Interview With Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Vice President of Business Development, Cisco Systems Global Government Solutions Group and CEO of Internet Routing in Space Initiative
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle is CEO of Cisco’s Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) initiative, integrating satellite and ground systems for commercial and government customers. He is also vice president of business development for the Global Government Solutions Group, Cisco Systems. With worldwide operations, the general advises government customers on business practices and technical solutions to enhance their mission goals. Prior to joining Cisco, Boutelle served as the chief information officer (CIO)/G-6 of the Army. A nation at war marked his final Army assignment. His pursuit of innovative technology applications to enhance productivity are renowned in the military, especially in converging voice, data, and imagery over Internet Protocol (IP). Boutelle constantly sought to harness technologies to move command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance – voice, data, and imagery – to the lowest-level combat units. He was born in Pasco, Wash., and raised in Portland, Ore. Always fascinated by electronics, the general studied related subjects while attending Oregon State University before enlisting in the Army. He attended artillery officer’s candidate school and was commissioned before moving to the Signal Corps. He subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree with honors from the University of Puget Sound. He also earned a master of business administration degree from Marymount University and an honorary doctorate of law from the University of Puget Sound. Boutelle also served on the Defense Science Board Task Force for Interoperability, and serves on the National Science Center, PacStar Communications, and ThreatMetrix boards. While on active duty, he also served as a mentor to more than 350 flag officers – generals and admirals.
Boutelle recently sat down with senior writer Clarence A. Robinson, Jr., to answer questions about IP technology and other information technology topics within the govenment and private sectors.
Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.: As the Army’s wartime CIO/G-6 for more than four years, you played a critical role in bringing the military, especially combat forces, into the digital Internet Protocol era. Does that experience translate directly to your Cisco Systems assignments?
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Boutelle, U.S. Army (Ret.): Being at Cisco is an ideal fit. When I left as the Army’s CIO/G-6, I was particularly looking for unique opportunities, to continue along the lines with what I was doing in the Army. I’m not smart enough to start over, and I’m a big proponent of Internet Protocol and moving everything over IP. In fact, during my tour, the Army and the other services started using IP to rapidly move information over satellite. I wanted to join an organization heavily involved in IP. Obviously, Cisco is the largest company with the majority of global IP. Annual revenues are $40 billion and there are some 75,000 employees. The opportunity to work at Cisco and continue the message of exploiting IP was perfect. The role I play at Cisco involves dealing with governments, militaries, and industries around the world, areas with which I am not unfamiliar.
How did you gain the necessary momentum and create the Army’s IP transition as rapidly as required?
Between the regular force, National Guard, and Reserve, the Army is a huge organization, making it somewhat difficult to move very rapidly in another direction. However, after some 30 years, even with technical updates, it was time to convert from mobile subscriber equipment [MSE] and tri-service tactical systems [TRI-TAC] to newer technology with a massive swing into IP. The commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division, during his advance on Baghdad, told us that MSE and TRI-TAC could not meet his combat requirements. The commercial sector already was involved heavily with IP – e-mail, websites, Web surfing, Facebook, and Twitter, as examples. Terrorist attacks on 9/11, especially the one in the Pentagon, right in our workspaces, helped us gain traction. The resources made available through supplemental budgets and immediate wartime funding enabled speeding the acquisition and implementation of IP-based systems and equipment. What the U.S. Army has and is still experiencing is not unlike what other nations’ militaries are also going through. Most foreign armies watch the U.S. Army very closely, especially in wartime. They “cherry pick” whatever is successful and also learn from our mistakes. Still, making that transition from large investments in time division multiple access [TDMA] equipment to IP involves difficult decisions. We invested significant resources to convert to everything over IP, especially for combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other nations want to convert to IP but may not have the resources to embark on all the programs the U.S. Army has undertaken.
Was there an IP model quickly available for integration into the Army, especially for combat command and control?
Equipment models from an airborne signal battalion and the Joint Communications Support Element [JCSE] offered an insight into a command and control system in a relatively small package. The JCSE is always the first U.S. unit to deploy anywhere for a contingency. Their equipment, encompassing a miniature satellite antenna, provided the basis for moving high-speed, high-capacity IP to division, brigade, and battalion. Commanders could immediately connect to defense networks via the Internet. These technologies spawned the Joint Network Node – deployed, with industry’s help, to Iraq within six months. The rest is history. Simultaneously, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki made imperative the establishment within a year of Army Knowledge Online [AKO]. The portal became operational to all soldiers and other users around the world for both classified and unclassified access. This website has grown into Defense Knowledge Online [DKOL] with some 6 million users, involving all of the services.
How did you go about building the network infrastructure to serve soldiers through Army Knowledge Online, with streamlined access to content for every soldier and civilian employee?
AKO converged voice, data, video to the Army in an enhanced network, building an infrastructure to initially serve 1.9 million users. AKO became an industry-recognized portal, later expanded using an IT portfolio management program that helped reduce costs of systems and applications by half. The AKO issue initially was that commercial products could not handle the scale and volume of log-ons as the portal grew exponentially. Some of the companies who came to us with products they claimed could handle the volume soon discovered they could not. We helped them scale their products to become large and robust enough to handle AKO. The portal has evolved rapidly and today active-duty soldiers discover a wealth of information – acquisition, health and medical, personnel records, efficiency reports, as a few examples. Embedded in DKOL is also access to Army, Navy, and Air Force portals that share common services, and we believe they should also use common hardware. Most of the DKOL services are the same, with only some service-unique items that are different.
How did you handle AKO security with the volume of user log-on?
The system is designed to validate the user and establishes identity through a Common Access Card [CAC] with a chip embedded. The latest model CAC contains advanced technology, which will enhance the security of federally controlled facilities and computer systems and ensure a safer work environment for all employees and contractors. The card establishes user identity, levels of security, access permission, and denies access to any higher levels of classification. I still have a CAC card in my wallet because I am involved in government programs.
In what ways are you still involved with the Army and its IP programs?
I’ve tried to distance myself from the Army in many ways; however, I periodically maintain contact when asked by senior officials from the general staff or the Defense Department. While I’ve moved out of the Army, I’m still here to help and assist when called upon and I do that quite often. But it’s always at their request, not my request. As an example, Cisco plays important roles in cyber security and I advise military and government officials on cyber-related areas. Also, Cisco owns the majority of core networks, so it is an ideal place from which to advise the government and the armed services. I provide liaison with Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, commander of the new U.S. Cyber Command, who was the Army’s G-2 when I was the G-6. I also have a solid relationship with Maj. Gen. Rhett A. Hernandez, USA, who heads the Army’s Cyber Command. We have talked at length about the Army’s involvement in the cyber world. The Army doesn’t build networks, systems, or components. They come from industry. I am sometimes concerned that the Army or other services are reluctant to reach out to industry and ask for cyber assistance. There may be significant expertise in the government. Nevertheless, those who build the routers, switches, and networks are in the commercial sector. Technology moves very quickly and there needs to be constant and continuous dialog with industry.
You were widely known for serving as a mentor to a large number of flag officers while on active duty. Are you still involved in the mentoring process?
One of the things I often recall is a walk across the Mojave Desert at the Army’s National Training Center together [with] my own mentor, a four-star general about to retire. He was in a reflective mood, confiding that he might have accomplished far more for the Army by taking bigger risks sooner, being aggressive, inventive, and willing to go out on a limb while still a more junior flag officer. That was a poignant moment. I did not know it then, but my name was already on the selection list for brigadier general. That general pointed out that many flag officers fail to realize how much authority, opportunity, and capability they have to influence the Army, to enable great progress by being imaginative, resourceful, and innovative – to become military visionaries. I always tried to keep that lesson in mind, climbing out on limbs when it was important to craft a major effort. Just as I have leaned on mentors, I’ve tried to return the favor and help others. Occasionally, I continue to mentor some Army officers and government officials when I have something to offer. Cisco routinely provides internal mentoring programs that address myriad technical subjects and operations. There are also opportunities when we mentor government officials, and I am involved in some of that. I always try to find the smartest people at Cisco to accompany me. We recently had one of these mentoring sessions with the Army, where we walked through a number of technical issues and they have asked us to return. Usually, Cisco’s part in mentoring occurs when a general officer or senior civilian steps into [a] new role.
As vice president of Cisco’s Global Government Solutions Group, it seems that your principal mission is to advise military and government customers on technologies and practices to enhance their mission goals. With the explosion of information technologies, this mission would seem difficult. How do you go about locating the best technologies available and then demonstrating those capabilities with client infrastructure?
Cisco is a very competitive company. If you take a week or two off, it will seem like you have missed so much because technology progresses at warp speed. There are always smart people in other companies; however, Cisco’s brain trust is without parallel. Part of the competition is not only understanding Cisco’s technology, but also knowing what other companies are doing and the technologies they are developing. So, I reach out within Cisco, where I actually have some mentors, usually software engineers who spend several hours in a room with white boards to educate me on routers, switches, and networks that are evolving – a glimpse in the future and where Cisco is going. This is not a job; it’s a profession, and we have an obligation to remain current and stay abreast of emerging technologies, to learn on our own. This aspect requires a great deal of reading professional journals, periodicals, and technical papers. We must continually study to remain relevant.
Does pushing the technology envelope require a large group of dedicated Cisco technical experts?
Information flows throughout the company, as you might expect from such a forward-leaning organization. There is great synergy in operating at the leading edge of all information technology aspects. Advances, or breakthroughs, rapidly filter throughout Cisco’s various organizations with applications concepts.
How swiftly can Cisco move?
Cisco is widely known for its agility even though it is becoming a very large company. As a global organization, operating in hundreds of countries, we can, nevertheless, maneuver swiftly whenever required to address implementation of new technologies and systems, or acquire innovative companies. As an example, we acquired WebEx Communications Inc. over a single weekend. This new company provides on-demand collaboration, online meetings, Web conferencing, and videoconferencing applications. Cisco is 25 years old and we relentlessly struggle to avoid becoming bureaucratic or set in our ways. We operate with more mature processes because our work force requires it. But it is always a balancing act to remain agile and move quickly to market. While we continue to grow at approximately 17 percent a year, the imperative is persistently to fight and make certain that the process is never more important than the product.
You also serve as CEO of Cisco’s Internet Routing in Space initiative. Please discuss this assignment in some detail and how you go about extending the information transport power of the Internet into space.
That’s a great question. One of the things that enticed me to Cisco was the opportunity to become closely involved in this government program. Gen. James E. Cartwright, USMC, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, initially started the space-based router effort while he headed U.S. Strategic Command. His desire was to determine how quickly the commercial sector could put a package on a satellite. The package selected was a router. Cisco was not then heavily involved. There were some difficulties in reaching operational capability, and Cisco was asked whether they could make the router in space successful. Cisco, in turn, asked me to take the lead in that effort. The router went into space in November 2009 and went through a joint technology capability demonstration [JTCD]. The demonstration turned out extremely successful in January through March 2010. Initially, Cisco viewed this project as something to help the government. Looking at satellite operators around the world, however, we soon discovered they were much like telephone companies of 15 years ago, before they converted to IP. Today, most of us have voice, data, and video in our homes, if we want it, and all of that is over IP. Conversion to IP was a massive inflection point for telephone companies and many initially missed it. Satellite companies are much the same. They are a very conservative industry that primarily sells transponders, which is a bent pipe. Most transponders operate on a bent-pipe principle, referring to sending back what goes into the conduit with only amplification and a shift from uplink to downlink frequency, as opposed to a regenerative system, where the signal is remade and remodulated.
What was Cisco’s move in response to the satellite company’s traditional attitude?
With the results from the JTCD, it became obvious to us that there needs to be an increase in what can be accomplished via satellite. This is the case, especially if satellites are converged and made seamless with the ground infrastructure. Using IP routing and switching on all satellites in a constellation and merging them with a ground network provides a powerful, seamless capability. This particularly is the situation with the military and perhaps with their unmanned aerial vehicles. The substantiation of this concept was proof of principal using the Intelsat 14 spacecraft with a Cisco router onboard transmitting streaming voice, data, and video for collaboration. Cisco’s Call Manager is on the satellite’s package, an enterprise-class IP telephony call-processing system that provides traditional features as well as advanced capabilities, such as mobility, presence, preference, and rich conferencing services.
How do you integrate disparate satellite systems and ground infrastructure for both commercial and government users anytime, anywhere with IP-based data, video, and voice in mobile communications?
Today, we are cross banding with satellite-based IP, switching from C-band to Ku-band as an example. This capability is being used by some North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries and in Haiti for earthquake recovery operations. Multiple applications have emerged with the Cisco router in space. Satellite companies with their high margins have become very comfortable and complacent and nothing has been driving them to change. Indeed, the router in space demonstration over the last few months is another clear inflection point for that industry. Many satellite operators are now approaching Cisco, noting that they need to change rapidly. This router in space is a very powerful indicator and satellite companies know they need to transform by adding the capability. Indeed, IP routing is yet another example of the type of out-of-the-box thinking that the Army constantly seeks. This is an example of providing soldiers on the ground with an overmatch capability to exploit an adversary. However, there is a panoply of similar technologies available in the world marketplace, making speed essential.
Can you provide other examples of this out-of-the-box technology approach?
Moving into the commercial IP world’s voice, data, and video allows us to use our legacy analog systems and sensors and convert their output into IP packets. Once in packets, the data can be mixed and matched and routed to wherever needed. If you send a stream of data to a satellite and convert it, those IP packets can be shipped anywhere, and you start to address interoperability at the transport level. When you bring a data stream from a brigade up to a Ku-Band transponder on the satellite, it can be sent back down a C-band transponder via IP, simultaneously to multiple locations. Once data are in IP packets, a lot of difficult interoperability issues evaporate. There are commercial IP products in the market today that can resolve many interoperability problems. One is Cisco’s IP Interoperability and Collaboration System, or IPICS. Another is Twisted Pair Solution’s WAVE software. They are being adopted in the Army. By applying IPICS, analog radios and modem signals can be brought in and converted to IP packets. This is a cost-effective way to integrate almost any analog or digital communications system for easy interoperation. Converting voice and data into IP packets is the common denominator. Voice from a World War II radio could be converted to IP voice packets, or a Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System [SINCGARS] could tie in and operate in IP packets, and it is all done with software. That’s the magic formula: common IP packets that are pervasive around the globe.
Recently, you also joined the board of directors of PacStar, a Portland, Ore., technology-based communications provider. What does the company offer in terms of enhancing military situational awareness and C4ISR in general?
Cisco’s leadership is very good about allowing us to sit on boards of other companies that are related to something we may be interested in. My rule is that I will not sit on a board of a company that I do not believe adds value to the enterprise, or that I am not personally interested in. I looked over PacStar and discovered they fulfill a void that Cisco is unable to provide. This company supplies small product packages that are Cisco-based, but that Cisco does not produce. This product is used on a wide range of mobile units such as the JCSE and small combat units operating in Afghanistan. PacStar’s certified network designs implement and deliver the latest technologies and solutions from Cisco, Brocade, Enterasys, and others to meet all local area network switching and routing needs.
Will you please cite specific examples of PacStar’s technologies?
PacStar provides software-managed secure voice, data, and video capabilities for deployable military and commercial enterprise applications. Two product examples are the 6800 Small End Office [SMEO] and the PacStar 6300 Deployable Voice Exchange. Both have received information assurance accreditation by the Defense IA/Security Accreditation Working Group [DSAWG]. These solutions have also received interoperability certification by the Joint Interoperability Test Command [JITC], which is rare. The packages are certified to handle classifications from top secret to unclassified over Defense Department and military networks. Consequently, the Defense Information Systems Agency placed them on the approved product list. PacStar’s 6800 and 6300 solutions enable the military to connect to the Defense Switched Network [DSN], eliminating cumbersome two-step analog to IP network complexity. Also, the PacStar 6800 is the only SMEO voice switch based on Cisco’s Unified Communications platform, accredited for the DSN. The PacStar products fill an important requirement for U.S. Army and special operations forces, using existing equipments in converting everything to IP at the source.
Are you also on other corporate boards?
I recently joined the board of ThreatMetrix, a company with a system designed to detect fraud, protecting e-commerce and social media firms from online chicanery. A number of technologies are applied to detect fraud. This system can recognize devices – desktop computers, laptops, or phones – that are used to log onto a site. The technology associates some 200 characteristics of the user’s device and decides whether fraud is involved. This all occurs in milliseconds by matching to large signature databases that are constantly updated. ThreatMetrix provides a cloud-based service without requiring that consumers provide personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers. Transactions are authorized in real time, or users suspected of fraud are blocked. I am very impressed with this company and how their system might be applied to AKO.
Security for all IT systems is becoming increasingly important, both in government and commercial corporate networks. This is especially critical when operating networks in space where data are transferred from Earth terminals. What role is Cisco playing to help assure that networks remain safe?
We are heavily involved with the U.S. government and other governments around the world to assure they are comfortable with respect to Cisco’s product lines and how they are implemented within their networks. We strive to be certain that the product is manufactured or the programming accomplished, so that this is truly a Cisco product that meets our rigorous standards in every respect. In fact, the FBI has made several significant arrests in the last few years of those counterfeiting Cisco products. We work very closely with our government customers and others to help them identify whether they really have a true Cisco product – a router, switch, or operating system that has never been tampered with. This is very high on our priority list. If tampering is detected, we immediately notify authorities. We also make certain that governments understand the issues and what Cisco is doing to resolve them.
What do you see in technology trends and where are we headed for the next big military and government information technology leap?
The government and military have pockets of excellence where they are taking the big steps toward the difficult things. Some of these involve what we call clouds and another area is virtualization. Today, rapid technological and architectural changes are transforming the data center into a virtualized environment and Cisco is at the forefront. Some data centers in the government operate with real visionaries; however, I don’t see this at the enterprise level. Cloud computing offers a simple way to deliver complex technology, including large-scale business applications where customers access hosted applications and resources over the Internet with a Web browser. Virtualization is the creation of a virtual [rather than actual] version of something, such as an operating system, a server, a storage device, or network resources. Nonetheless, the question persists: Who are today’s military visionaries? Who is the next late Adm. Art Cebrowski, USN? According to a 2006 UPI-published commentary by Arnaud de Borchgrave, “What Clausewitz was to war, Sun Tzu was to The Art of War 25 centuries ago. And what Mao Zedong was to guerrilla warfare, Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski was to net-centric warfare. His concept of warfare united ships, aircraft, satellites and ground forces in effective and speedy ways.” The next visionary must assert what we are going to do across the Defense Department or the Army or the Navy, and here’s how we are going to do it. That person remains elusive. There are some important ideas, but who will be willing to take the risk, to walk out on that limb for the next big step?
This article first appeared in The Year in Defense: Review Edition, Winter 2011.