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How Satellites Benefit Cloud-Hosted Applications

by Sunil Gupta, senior director, Hughes Network Systems
Connect-World AME October 2014

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The Cloud offers many opportunities to reduce costs and grow a business. Cloud-based services often present a more economical and simplified solution to the user, but consequently make a highly reliable and robust connection to the Internet that much more critical. Satellite broadband offers a truly unique connectivity solution in many AME regions where terrestrial bandwidth may be sparse or unavailable.

Therefore, moving to the cloud is the logical and inevitable step for most businesses and organizations. Cloud connectivity requires robust and high throughput bandwidth in order to provide users with the most satisfying experience. In the case of Africa and the Middle East, terrestrial connectivity may not be available or may be very costly to deploy. ‘Always-on’ satellite-based connectivity proves to be the logical, and sometimes, only, choice.

Introduction

The ‘Cloud’ is a nebulous term referring to the universe of services and solutions available on the Internet or within distributed private networks. As illustrated in Figure 1, consumers, government agencies and businesses of all sizes are increasingly accessing an ever-expanding range of applications and data hosted and managed in the Cloud-everything from family photos to corporate databases and applications. Cloud-based services often present a more economical and simplified solution to the user, but consequently make a highly reliable and robust connection to the Internet that much more critical.

Some estimates say that by the end of this year, 2014, over 50 percent of all workload will occur in the Cloud (the balance remaining in traditional data centers) and over 80 percent of new applications will be developed in the Cloud1.

Cloud-based services cover a wide range of applications in three major categories:

  • Software/Apps as a Service (SaaS):
  • Office Suites, CRM, Collaboration, Financial, Gaming, Email, etc.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS):
  • Servers, Platforms, Virtualization, Storage
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS):
  • Raw Compute Power, Web Servers, Database Servers

For example, Customer Resource Management (CRM) that was typically handled in-house with custom-built solutions is now available in the Cloud as a customizable ‘Software as a Service’ solution. In fact, thousands of companies are today offering cloud-based ‘XaaS’ models with potential cost savings in frontend development, computer infrastructure, maintenance, and training. The cost savings offered by Cloud-based services directly contributes to the growth and economic development in regions by freeing users of the services from the cost and complexity of setting up this capability in-house.

Going for a ride on the Cloud

Moving to the cloud is a logical and inevitable step for most businesses and organizations. Cloud connectivity requires robust and high throughput bandwidth in order to provide users with the most satisfying experience. In the case of Africa and the Middle East, terrestrial connectivity may not be available or may be very costly to deploy. ‘Always-on’ satellite-basedconnectivity proves to be the logical, and sometimes, only, choice.

Broadband access and connectivity facilitated by very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite networks in the Middle East and African regions have already delivered many benefits such as:

  • Economic Development: nationwide access to broadband Internet contributes to the economic development of a country/ region by enhancing job creation and providing new trade opportunities.
  • Education (Distance Learning): education is, of course, the foundation of economic growth. Satellite provides the unique ability to reach virtually every school and institution. For example, the Ethiopian Government has deployed VSATs in a large scale effort to bring Ethiopia into the technology-based world economy.
  • Banking: satellite links provide connectivity to rural and underserved communities giving citizens the ability to send and receive money along with the obvious economic benefits that follow. For example, the Senegalese Government uses VSAT broadband links in Post Offices to offer services such as Money Orders, ATM (cash), Telephony, and FAX services.
  • Universal Service Obligation (USO): The requirement to provide telephony services to a nation’s citizens can often times be economically feasible only by using VSATbased telephone services. Telma Madagascar has successfully met its USO requirement, in part, with satellite broadband.
  • Commerce: Cloud-based services are rapidly becoming the foundation for business. In many areas, reaching users in branch offices and small businesses can only be cost-effectively accomplished using satellite broadband. Rather than investing in potentially thousands or tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of software, hardware and the people to support them, a business can focus on their business and use the bandwidth provided by broadband satellite connections to leverage this capability in the Cloud.
  • Cross National Connectivity: In many cases, satellite-based connectivity may provide the only means for a service provider to cross national boundaries in order to provide services to consumers and businesses. This capability frees them from the incumbent carriers, their coverage limitations, and higher costs.

Satellite-based communications have been in operation for decades, providing reliable primary and backup services for a range of industries. In the financial sector, a number of banks, brokerage houses, and financial services companies have been using broadband satellite communications for their primary service, or as an emergency backup to their landline network. Many leading companies in the retail, hospitality, and numerous other industries have been using broadband satellite-based networks to connect their remote locations. In fact, the turnkey managed networks for many such enterprises that have been provided by companies like Hughes certainly qualify as Cloud services, with stringent contractual commitments calling for the highest levels of performance, security, and reliability.

Satellite as a Cloud Connectivity Solution

Reliability of any link comes down to the design of the network and satellite networks are no different. Most consumer or small enterprise-type networks operate in the 99.9 percent availability range. However, enterprise applications require up to 99.99 percent or higher annual availability (less than one hour of outage per year) because any outage means that access to Cloud-based applications is interrupted resulting in large revenue or operational losses.

A satellite system must therefore be selected and planned properly in order to provide a high level of reliability and ultimately customer satisfaction. The key aspects of this planning are:

1) Satellite Link Analysis. The link analysis (i.e. link budget) is ultimately what decides the availability of the link. In order to achieve high levels of availability, the link budget may show that, for example, a larger antenna is required. Careful upfront link budget planning will result in far fewer outages due to weather.

2) System Equipment Redundancy. The selected system must offer redundancy of all equipment critical in the operations of the network. For example, within the gateway rack itself, this means that all routers, servers, and common equipment must have either a ‘hot’ standby or be able to take over the full load if a secondary unit fails.

3) Central Communication Diversity. The hub’s uplink/downlink can be affected both by atmospheric conditions which reduce link reliability below acceptable levels or hardware failures. The selected satellite system must be able to provide RFT redundancy such that the two RFT sites can be located far enough apart so that weather affecting one will not affect the other. Typically, connectivity from the hub location to the redundant RFT would be via fiber. Figure 3 illustrates RFT redundancy.

4) Redundant Hubs and Terminal Path Diversity. With the use of two hubs in different locations, the network can be protected, for example, from a natural disaster which disables a primary hub. The satellite terminals must be able to detect the primary carrier outage and automatically switch to the backup hub location. Figure 4 illustrates satellite hub diversity.

5) Efficiency. With the advent of High Throughput Satellites (HTS), space segment prices are dropping significantly. However, the cost of satellite bandwidth remains a significant portion of the operational expense for a satellite-based network. Therefore, the selected system should offer the most efficient use of space segment bandwidth by using Adaptive Coding and Modulation (ACM), advanced coding such as LDPC, Dynamic Uplink Power Control, and other features which maximize the throughput of a link for any given weather condition. In addition, the selected system should offer enhancements to the data layers such as TCP spoofing, header compression, HTTP compression, and prefetch, to name just a few, which reduce the actual number of bytes being transmitted.

6) S e c u r i t y . Any system which is selected to be backbone of a corporate, government, or any other secure application must, of course, include built-in encryption. Secure encryption such as bi-directional 256-bit AES should be available.

7) Scalability. Any system which is selected to provide access for Cloud services should be scalable to allow the business or organization to grow. The system must allow for both capacity expansion at the hub and expansion of the remotes from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands. Further, with the advent of High Throughput Satellites (HTS) and the bandwidth thirst of XaaS Cloud-based services, consideration should be given to high-density satellite hubs which can be expanded to handle on the order of 1Gbps in a small footprint.

8) Virtual Network Operations (VNO).For data and applications based in a private cloud, VNO capability gives the satellite operator the ability to provide a private network to an organization. This seamless method of operations allows the organization to monitor their private network and provide firsthand response to their end-users similar to a public Cloud-based service provider.

In summary, because the satellite system will form the backbone of the XaaS being accessed in the Cloud, the selected system must be an enterprise-class system with a proven track record.

Additional Benefits of Satellite over Terrestrial Connectivity

Satellite connectivity solutions bring many additional benefits beyond basic connectivity alone, including:

  • Robust connectivity which is far less vulnerable to terrestrial disasters such as cable cuts and natural disasters.
  • Multi-cast and broadcast capability. Satellite provides the most economical and efficient means to deliver identical content such as digital signage, distance education, etc. anywhere, whether regional, nationwide, or across the continent.
  • Very fast deployment for new branch offices. The satellite link can be operational and online far faster than a terrestrial connection which means that a business can be online much more quickly.

In each case, the satellite links provide a unique capability beyond what terrestrial links can offer.

Conclusion

The Cloud offers many opportunities to reduce costs and grow a business. As outlined above, Cloud-based services often present a more economical and simplified solution to the user, but consequently make a highly reliable and robust connection to the Internet that much more critical. Satellite broadband offers a truly unique connectivity solution in many regions of Africa and the Middle East where terrestrial bandwidth may be sparse or unavailable.