). The cut-over requires no routing protocol updates, and is initiated on the arrival of the first packet.

    The solution can provide an automated satellite roaming capability, dramatically increasing the operational functionality of overlapping VSAT footprints. For example in the Maritime sector, the seamless blending between FleetBroadband and VSAT: ASR auto-detects the shift to the new satellite and initiates the voice and data traffic re-routing within the central site hub (Earth station). ASR initiates the change on the arrival of the first packet from the new location and operates completely automatically without the need for operator intervention. In operation, the vessel maintains their original telephone number, and any phone conversations that are taking place during the shift are maintained without the need for re-dial. The Vessel also maintains their same IP address irrespective of ground station location, negating the need to reboot onboard systems.

    The major advantage of the solution is the support staff required to complete the migration will only need RF skills, with ASR dynamically managing the migration of the service onto the new satellite, allowing them to focus less on the day-to-day configuration and traffic routing, and more on customer services and new service creation.

    The solution features built-in rules and thresholds as well as automatic device identification and data collection to help enable easy setup and immediate monitoring of the managed network. It is extremely flexible and can monitor any third-party VSAT devices that may exist in the network such as router and satellite modems.

    Configurator Software Controller (CSC)
    • Builds and stores the configuration file for the remote site CPE
    • Provisions the Service across the network
    • Intelligent Routing Centre (IRC)
    • Central control software
    • Manages the roaming and controls CSC
    • Protocol adapter
    • Hides the any-to-any infrastructure differences i.e. seamless to the user
    • Converts all the service to LAN based

    Figure 2 shows a traditional network architecture, the Router/Mux in the HUB needs to have a meshed connection to all the different services.

    All traffic to ZoneA is routed to H1-Router. All traffic to ZoneB is routed via H2-Router.

    Roaming RouterA works in ZoneA via H1-Router, when it roams to ZoneB, its traffic will be processed by H2-Router.

    When RouterA moves to ZoneB (it moves to different geographical region or teleport coverage), the network management system needs to re-engineer the traffic to RouterA from H1-Router to H2-Router.

    The remote router has to register the information with the corresponding HUB equipment.

    When the remote CPE changes the satellite zone or in the event of a failure in the HUB (a satellite modem or router failure at HUB), the Router and the service system at the HUB needs to change the configuration correspondingly.

    When RouterA roams to ZoneB, RouterA needs to re-register at H2-Router. The traffic destined for RouterA needs to be reconfigured and re-engineered to H2-Router. The original service registered on H1-Router also needs to be cancelled. The system then notifies the changes and adjusts to it, resulting in a new network level configuration change.

    Managing the traditional network architecture is exceptionally labour intensive and requires wide-ranging configuration and monitoring activities in order to maintain the user’s service levels. In addition operational staff are required to maintain an accurate record of all the changes to the management system to ensure the service continues to work effectively after the change, often necessitating further testing and confirmation checks, adding to the resource overheads.

    Figure 3 shows a typical ASR network architecture. The meshed network has been replaced with the Intelligent Routing Centre (IRC) with much reduced and simpler network connectivity.

    ASR Key Features
    • Auto-service switchover
    • Automatic and accurate configuration generation and download
    • Efficient network operation
    • Reliability
    • Scalability
    • Service infrastructure independent
    In the ASR solution a virtual tunnel is established between the IRC server and remote RouterA (Yellow line), all the service traffic is carried over the tunnel.

    When RouterA was on its home satellite ZoneA, the traffic was exchanged between H1-router and RouterA (shown by the red traffic line).

    When the user moves to ZoneB, the virtual tunnel still exists between the IRC server and RouterA, but the traffic is routed via H2-router.

    The IRC server recognises the change and keeps a record of the remote router location, and routes the service traffic to the corresponding H1 or H2 equipment.

    As the Tunnel is kept alive between the IRC server and RouterA, the service system does not notice any system or physical change.

    The mechanism works the same in the event of a satellite modem failure at the HUB site, the traffic is re-engineered to another modem and the virtual tunnel is kept alive but by a different central router.

    The network protocol adapter is used to convert the serial traffic to a LAN protocol and hides the network topology and the service differences. The service will not perceive any network level change (hardware and software level), and is completely infrastructure independent.

    The IRC server coordinates the activities between the remote terminal and the service.
    When RouterA moves to ZoneB, the IRC server identifies the Zone change and changes the configuration of the router at H2, ensuring H2 router is linked with RouterA.

    As the service was hidden behind the IRC server, the IRC server will identify the change. The VSAT address and the IP address of the remote router remains the same.

    The IRC server stores all the configuration files and software images for all network equipment, and downloads the configuration files or alternative software to corresponding equipment as required. As the IRC architecture is totally independent of the infrastructure, it works with any satellite technology, e.g., SCPC, TDM/SCPC, and IP.

    Prerequisites of ASR solution

  • Two links (out/in) required for each VSAT CPE terminal
  • Unique MAC address across the network
Figure 4 shows a typical network without ASR and with ASR, support staff need only focus on the reliability of the equipment and network architecture. The routine equipment configuration and network tracking can be left to the ASR solution.

Plug and Play
ASR builds and stores the network configuration software and inventory information of the complete network infrastructure and so new service commissioning is achievable in very short timescales.

Once the new equipment is registered into the CSC server, it can be shipped to the site and connected into the network. When the equipment is powered up, it will find its way back to the HUB, no matter where it is located. The CSC server will then download the configuration and operating system software to the remote router.

Zero Configuration
The IRC server performs all the configuration and service provision. The remote routers are instantly activated when connected to the network.

System Security
The IRC server takes control of any system change configuration. An alert mail will be triggered when there are local configuration changes — this happens, for example, when an onsite engineer makes a change to the configuration. ASR provides customers with a reliable capability for time-critical system installation or system maintenance services:
  • Quick service to market
  • Minimum downtime
  • Lower skill-set requirement
  • Centralized technical skill sharing
  • Hybrid network infrastructure support
  • Global availability (only limited by satellite/network infrastructure)
ASR allows Service Providers to choose the most cost-effective airtime tariffs, from the available satellite operators, across any operating geography e.g. hybrid VSAT or INMARSAT services. Thereby increasing price flexibility and maximising operational return on investments.

ASR can be deployed as the central service control system providing end-to-end network monitoring and auto-service switching, with minimal or no operator intervention.
Users can switch the service between different satellite operators to achieve the best tariffs, and can operate in wired or wireless infrastructures.

Unified Hybrid Network Management Solution
ASR is not dependent upon the VSAT or Inmarsat satellite network infrastructures, making it a perfect fit for hybrid network management and system provisioning. The systems Intelligent Routing Centre (IRC) server also acts as the service control centre and can interconnect into any service scenario.

ASR provides an any-to-any hybrid network management solution, the customer does not need to be concerned about the network layer infrastructure differences, as the solution virtualises the network layer, and the services running above never identifies any infrastructure change. The end user is finally released from the day-to-day activities around routing and network management and is, instead, able to focus on the network architecture and new service creation.

Network managers need to simplify their network operations and improve network and operating efficiency rather than focus on the feature set itself. Capital expenditure is reducing when compared to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and tends to be approximately 10 to 20 percent of the TCO, while the operational expenditure is increasing (Gartner 2006, Dataquest Research Catalogue: Carrier Operations and Strategies Worldwide).

Customers in the VSAT or hybrid network application scenarios need to think about the total management offering from suppliers, rather than a focus on capital expenditure items alone. Operational expenditure is often hidden and not taken into account when customers are looking for new products and solutions.

About the author
Mark Pitts is responsible for overseeing the company’s core Solutions Development and delivery of a broad portfolio of voice and data communications solutions to the government, maritime, aeronautical and enterprise markets. Mark manages business development, directing the company’s next generation technology platforms. He is also responsible for building technical and engineering relationship with key users of Vados Services in the military and civil government, and commercial enterprise sectors.

Mark served in a Business/Solutions Development role of Satelcom Ltd from 1994 (becoming Solutions Director in May 1999), and was appointed to the Board in December 2003. Prior to joining Vados Systems he was the Network Solutions Architect for public sector solutions such as Fire & Rescue to Child- at-Risk register solutions. Prior to this, between 1984 and 198, he held a number of business development and technical positions within the network industry.