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Satellite Network Management systems (NMS) are evolving to meet commercial and military requirements

Satellite communications represent a cost effective and reliable means of transporting voice, video and data to and from remote locations. The satellite industry is one of those industries where network management plays a key role. Therefore, the requirements for network management solutions for the satellite market are usually very stringent. For example, Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) networks must be flexible, scalable, versatile, easy to implement and operate in various conditions for specific requirements according to established industry standards.

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As a business, VSAT networks must also generate revenues, so a network management system should not only function optimally to meet customer requirements, it must also yield profit. In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, when most activities are being conducted remotely, the effective and efficient management of satellite networks is more crucial than ever.


A network operations center (NOC), also known as a “network management center”, is one or more locations from which network monitoring and control, or network management, is exercised over a computer, telecommunication or satellite network. Satellite network environments process large amounts of voice and video data, in addition to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance information. Example organizations that manage this form of NOC include Artel, a service provider of commercial satellite bandwidth to the United States Department of Defense, located in Herndon, Virginia.


NOCs are frequently laid out with several rows of desks, all facing a video wall, which typically shows details of highly significant alarms, ongoing incidents and general network performance; a corner of the wall is sometimes used for showing a news or weather TV channel, as this can keep the NOC technicians aware of current events which may affect the network or systems they are responsible for.


A NOC engineer has several duties in order to ensure the smooth running of the network. They deal with things such as DDoS attacks, power outages, network failures, and routing black holes. There are of course the basic roles, such as remote hands, support, the configuration of hardware (such as firewalls and routers, purchased by a client). NOC engineers also have to ensure the core network is stable. This can be done by configuring hardware in a way that makes the network more secure, but still has optimal performance. NOC engineers are also responsible for monitoring activity, such as network usage, temperatures etc. They would also have to install equipment, such as KVMs, rack installation, IP-PDU setup, running cabling. The majority of NOC engineers are also on call and have a five or six day rotation, working different shifts.


However, as the adoption of satellite-based communication networks continues to grow, so do the management challenges. For example, the convergence of voice, video and data transmission via satellite is driving increased demands on the network to deliver uninterrupted availability, reliability and security. And, as more mission critical applications become dependent on the network, tolerance for network problems approaches zero.


Convergence is ongoing, and as enormous amounts of voice, video and data traffic flow throughout hybrid networks, the NMS has to react quickly and grow with each new addition to the network at hand. Responsiveness, adaptability and agility matter when it comes to NMS. With more 802.11 wireless links in the mix in particular, the complexity of the networking environment as a whole is increasing.


“The satellite network operator has to have his eye on advances in network management for any communications network,” says Mark Krikorian, chief operating officer at Atlanta- based ILC Corp.–formerly Industrial Logic.

NMS Requirements

Remotely Manage Hybrid Network: NMS should allow to remotely access, monitor and control hybrid networks of satellite and terrestrial network equipment, including routers, switches, hubs, firewalls, wireless access points, VSAT modems, antenna controllers, RF amplifiers, GPS devices, power controllers and more


“Customers want to minimize operational costs, minimize operator intervention, increase efficiency and increase reliability, which can only be found by utilizing specialized components and remote-capable systems,” says Dewayne Gray, president of Plano, TX-based M&C Systems. “Customers these days are looking for networked systems that enable them to have a lights-out approach to monitor and control systems throughout their network. Customers want to have the capability of multiple, remotely operated systems controlled from one or more central locations.”


Increase Network Availability

In particular maintaining high availability of satellite networks at remote locations presents a number of unique management challenges for operational and IT staff. Communications are often disrupted due to environmental interference which can require a dispatch of a service technician to the remote site to re-establish connectivity. Likewise, routine network maintenance such as re-provisioning an antenna controller or upgrading a router’s operating system with the latest security patch often necessitates a costly on-site visit. Addressing a satellite network outage on an isolated oil platform in the North Sea, for example, can be a very expensive, difficult and time-consuming challenge for any IT staff.


NMS should ensure that the network is always being managed, even when the main network connection is down or degraded. In the case of an outage, the appliance will automatically establish an alternate communications path via a dial-up connection to send important monitoring and logging data back to the Control Center. Able to establish an alternate secure, communications path using external modem to dial out to a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite, even during an outage.


Satisfy Compliance Requirements

Regulatory compliance standards are adding even more complexity and risk to managing distributed networks. To satisfy stringent compliance requirements, IT administrators must be able to quickly and correctly identify information about what changes are being made in the network, who is making the changes, and what the impact of those changes are or will be.

NMS should automatically collects and reports all device interactions and configuration changes for each managed device, including satellite communications equipment. The appliance’s physical connectivity to each device enables compliance auditing even during network disruptions and outages.


Simplify and Standardize Management

Standardized, automated management capabilities, combined with the webbased, graphical view to allow operational staff to simultaneously view and control their hybrid networks from anywhere in the world. Via the Control Center, administrators can easily view real-time device statistics and alarms, and execute automated tasks, such as service provisioning or auto-recovery through its simple point-and-click interface.


Enforce Security Standards

Security standards are often compromised at the network’s edge. In the case of an outage, outsourced support personnel may be given root-level access to systems and applications in


NMS should  ensure end-to-end management security by providing encrypted access to all managed devices, enforcing authorization and authentication policies, and auditing all user interactions and configuration changes. NMS should enable security standards to be enforced even during a network outage or service disruption.


Management Protocols

Most network management systems use a master-slave sort of relationship between a manager and the agents managed by the manager. The manager queries the agent to obtain the status of parameters in the network element (called the get operation). For example, the manager may query the agent periodically for performance monitoring information. The manager can also change the values of variables in the network element (called the set operation) and uses this method to effect changes within the network element. For example, the manager may use this method to change the configuration of the switches inside a network element such as a multidegree ROADM.


In addition to these methods, sometimes it is necessary for the agent to initiate a message to its manager. This is essential if the agent detects problems in the network element and wants to alert its manager. The agent then sends a notification message to its manager. Notifications also take the form of alarms if the condition is serious and are sometimes called traps.


The Internet world uses a management framework based on the simple network management protocol (SNMP). SNMP is an application protocol that runs over a standard Internet Protocol stack. The manager communicates with the agents using SNMP. The information model in SNMP is called a management information base (MIB).


An SNMP implementation on a network involves three components to be integrated: the devices to be managed, agents, and Network Management Systems (NMSes). The devices to be managed are simply computers or devices on the network that reside on the network. These are the devices that an administrator would like to monitor on the network. Each device must have an agent installed on them, which is a software application that continually monitors the device for predefined events or errors and transmits them to a centralized management server, an NMS. The NMS collects all of the data that is routinely transferred from the various network devices and correlates it into useful information for an administrator to read and evaluate.


The SNMP protocol works under a very simplified model of data collection and control of the managed devices. Only a few basic commands are used in the SNMP protocol, such as GETREQUEST, GETNEXTREQUEST, SETREQUEST, and TRAP. An NMS invokes GETREQUEST to collect data from a device, and GETNEXTREQUEST to retrieve the next value in a set. An NMS can also invoke the SETREQUEST command to save data to a managed device. The TRAP command is the only one not initiated by the NMS; it is sent out by the client to report any unusual activity it has detected


Another management framework for the carrier world is called the telecommunications management network (TMN). TMN defines a hierarchy of management systems and object-oriented ways to model the information to be managed, and also specifies protocols for communicating between managers and their agents. The protocol is called the common management information protocol (CMIP), which usually runs over an open systems interconnection (OSI) protocol stack; the associated management interface is called a Q3 interface. Adaptations have also been defined for running CMIP over the more commonly used TCP/IP protocol stack. The specific object model is based on a standard called guidelines for description of managed objects (GDMO). The first two concepts of TMN—namely, the hierarchical management view and the object-oriented way of modeling information—are widely used today, but the specific protocols, interfaces, and object models defined in TMN have not yet been widely adopted, mostly because of the perceived complexity of the entire system.


Yet another management framework that allows network elements from different vendors to come with their own element management systems is based on the common object request broker (CORBA) model. CORBA is a software industry standard developed to allow diverse systems to exchange and jointly process information and communicate with each other. This framework uses CORBA as the interface between the element management systems and a centralized network management system.



Military Requirements

US Military is increasingly looking to the commercial satellite industry to satisfy its large bandwidth demands due to its net centric and global operations. For one thing, the Defense Information Systems Agency has tripled its budget for commercial satellite capacity throughout the past three years to just under $200 million annually in commercial transponder leases, with this amount expected to increase.


“The DoD’s approach for the management of their satcom resources utilizes centralized administration with distributed management of all assets–ground and space,” says Mark Casady, vice president and general manager at the Communications Systems Group of ITT Industries, Systems Division.


Casady points to the wideband milsatcom control segment embodied by the current Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) Operations Control System (DOCS) soon to be renamed the Wideband Satcom Operations Control System (WSOCS) with the launch of the Wideband Gapfiller Satellite (WGS) as a case in point.


“Elements of this control system are located at the worldwide level for long-term planning and administration of functionality. Distributed management occurs at the network operations centers within each of the satellite areas of operation for overall satcom network control and at each of the earth terminals,” Casady says.


“ITT Industries is responsible for the operational support, maintenance and training for the DOCS. As far as control subsystems are concerned, ITT Industries built both the Satellite Configuration Control Element (SCCE) for managing the configuration of the communications payload on the spacecraft and the Integrated Monitoring and Power Control System (IMPCS) for fault, performance and configuration management of the ground segment resources, which includes the earth terminals and their communications gear.


Among other things, WGS stands out because, although it continues to use bent-pipe transponders rather than a processed payload, the channelization is done digitally, allowing for variable channel bandwidths. This provides a higher degree of onboard switching and recombining than traditional transponding satellites.


“Commercial satcom utilizes a different approach with control primarily applied at the satellite level by the satellite service provider. Network control such as spectrum monitoring, earth terminal control, monitor and alarm and some degree of Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) for Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) type networks tends to be the responsibility of the ground segment provider,” Casady says. “This may change if turnkey systems like Hughes’ Spaceway are introduced in the commercial sector. If this happens, end-to-end service provisioning may open the door for a commercial version of IMPCS.”


What also complicates the landscape is the question of how much of the control functionality should be on the satellite, where access and cost may be an issue, versus how much should be on the ground. Within the DoD there are differing philosophies as to how and where control of the overall satcom system should reside.


With the DoD already heavily invested in a full-blown hybrid fiber/wireless satellite network, Casady sees other unresolved issues that could have an effect on the current efforts by the DoD to complete the blueprints for its transformational communications architecture. The first cut at this is now expected to be finalized this coming summer.


“How the terrestrial segment will request service over the satcom segment is one of the key issues. What is the protocol that will be used for media access control (MAC)? Will this protocol be a derivative from existing techniques or will it have to be totally new in order to accommodate both segments being addressed?” asks Casady. “Will it use a circuit or packet-switched architecture or some combination of both? How will it support an end-to-end provisioning of QoS-based service level agreements? Resolution of these issues will require a more comprehensive and holistic approach to system management.”



Network Management Market Trends

According to Kenneth Research, the global enterprise VSAT market is projected to grow beyond US$ 10 billion by 2024. And one of the reasons there will be such massive growth is due to declining costs in satellite manufacturing and launches and the advent of new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellations.


This has opened the gateway for numerous players to deploy networks for various markets. Opportunities presented by the upcoming technologies like 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M), will pave the way for the expansion of satellite networks. And this will result in the demand for sophisticated and highly reliable software solutions for satellite network management. Down the value chain, these business models are going to make satellite broadband/internet services cheaper as well as more reliable with respect to higher bandwidth which, in turn, would lead to greater demand for these services.


One of the more promising markets for satellite technology is the aeronautical field. According to Inmarsat’s IFC survey in 2018 it is estimated that the IFC revenues reach approximately US$ 30 billion by 2035. The maritime market is equally promising. Satellite communications technology is the only way to connect in the world’s oceans, which covers 70 percent of the earth’s surface. Commercial cargo shipping, cruise lines and oil and gas markets, among others are driving the demand for maritime satellite communications. The global maritime satellite communications market size was valued at US$ 2.64 billion in 2018, and will post a CAGR of 8.9% from 2019 to 2025, according to Grand View Research.  Even though the current global pandemic has led to a drastic slowdown in the aviation and martime industries, the long-term prospects in these industries remains solid according to recent research from NSR and other consulting firms.


As the digital expansion star-ted integrating various industrial verticals, Over-The-Top (OTT) and Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) are becoming more dominant as opposed to the satellite broadcasting services. This is leading to increasing demand for satellite broadband services. While the network architecture of satellite broadcasting was carried as it is since the early 90s, now the satellite network system needs an upgrade with respect to cloud technology for the video content distribution. One of the critical aspects of the satellite network management systems with respect to the video market will be the bandwidth allocation and subscription management; due to the upcoming wave of OTT and IPTV services. Satellite network management systems will be crucial for providing custom-tailored services to the subscribers as well as tracking the movement of the content consumption on a local and regional scale.


There is also opportunity for satellite technology in the rollout of 5G networks. 5G is a disruptive technology that is set to transform wireless connectivity, enabling ultra-fast broadband speeds, increased efficiency, reduced network costs, and more scalability, among a wide range of other benefits that will open up new markets and drive technology innovation. And 5G comes at the perfect time. The number of connected devices that are in use worldwide now exceeds 17 billion, according to the latest research from IoT analytics and is projected to reach over 50 billion in the next few years. With 5G, the industry can better address today’s connected world and its growing connectivity requirements.


The  satellite network management system is also expected to provide advanced end-to-end solutions to the operators and service providers. This involves crucial aspects such as product management, monitoring, analytics, subscriber management, customer service, revenue generation, among others. Reliable and automated satellite network management systems are key to ensuring the satellite industry’s continued disproportionate growth.


Customer Requirements

Satellite operators are demanding end-to-end satellite network solutions as the industry is leveraging several business opportunities in key market verticals. In 2018, with the industry’s focus shifting towards managed service networks, satellite operator Intelsat contemplated various options to provide their customers a resourceful, easy-to-use way to manage terminals throughout their lifecycle. Given the nature of managed services networks, the envisioned new platform was intended as a business layer interacting with multiple other existing systems.


Various requirements have been brought forward, among them reliable and simple terminal lifecycle management, comprehensive permission management, and the need for short development cycles to rapidly address a changing market environment and customer needs. With customers from all over the world and some of their staff preferring their native language, support for multiple languages was essential, as well.


Faced with the choice between an internal project and external vendors, Intelsat identified G&S SatConnect® as a potential solution which covered most of the intended features out-of-the-box and was flexible enough to be customized where necessary. A track record of previous successful integrations proved this to be a viable option for the intended purpose.


Time was tight and a continuously growing list of requirements increased the scope beyond the initial design. Once the decision for the future IntelsatOne Flex portal was made, a major effort towards reaching the specified feature set commenced for all stakeholders involved.


Software projects of this size and scope usually require months of preparation and often end up being more complex and expensive while delivering less than what was originally promised. With G&S SatConnect®’s modular architecture and many of the required features being available already, in this case the project could be streamlined. As only minor customizations to existing features were required, all effort could be focused on successfully developing clear differentiators that set Intelsat apart from their competitors. One of the most popular of these features is the comprehensive, yet easy-to-use Fair Access Policy (FAP)feature, which allows not only setting rate limitations for individual terminals but for entire groups or organizations. Defining a collective volume package across terminals has improved the network quality and resulted in better service for all IntelsatOne Flex customers while also providing exciting new revenue opportunities.


With a mere four months time span between project start and delivery, a “white glove service” provided support during customer onboarding from the G&S team. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive as the management effort per terminal has seen a significant reduction while at the same time new business cases have been enabled. Furthermore, Intelsat itself has seen a reduction in support requests and benefits from its increased flexibility as new products can be pushed into the market with minimal lead time.




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