Greg Pelton is Senior Director of Cisco Internet Routing In Space (IRIS), which is a major Cisco initiative that is transforming space-based communications by allowing satellites to become part of the converged IP network and enabling Next Generation Global Services. Through IRIS, Cisco will extend the information transport power of the Internet into space, integrating satellite systems and ground infrastructure for commercial and government users who need anytime, anywhere IP-based data, video, voice and mobile communications. Mr. Pelton is responsible for creating a suite of space-ready products and developing the business plans and go-to-market strategies necessary to fulfill the IRIS vision.
Previously, Mr. Pelton led the Cisco Technology Center, which created strategies for entrance into new markets and to incubate disruptive technologies to create growth opportunities for Cisco. Greg led Cisco into new businesses, including IP telephony, wireless networking, home networking, broadband cable, IPTV, mobile networking, and Cisco TelePresence. He was also responsible for developing strategic partnerships with industry leading companies, creating ecosystems with technology startups, funding university research programs and driving the development of standards. Before joining Cisco in 1998 Mr. Pelton held executive positions at Nortel Networks, developing telecommunication products for service providers. He also established and operated a JV with Daimler Benz. Greg is recognized for his work in equity investments and acquisitions, and is a frequent speaker on innovation and emerging technologies.
Good day, Mr. Pelton, and thanks for taking the time to chat with our readers. You have a great deal of experience within the emerging technologies environs... how do you measure the effectiveness of todays technologies as far as industry growth is concerned in terms of product viability and financial gains?
It is interesting how some things have changed but many themes have stayed the same throughout my career. We are still riding the productivity curve that has been created by Moores Law. As the performance of silicon technology doubles and the costs halve every 18 months, new markets for IT technology continue to become available on a regular basis. An early example of this was Voice over IP. Thanks to advances in silicon technology, at some point in the mid 1990s it became cost effective to carry voice traffic over IP data networks. The user experience could be maintained and it was more efficient to have one network carrying both voice and data traffic than two separate networks. This fundamentally transformed the $100B voice industry of that time. We have seen this same transition happen in wireless networks, in video networks, in industrial automation and it is beginning in the power grid and even satellite networks, my current focus.
The other key trend that has impacted our industry is Metcalfes Law, which posits that the value of a network is in proportion to the square of the number of entities in the network. Broadband access to the consumer through Fiber, DSL, Cable and wireless has dramatically increased the value of the network. In the early 1990s I used dial-up access primarily for work. Today I use broadband for education, music, TV, games, keeping in touch with family, planning events, telephone calls and, yes, still to do work. The advent of social networking is just the latest iteration of this trend where Facebook can make a community of over half a billion people in just a few short years.
I dont see either of these trends slowing down anytime soon. There are many more networks to build and many more users to connect and many more new businesses that will result.
Having worked with Daimler Benz and Nortel in the past, as well as serving on many VC company executive boards, how did you decide to become involved in the space segment?
Like most things in life, it was serendipity. I had been leading Ciscos Technology Center for a number of years and had the honor of being involved in the creation of a number of our new businesses. However there always came a point in time where the business idea was mature enough that we needed to hand it over to a Business Unit to take the idea to market and make it a sustainable business. It was kind of like watching your children go off to college. Eventually I decided Id like to spend a bit more time with a new business and nurture it through the early scaling and commercial success phases. Luckily Cisco had just decided to enter the satellite market and the IRIS program had been kicked off. I had the opportunity to join a tremendous team, to leverage the technology and business development experience from my past and to be in the position to watch a new industry grow from infancy into maturity.
Could you tell us the reason for the development of, and purpose for, the Cisco Technology Center?
As networking technology has evolved over the years, its become clear that the network is no longer just about providing connectivity. It has evolved from data-only to a converged voice/video/data network. These converged networks have become a strategic asset to many businesses by improving business processes and thereby boosting productivity. It also became possible to transform the life of the end user. As Ciscos corporate mission states, our goal is to change the way we live, work, play and learn.
To accelerate this evolution and beyond, the impetus is on Cisco to deliver networking technologies in various forms for various applications, in order for customers to reap the full rewards of working within a converged network system. Ciscos strategy for entering new markets has three elements build, buy and partner. We can build new products and solutions, we can acquire complementary businesses and we can partner with industry leaders to develop the right solutions and go to market channels.
However when a market is in its infancy, it is hard to tell which of these three strategies should be employed, and even if the market is ready for Cisco to enter. The Technology Center was an internal incubator that nurtured new technology and business ideas and helped take them to the point where it made sense for Cisco to enter the market through some combination of build, buy and partner. Im proud of the work we did in the Technology Center and the many new businesses we helped create for Cisco.
Would you describe the work of the center as far as its ability to locate new markets? And how do disruptive technologies aid in creating growth channels for Cisco?
One of Ciscos strengths is to identify market disruptions proactively, get ahead of them and by leveraging all of our assets eventually lead these new markets. Given our strong position in the traditional IT industry, new markets are a very important part of our growth strategy as a company. The hardest part of entering new markets is determining the right timing. We see this over and over again in the VC world where investors will flock to a new area and dozens of companies will be formed with hockey stick growth projections. Typically, these markets take longer to develop than expected and many of the start-ups fail. The key to financial success is to invest across a portfolio of opportunities and to fail early. Failing early means recognizing that the market isnt ready or the business strategy isnt working before you have made the investments to scale the business. Adapt, retrench, move forward or just call it a day.
The Technology Center had to deal with the same issues. Our ability to identify viable new technologies and new markets probably had a 90 percent success rate. However our ability to time the market was much lower, below 50 percent. Markets always take longer to develop than you expect. What was critical to Cisco is that a small investment in incubating the idea helped avoid making a big investment too early in the life cycle of the market.
Much of your work involves interfacing with government agencies as their processes can be daunting. How do you manage such crucial connectivity? Do you have any insights as to how effective Cisco is in dealing with this side of the satellite/space business?
Government agencies have long been interested in using commercial technology and reaping the cost and functionality benefits that industry can provide. This has led global governments to be one of the largest customer segments for Cisco. However space has traditionally been seen as too unique and too proprietary to rely on commercial solutions. Advances in commercial satellite technology and current budgetary realities have generated growing interest from governments in commercial options. This interest can be seen in the new FCSA contract vehicle, which allows easier use of commercial satellite capabilities. FCSA delivers a much richer set of commercial managed services to the government and it also supports Hosted Payloads. A Hosted Payload involves the government supplying a package of technology that essentially hitches a ride by being integrated into an already planned commercial satellite launch.
Given the cry for capacity on the commercial and military/government sides of the equation, how do you see such becoming alleviated over the next year or two? Do you see hosted payloads as an answer?
Hosted payloads enable the planning and implementation of space missions more quickly compared to the time it takes to procure an entire government funded satellite typically 24 months versus seven to 15 years. Placing a hosted payload on a commercial satellite costs a fraction of the amount of building, launching, and operating an entire satellite. This also has the benefit of helping commercial satellite operators close their business case for a new satellite earlier and put more total capacity on orbit. It is a win-win for both sides.
How well will Ciscos Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) work in assisting our warfighters in countering hostile threats?
The vision behind IRIS is to converge satellite and ground networks into a unified service delivery platform. This is a very powerful solution for the defense applications because it allows the warfighter to collaborate better and access network services in congested and contested environments. The technology has the potential to transform how the military uses IP-based network services to accomplish missions. IRIS testing has enabled us to explore the potential of this technology as we look to expand our customer offering, particularly in areas that often require peer-to-peer communication and the rapid transfer of data, such as crisis management situations, remote medical emergencies and mobile military operations.
Considering all of your accomplishments, do you have one that especially brings a smile to your face?
There are very few individual accomplishments in our industry and every success depends upon a team. Ive had the benefit of working with a lot of very talented and dedicated people over the years. Whenever Ive been part of a team that accomplishes something that has never been done before, it is particularly gratifying. The most recent time I experienced this was when I went down to Cape Canaveral to see the launch of IS-14, the satellite that contains our first IRIS Space Router. I had never been there before and was driving across the causeway at night with my partner from Intelsat General, Don Brown. In the distance I saw bright lights pointing up into the sky but it was too far off to tell what was there. I asked Don what the lights were for and he said, Dude, thats your rocket. That was the moment when what we were doing with IRIS really sunk in and I was grinning ear to ear.
Would you please provide our readers with an overview of Ciscos IRIS program?
Ciscos IRIS initiative extends the same Internet protocol-based technology used to build the World Wide Web into space. The long-term goal is to route voice, data and video traffic between satellites over a single IP network in ways that are more efficient, flexible and cost effective than is possible over todays fragmented satellite communications networks. The initiative includes the Cisco 18400 Space Router, a radiation-tolerant IP router for satellite and related spacecraft. The first space router was launched on-board Intelsat 14, a geostationary communications satellite.
You have done a lot of work in the telecommunications industry. What attracted you to Cisco?
With Cisco I saw a company that had been very successful in one market data communications and had the vision and drive to transform every other communications market. That was pretty exciting for a guy who had spent his career up to that point focusing on just one industry. I also was very impressed with the people I met from Cisco. When I decided to join I wasnt really sure what job Id be doing but I was sure I would be working with a top notch team. That makes all of the difference.
Without getting into too much techno-speak, can you explain how IRIS is changing satellite communications?
The true power of IRIS is it takes all of the capabilities and benefits that exist in the terrestrial Internet and allows them to be used over satellite networks. It makes satellites an intelligent part of the overall network, rather than just passive repeaters of radio signals. But more importantly, it lets the end-user take advantage of the reach of satellite bandwidth without needing to deal with the complexities of satellite access. To be more specific, lets look at a few of the benefits of IRIS.
First the Space Router enables much more efficient use of satellite bandwidth. In traditional satellites, every user connection is like a T1 connection in the legacy telco world. It goes from point A to point B and the customer pays for the bandwidth whether they are using it or not. If the user wants more bandwidth, the network needs to be reengineered. If the customer wants to connect point A to point C, the signal must be brought down to the ground, routed there and sent back up to the satellite incurring a lot of delay and inefficiency in the process. With IRIS, bandwidth is allocated to users dynamically as they need it and shared amongst a large number of users. You pay for what you need and if you need, more or less, the network adapts. In addition, the users signal can reach any other user connected to the satellite in any geography, without coming back down to the ground to be routed. This dramatically improves voice and video communications and access to remote applications in data centers. The user wins with better service and the satellite owner wins by making more efficient use of a very expensive resource.
The IRIS network is a managed service and comprises both the satellite and the ground infrastructure. In this way, the entire network can be secured using the best practices of the IT industry and quality of service can be guaranteed from end to end. The entire network can be managed as one entity reducing the operating cost for a service provider. Again, both the end users and the service provider win.
Finally, with IRIS the satellite can now be a service delivery platform, not just a dumb pipe. Our Space Router is software-based and runs the same software as our routers on the ground. There are billions of dollars of R&D in that software base and many features that have benefit when deployed on a satellite. One example is mobility and being able to keep users, perhaps on an airplane or ship, connected as they may move between satellite beams. Another example is emergency workers responding to a natural disaster. If the terrestrial infrastructure is destroyed, you cant get a cell phone signal to save your life or anyone elses. The hurricane, earthquake or flood has leveled cellular towers for miles. What do you do? With IRIS, the satellite can provision voice service for emergency workers and connect police with the fire department with the hospital, all through the satellite. No traditional telephone network is required to route the call.
What is unique about this technology? What radical change does it represent in the world of satellite technology?
Cisco has announced important milestones in IRIS testing, including the first-ever software upgrade of an Internet Protocol router aboard a commercial satellite while in orbit. This is an extraordinary achievement in an industry where satellite operators havent previously had the luxury of changing a payload post launch, and it opens IRIS to the full features of Cisco IOS® software. Second, and equally important, Cisco completed the industrys first VoIP call made without the use of any terrestrial infrastructure to route the call. We are at a tipping point in the industry when satellite functionality can be defined by software rather than hardware. Think about how different your cellular phone is from the old rotary dial phones we used to have in our homes. The old phone just made telephone calls, the new phone takes pictures, plays games, surfs the web, sends text messages and can still makes calls. This difference is software. Over the coming years, IRIS will drive similar changes to satellite networks, and it should be pretty exciting.
Can you explain the demonstration that was used in conjunction with Ciscos Unified Communication Manager Express?
Cisco updated the IOS Software in the router aboard Intelsat 14 to enable a variety of capabilities for enhanced service that are already available for Ciscos terrestrial products including Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express, IPv6, Mobile IP and SNMPv3 management (Simple Network Management Protocol version 3). It also enables additional security features, including hardware-based encryption. The demonstration was the first use of Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express to make a VoIP phone call via a router in space. The first VoIP call was made through the Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express located on the Cisco space router, which provided the ability to make calls between any terminals on the system.
Cisco recently teamed up with Astrium to study the applications of space-based routers. Would you explain the findings?
In October 2010, Cisco and Astrium successfully demonstrated a number of IRIS services including multicasting, enabling the delivery of information to a group of destination computers simultaneously in a single transmission. Multicasting would make it possible for a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle drone to simultaneously send video of the enemy to the different groups that need it such as personnel in a command center and troops on the ground. Astrium is a satellite manufacturer and a satellite service provider so they have a lot of wisdom to share and can really benefit from our IRIS capabilities.
Whats next for the program?
The next big milestone for IRIS is moving from testing to full commercial service on Intelsat 14, which is happening this year. We have pent up demand for a production IRIS service and it is important to get this capability in the hands of the customers who need it. We continue to work with industry partners to introduce proven networking standards into proprietary satellite systems, and we are in discussions with a number of customers that should result in the sale and launch of future Space Routers.
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The NGGS Environment
Cisco® Next-Generation Global Services (NGGS) delivers current and emerging terrestrial and space-based services using Cisco IP networking solutions and leverages the capabilities of the Cisco Space Router. NGGS enhances the efficiency and reliability of defense and commercial SATCOM. Extending the IP network into space allows for the creation of seamless, global satellite networks to support continuity of operations and emergency communications.
The converged data, voice, and video capabilities of the Cisco NGGS network support traditional information transfer and collaboration applications. Plus, advanced services become available, such as Cisco TelePresence conferencing. Highly mobile field units are able to access vital broadband services, thanks to increased throughput for small ground antennas. As a managed service, the technology allows customers to focus on their missions, not on the engineering and operation of satellite networks.
The Cisco Space Router is a radiation-tolerant router that implements network services directly onboard a satellite. This first Internet Router in Space (IRIS) is a hosted payload on Intelsat 14 (IS-14). IRIS was created by Cisco at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense and will document the benefits and risk reduction of routing and other network services directly onboard a satellite as part of a Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD).
The purpose of the Cisco technology is to solve multiple, crucial communication issues resident with transponded satellite networks, wherein traditional satellite systems functions must be performed through a centralized hub. NGGS with the space-based IP router offsets such challenges and improves communication efficiency and cost effectiveness.
• Single-hop communications: Satellite services that rely on ground-based hubs must either connect through a teleport or establish their own reach-back connectivity for each isolated network. This is an inefficient and costly approach that can introduce delays in excess of 500 milliseconds (ms) and requires double-bandwidth utilization. By using a space-based router, the Cisco NGGS network can route traffic between bands (Ku and C) and across transponders to interconnect small, geographically dispersed sites in a single hop.
Equipment and connectivity flexibility: The simple installation of satellite ground terminals at remote sites instantly provides connectivity to a VPN and Internet or enterprise reach-back access through a Cisco NGGS gateway. This means that units can reach each other in a single hop simply by purchasing and installing terminals selected to meet each units specific requirements for equipment costs and service level. Because there is no need to double-hop through a teleport, even terminals with small antennas can support high-bandwidth applications such as video conferencing.
Efficient bandwidth usage: Users of conventional satellite communications systems often pay for far more bandwidth than they use on a routine basis, just to ensure that sufficient capacity is available when they need it. Cisco NGGS offers multiple service levels with committed information rates up to 512 Kbps and burst rates as high as 5.2 Mbps that feature bandwidth on demand. And billing is based on actual usage, not on static bandwidth subscriptions.
Reduced startup and management costs: Cisco NGGS is a managed service, so it eliminates the need for defense organizations to purchase and manage satellite bandwidth and associated network systems themselves. Customers need only purchase their chosen ground terminals and a service-level subscription. This hands-off architecture enables defense personnel to focus on their mission, not on the transport network.
Powering the space-based IP networking of Cisco NGGS is the Cisco Space Router. It offers many of the advanced features found in Ciscos terrestrial routers, including:
Access Control Lists (ACLs)
Extensive Cisco IOS® Software security features
IPsec VPN termination with hardware-assist encryption engine
The integrated design of NGGS simplifies staffing and training in the challenging arenas of military preparedness and emergency communications. Remote terminal connections can be easily instituted within in a full-mesh environment, with reach-back access to the Internet or to enterprise networks. Additional terminals can be deployed quickly and easily in situations of equipment failure, cyber attack, or continuity of operations. Reengineering the solution each time disaster strikes or a unit deploys to a different operational area is unnecessary.
Using a web-based customer service portal, terminal usage and service can be monitored and re-provisioned for mission-critical requirements, TelePresence on demand, or increased service levels. Support for emergency communications and continuity of operations will become even more robust as additional satellites containing space routers are launched, increasing the ability to reroute traffic around failures in the terrestrial infrastructure.
For additional NGGS details: