Culture and Values: More than Wall Décor

If I knew 10 years ago, the power of an engaged workforce and a living, breathing culture and set of values to influence the success of an organization, I’d have prioritized them above all else back then.

In recent years, I have worked with my leadership team and employees across the board, to define Mercury’s culture and core values and subsequently, to bring them to life, make them more than just wall decor. We’ve simplified them, and in return made them more achievable and more meaningful. We have woven them into the fabric of our business through our commitment to lifelong learning, employee engagement and baking them into our strategic operating plan. But we could not stop there. We’ve also made them measurable by aligning them to our personal contributions in our quarterly performance evaluations and by asking employees to rate the organization against them in a recent culture survey.

Teamwork, Execution & Communication

The success of any organization is wholly dependent on its workforce. Employees are quite literally the lifeblood of a business and I’ve learned that their loyalty to it goes beyond their paycheck. Benefits and pay certainly matter, but it is those employees who know they are valued by their employer, who feel they are heard and that they are contributing to something bigger – through their work or participation in corporate citizenship – who accelerate its success. Today, job seekers are much more discerning, much earlier on in their job searches. Sites like Glassdoor are making it easier than ever for potential candidates to see what it’s like to work at a company without having to step foot inside.

On Glassdoor, Mercury is the highest rated employer overall in the defense space as reported in this analysis done by Byron Callan, Analyst from Capital Alpha Partners. It’s become clear over the last three years that Glassdoor is the defacto barometer for job seekers who are weighing potential employers. Glassdoor is also an additional resource for employers to learn about what’s working for their most valuable asset and what needs work. What I hadn’t anticipated when I began investing time and effort into Mercury’s presence on it is its influence on our current and prospective customer and investor communities. I quickly learned that customers and investors use Glassdoor as a resource for qualitative research to see what it’s really like at a company and determine whether it is worth their business and/or investment.

In our most recent companywide culture survey, employees rated Mercury above the industry averages in nearly every category. Even the percentage of the workforce that participated (80%) was above average. The results of our internal survey aligned to the data on Glassdoor, which represents about 16% of our employee base and we’ve seen the impact. We have a more engaged, collaborative workforce and we’re seeing an increase in strategic partnerships across the matrix. Employees are partnering to redefine and streamline processes and systems, and there is more transparency and communication at all levels of the organization.

Mercury Systems Culture and Values

We are not perfect, there is work to do, but I’m more confident than ever that our commitment to culture and values has and will continue to be one of the best business decisions we’ve ever made.

-Mark Aslett, President & CEO

Supported Switched/Mesh Fabrics – Part 2

In Part 2 of the Supported Switched/Mesh Fabrics series we’ll explore the multiple benefits of using a system configured with any of the Switched or Mesh fabrics discussed in Part 1, whether in a commercial, semi-rugged or extreme environment.

These options range from Military and government use, in and out of war zones, geologists using to map land formations for possible research, archaeologists using information on where they may dig to find possible treasures, and even scientists tracking space missions, weather patterns and possible natural seismic activity. Many of these options could be performed by controlling state-of-the-arts drones or robotics. There are multiple uses for the processing power and speed from our systems, whether it be the larger systems, 12, 16 or 20 plus slots or the smaller 6-slot systems. It depends on the needs of the customer and the task.

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The History of Electronic Warfare

It was May 24th, 1844 when Samuel Morse transmitted his famous telegraph message “What hath God wrought” from Washington to Baltimore. Twenty years later, the U.S. Military Telegraph Corps had trained 1,200 operators and strung 4,000 miles of telegraph wire, which increased to over 15,000 miles by the end of the Civil War. While long-distance communication proved a significant advantage for the Union armies, it also opened the door for wiretapping. It was these early experiences that demonstrated the impact of surveillance and set the foundations of electronic warfare (EW).

Over the last century, electronic warfare has had an increasing role in shaping the outcomes of conflicts across the globe; however, few people appreciate its significance and fewer still understand the technology. In this first post of our electronic warfare blog series, we present a brief history of the technology behind electronic warfare. Just as older cars are more intuitive to repair, the early EW systems are easier to understand.

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RF Engineers Co-op Program

The Next Generation of RF Engineers

Along with the warm weather and long days, summer means a new group of co-ops. Here at Mercury Systems, where innovation drives each subsequent generation of new products, we depend on our high-performing engineering teams, and one critical element behind developing these teams is our co-op program.

When it comes to RF, there is so much theory to learn in school that there is often less opportunity to apply that theory to specific RF/microwave design challenges. Spending a summer working through actual designs and troubleshooting in the lab kicks off the process of developing the intuition and experience critical to becoming a successful engineer. At Mercury we take that one step further by putting co-ops to work on real projects where their contributions make a measurable impact on the final product.

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OpenVpx Switch backplane

Supported Switched/Mesh Fabrics by Mercury Systems – Part 1

The SMP Engineering group at Mercury Systems has worked tirelessly on development and innovation to offer our customers multiple choices for their present and future needs. Since authoring the OpenVPX™ (VITA 65) standard, it has opened the door to customers seeking answers and/or solutions to many of the issues they encounter when designing their systems. First, let’s take a look at what OpenVPX offers us.

OpenVPX builds on the module-centric VPX specifications by providing a nomenclature of planes and profiles to enable system integrators, module designers, and backplane providers to effectively describe and define aspects and characteristics of a system. OpenVPX addresses major system interoperability issues while allowing for flexibility within the system, as enabled by its planes and flexible module profiles featuring user-defined I/O. By following a system-centric approach and defining a number of standard system topologies, OpenVPX enables interoperable off-the-shelf modules and development platforms within the VPX marketplace. The standard has provisions for both 6U and 3U platforms, and high speed serial switched fabric technologies such as PCIE, RapidIO, Infiniband, 10 Gigabit and 40 Gigabit Ethernet.

OpenVPX profiles make it easy to build development systems with compatible components. Deployable systems will always have system issues that need to be addressed, such as I/O, custom backplanes, power, and cooling. SMP engineers not only understand these issues, we have also solved both integration and system-level problems and delivered integrated system solutions to our customers.

OpenVPX Benefits

  • Promotes interoperability and vendor choice
  • Provides specific design profiles that vendors can design to and integrators can specify as requirements
  • Reduces integration issues resulting in faster development & deployment time
  • Higher board volumes –> Economies of scale
  • Industry leading bandwidth and density
  • Higher velocity of technology upgrades
  • Will support higher backplane signaling speeds as technology matures

Now let’s look at the switched fabrics and their supported backplane topologies with OpenVPX platforms.

Types of Backplane Topologies

  • Centralized switching
  • A set of peer payload boards connected by switch fabric boards
  • Single or dual star topology for multiple path routing and potential redundancy
  • Provides system management function
  • Mesh Fabric
  • A set of peer payload cards connected in a full or partial mesh
  • Useful for small slot count systems as it avoids dedicated switch slots
  • Larger slot count systems require switching logic on each payload card
  • Host / slave
  • Typically comprise a master host board with several slave boards linked by PCIe
  • Allows an SBC to have greatly expanded capabilities without complexity of a general switching fabric

Planes and Profiles

Planes: Multiple levels of communication; Bottom to top

  • Utility Plane – Power pins and various utility signals
    • NVMRO (Non-Volatile Memory Read Only)
    • SYS_CLK (System Clock), REF_CLK (Reference Clock), AUX_CLK (Auxiliary Clock)
    • SYSRESET (System reset, including “maskable reset”), POWER
  • Management Plane (mp)
    • Low-power
    • Defined by VITA 46.0 and 46.11
    • Prognosticates/diagnoses problems
    • Can control module power
    • IPMC
  • Control Plane (cp)
    • Reliable, packet-based communication that carries information necessary to establish and control the network
    • Application control, exploitation data
    • Typically Gigabit Ethernet or less
  • Data Plane (dp)
    • High-throughput, predictable data movement without interfering with other traffic
    • Examples: Serial RapidIO, PCI Express, CX3(Connect-3), Infiniband, Ethernet: 10GB or 40GB, Infiniband: 56 GB
  • Expansion Plane (ep)
    • Tightly coupled groups of boards and I/O
    • Typically VME bridging or PCI Express

Profiles: Three types

  • Slot Profile
    • A physical mapping of ports onto a slot’s backplane connectors
    • Uses notions of pipes and planes:
      • The term “pipe” is used to define the number of bidirectional differential serial pairs that are grouped together to form a logical data channel.
    • Does not specify actual protocols conveyed over the backplane
  • Backplane Profile
    • A physical specification of a backplane
    • Specifies the number and type of slot profiles
    • Defines the topology of channels and buses that interconnect the slots
  • Module Profile
    • Extends a slot profile by mapping protocols to a module’s ports
    • Includes thermal, power and mechanical requirements
    • Provides a first order check of compatibility between modules

Next time we will dive deeper into what capabilities are available, how the systems can match your needs, and where Mercury Systems can assist its customers.

Hey, is our missile coming back at us?

Free trade has resulted in a global economy that has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few decades. As a result, many countries have seen certain industries grow – and certain industries move to other countries that can produce those products at a lower cost. While this has been great for consumers – who see lower prices – it is concerning for critical areas like defense. This graphic highlights some of the key concerns.

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classified top-secret-data

Military-Grade Secure Solid State Drives Part 5: The Backdoor VIPs Don’t Know About

I used to work for a company that required us to remove any proprietary data from our laptop hard drive prior to traveling to some countries overseas. I didn’t know if it was because they could secretly access my hard drive as soon as I passed through immigration, or maybe a government-run internet meant any foreign user access would be monitored, recorded, and analyzed! I didn’t understand the multitude of threats to data security, which also includes backdoors designed into untrusted hardware that can lie dormant until triggered by an outside force. At the time, I did not have access to classified or top secret data, as I was working for a commercial company, but imagine if I did have high value data. What if a backdoor was triggered once I logged onto an unsecure foreign network?  What if that backdoor initiated a complete download of my hard drive without my knowledge? All because my employer trusted a commercial SSD without strict supply chain management of foreign-made components.

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Deploying commercial technologies quickly to keep up with the speed of threats

At the end of last year, I had the privilege of attending the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, CA. One of the topics that caught my attention was around the DoD’s new modernization strategy and how it would build off the upcoming National Defense Strategy to align DoD labs and innovation centers. According to Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), the goal is, in this time of constrained budgets, “…to have a very tight strategy that makes choices and makes sure we are taking all of our resources, all of our funding and aligning those.”

Basically, the end game is about deploying innovation more quickly to keep up with the speed at which threats are evolving. How do we take the rapidly advancing commercial technologies and transform them into much-needed capabilities for our warfighters? The cycle time – how long it takes from identification to fielding a solution for a need – takes way too long. To address this, Mercury has pioneered a next-generation business model for defense electronics. We leverage and build upon other high-technology firms substantial R&D investments. Mercury alone invests 13% of its revenue annually on internally funded innovation. We typically operate under firm fixed-price contracts with a major focus on efficiency and best value. Also, given the needs of the defense industry we emphasize ruggedization, security, trusted manufacturing and longevity of supply.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, take a read of our latest whitepaper, “A Next Generation Business Model: Bridging The Gap In Support Of The Defense Industry.


Mark Aslett, President & CEO

Lessons in RF Manufacturing from a Chicago Sausage Factory

People often say RF is black magic and it sometimes feels that way. I remember one evening I was called down to the production floor to help troubleshoot a technical problem found during swing shift. There was a product going through final test and it would only pass if held at a certain angle. At first I was doubtful that this was the case, but I held it in my hands, watched the performance on the network analyzer, rotated the unit, and saw the performance degrade. First we suspected the VNA cables, but a golden unit was solid regardless of its orientation. Then we performed the standard “shake while listening for something rattling test” but couldn’t hear anything—plus the repeatability seemed to suggest it wasn’t due to FOD. X-ray imaging didn’t yield any clues. Eventually, we had to send it off to de-lid, found nothing wrong, and after real-seal the performance was stable. The best theory we had was that the problem was due to flux improperly cleaned from a feedthrough.

It was this type of problem that drew me to RF engineering in college. Circuits that only worked when you placed a finger in a certain spot. The gain reduced by the microscope light. While it felt like black magic we all knew that in reality it was physics too complicated to be fully modeled. To this day, I still find these problems fun until all of a sudden a revenue commitment is missed.

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Data Security CSfC

Military-Grade SSDs Part 4: How Many Licks Does it Take to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop: One, Two…

What is the NSA hiding from us???  Hopefully all classified, secret and top secret data!

As part of their recent initiative to leverage commercial technologies in a sophisticated layered approach, the NSA is enabling an alternative to traditional Type 1 security solutions for the protection of data up to the Top Secret level. By adopting these agile commercial innovations, the Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) Program will save time and money for classified programs in all branches of government — from benign data centers to forward-deployed systems in harsh, unsecure environments. While I discuss the CSfC program in this blog post, the CSfC program’s website is the ultimate authority for up to date information.

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