Ethernet is the well-established standard in government, enterprise, and home applications. It is rapidly becoming the standard for military and other rugged applications due to proven interoperability, reliability, and speed. Historically, dedicated bus architectures have been used in military applications, resulting in heavy and somewhat inflexible systems.

Ethernet has been shown as a viable alternative for a number of reasons:

  • • Ethernet and IP technologies are ubiquitous
  • • Ethernet devices are inherently interoperable, encouraging modularity
  • • Rugged commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components are readily available
  • • Ethernet continues to receive large technology investments
  • • Ethernet operates over world-spanning distances using established infrastructures
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Ethernet Backbone

In all mobile military and airborne platforms, the transition from mechanical systems to electronically controlled systems is taking place. As the electronics content continues to grow, so do the processing loads that happen on every platform. Embedded computers are rising in sophistication as they need to support sensors, radar, video streams, and remote-control functions. Distributed processing, the interconnection of devices, and communication between devices has led to an exponential jump in bandwidth requirements on the interconnects between these devices. Traditional protocols like IEEE 1394 and USB still have legacy applications on these platforms, but most new platforms and platform retrofits are turning to Ethernet as their de facto communications protocol, supporting 1 Gbps in most platforms and growing to 10 Gbps in certain payloads.

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In my last blog, I took a look at the history of Ethernet. It was fun to look back at history, however it is more important to look at the future. With Ethernet becoming the ubiquitous connectivity standard for service providers, enterprises, and military applications, we are letting go of proprietary networking technologies and heading directly in to industry standard networking based on Ethernet.

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So, to get a little retro on everybody, I thought I’d take a step back in time and have a fun look at the history of Ethernet. A couple of months ago, Ethernet actually celebrated its 44th anniversary. That’s right. Ethernet was developed back in 1973 and today, 44 years later, it is becoming THE ubiquitous local area networking (LAN) technology in addition to wide area networking (WAN) and now even infiltrating storage area networking (SAN).

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We’re often approached by companies who have designed a prototype system composed of networks sensors, cameras, GPS systems, and other elements with compute platforms over Ethernet. These prototypes often use commercial-grade Ethernet switches. Sometimes they use the enclosure, sometimes they pull the components out of the enclosure and try to jerry-rig the switch components in some sort of fashion. What they soon find out, however, is that these commercial-grade switches (and other commercial-grade componentry) do not stand up the rigorous environmental factors that mobile military and aerospace applications almost always run in to.

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Ethernet has become the connectivity platform of choice for military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system designers.

Fixed- and rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are employed extensively by the military for reconnaissance, search and rescue, counterterrorism, and combat. UAVs function in missions where it is too dangerous, too difficult, or too demanding to send a pilot, whether the mission is in inaccessable terrain or a war zone, whether the objective is covert surveillance, a long-haul flight, or continuous extended observation.

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Power over Ethernet, or POE, is a technology that enables a single cable to provide both data connection and electrical power to networked pieces of equipment such as sensors, IP video cameras, and even wireless mesh nodes. POE works across standard network cabling (i.e. CAT5) to supply power directly from the data ports to which networked devices are connected.

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Have you ever worried that your existing 1G link may not be cutting the mustard for some data transmission? What about link redundancy and failover with your existing Ethernet device? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you you’ll always have failover? Most of us think that adding bandwidth availability or link redundancy would include costly equipment investment or link upgrades, but with link aggregation, that’s just not the case.

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Our last blog on Everything Ethernet covered the basic subject of why Ethernet is a good choice for military and embedded applications. Now that Why has been explained, I thought that I would spend some time talking about the What? Most people are often surprised by the different flavors, so to speak, of Ethernet that exist. I’m not sure that there are actually 31 flavors, but for this discussion, it is close enough.

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This is a first in a series of blogs covering the latest and greatest information surrounding Ethernet. However, I thought I’d start out the first blog answering the question “Why Ethernet?” and then, I’ll proceed through a series discussing the latest innovations, standards, and applications.

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