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November 08, 2012

Harris Outlines Plans for High-Security, High-Availability HTEN Network

By Joan Engebretson, Contributing Editor

Harris Corporation (News - Alert) may be best known in the communications business as the operator of the network that supports the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control system, providing secure voice, video and data communications for nearly 50,000 FAA employees.

Air traffic control epitomizes the term “mission-critical,” so not surprisingly other organizations with these applications have been asking Harris for their own FAA-style network.

To meet the needs of those organizations, Harris is now in the process of creating what it’s calling the “Harris Trusted Enterprise Network” (HTEN), scheduled to be fully operational in January of next year.  

I checked in this week with Mark Graham, chief technology officer for Harris Mission Critical Networks, to learn more about how HTEN will provide the security and reliability required to support utility and healthcare customers with some of the most critical of those mission-critical applications.

“Most customers, when they come to talk to us, are trying to determine if they should build their own infrastructure,” explained Graham. “Our managed services offer the same secure network you would get if you had your own private network.”

The HTEN network is built on wavelengths leased from Level3 Communications, to which Harris adds its own equipment, housed in carrier hotels. Harris also operates its own network operations center. The company buys access links including TDM and Ethernet, as needed, from a variety of carriers.

“Most customers want MPLS any-to-any connectivity,” Graham said. “We build private MPLS service over physically diverse infrastructure. It’s diverse in access and backbone design and the backbone is fully meshed.”

HTEN network spans will operate at 100 Gbps, and bandwidth for each customer will be provisioned at Layer 1 or Layer 2, making each customer’s network physically separate from those of other customers.

“One customer can’t use another customer’s bandwidth,” Graham noted.

To further isolate each customer, Harris will be giving each customer its own routers. In addition, Harris will be using its own secret sauce to give customers including the FAA an even higher level of redundancy if they so choose.

Harris plans to give customers the option of having a second redundant core with a logically separate routing domain, thereby offering logical as well as physical diversity. To support this capability, Harris has developed its own networking protocol, which the company calls “parallel redundant protocol.” The protocol will enable customers to send packets onto both core networks, with the second duplicate packet discarded at the receiving end.

The FAA already plans to use the HTEN network to support a second core network, with Harris providing logical redundancy – and Graham said Harris has seen interest in the offering from other potential customers as well.

When I asked Graham what types of customer infrastructure he expects to see HTEN replacing, he said he sees customers wanting brand new networks to support cloud-based applications.

“They have applications running but they’re evolving to cloud architecture,” he said. “It’s a matter of taking existing applications and virtualizing them.” To support this move, Harris will be hosting some customer applications in its network operations center.

Graham said prospective Harris customers occasionally get quotes from traditional communications service providers as well – and if the customer is heavily motivated by cost it may opt for a more traditional solution.

However, he added, “We’re able to offer pretty competitive prices in a lot of cases.”

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