Steelhead apps bolster satellite communications

Riverbed's Steelhead appliances now support the U.S. military’s open standard Space Communication Protocol Standard to enhance communications over satellite networks.

Agencies that rely on satellite communications—including the Pentagon and the intelligence community—can take advantage of new technology to improve application performance.

Riverbed Technology has announced that its Steelhead appliances now support the U.S. military’s open standard Space Communication Protocol Standard (SCPS) to enhance communications over satellite networks.

“SCPS [pronounced “skips”] is heavily used by military and intelligence community,” said Bill Hartwell, general manager and senior director of Federal Markets Divisions at Riverbed. “We are now adhering to protocol transport standards that the DoD community follows.”

Originally developed jointly by NASA and DOD’s Space Command, SCPS is a variation of Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) designed to cope with the latency, packet loss and interference inherent in satellite and wireless networks frequently used in military applications. The SCPS protocol suite provides support for transmission control, file transfer and security.

The SCPS-enabled Steelhead appliances integrate Global Protocol’s SkipWare SCPS technology with existing Riverbed application acceleration technology to provide a single solution. This removes the need for agencies to deploy multiple devices inline together, which complicates their networks and increases operational support requirements and cost.

“SCPS on its own doesn’t bring application acceleration to the table,” continued Hartwell. “A single solution that offers SCPS with application-level acceleration is very powerful.”

Military organizations have found that most commercial WAN optimization appliances lack support for SCPS, while SCPS-compliant devices tend to be limited in the more advanced application acceleration techniques used by vendors such as Riverbed.

The military and intelligence community often make use of satellite technology because of its ability to support their mobile operations, ad hoc and temporary communications needs anywhere in the world. Satellite services are prone to transmission degradation because of signal interference, weather (“rain fade”) and the packet latency associated with the long path from Earth to the satellite and back. The TCP protocol, which comprises roughly 80 percent of Internet Protocol traffic, contains measures that inadvertently interpret excessive latency as congestion and packet loss, and trigger the application to back off on its transmission, reducing link throughput.

“When you get into non-terrestrial communication, on a ship or overseas, challenges exist. Satellite communications can get affected by weather and other factors,” said Hartwell.

Other agencies may see opportunities to use the technology. For example, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has an extensive network that makes use of satellite services to cover its weather-related applications deployed globally. The Coast Guard’s mission has very little land base and is usually in remote areas, relying on satellite service for network connectivity. These types of agencies may see a fit for the SCPS-enabled Riverbed appliances in their networks.

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