Cryptek makes manufacturing part of reinvention

Gary Arlen

Having your production line behind your design offices may indicate several things about a company: its manufacturing volume is relatively small, its product integration is difficult and strict security controls are paramount.

In the case of Cryptek Inc. (www.cryptek.com), which runs its small manufacturing facility in Sterling, Va., the back-room production line makes sense.

Dan Abraham, Cryptek's president and chief executive officer, explains that DiamondSAT, the company's newest information security device, "had to be hand-crafted," and having a production room nearby was critical.

DiamondSAT combines advanced signal acceleration, compression and a government-certified virtual private network technology in a single box.

Cryptek also offers a lesson in process reinvention. Nearly a decade ago, the company was established to develop secure fax machines. As the facsimile fad faded, Cryptek scrambled to find alternatives in network services, eventually developing a line of products for use in any secure transmission facility. Cryptek also identified commercial variations that can be used in the health and financial services industries.

The growing need to set up remote access sites quickly ? especially at distant locations, such as the desert ? creates new requirements.

For example, field users can set up a satellite receiving station within hours to receive and transmit signals linked. However, these virtual private networks do not always work comfortably with encryption tools.

Satellite modems include Transmission Control Protocol accelerators to speed up the data transfers, but the hand-off between these acceleration devices and encryption features often sacrifice speed.

To handle this structure, most secure satellite installations today cobble together a VPN box, modem and security tools from several suppliers ? a process that creates barriers for the end users.

"The problem is that you have a multivendor, daisy-chain approach," explains Marty Ryan, a Cryptek sales director. "Functional, but complex."

Cryptek identified an opportunity: Create and build DiamondSAT, a single device that encompasses transmission, acceleration and secure encryption. The box bundles TCP/IP acceleration, Web acceleration and data compression that, Abraham claims, can provide security with up to 400 percent bandwidth improvement.

The company also recognized the added advantage of a single security certification, rather than having to certify each component separately. Cryptek expects is awaiting to receive full DiamondSAT certification from the National Security Agency, expected within weeks. by the end of August.

DiamondSAT plugs into any earth station, including mobile downlinks that can be erected within a couple hours. Cryptek has already enhanced the device, with its DiamondSAT 2, which has dual ports: one facing the satellite network, the other facing the terrestrial network.

The land port allows a military unit or enterprise to assure seamless secure communications throughout its system ? from desk to field location. In addition, this version includes 802.11x (various Wi-Fi standards) and 802.16 ("WiMax") wireless configurations.

In its first deployment last summer, the DiamondSAT 2 system was used during the California wildfires. The Forest Service set up mobile satellite earth stations in several locations to coordinate their firefighting through multiple ground sites and field headquarters.

Abraham, a 30-year government IT veteran, foresees similar first-responder opportunities, especially as secure satellite connections become more widespread.

Which brings us back to the production line behind Cryptek's office.

Only about two dozen of Cryptek's 130 workers are in the manufacturing unit, and Abraham isn't forecasting how ? or whether ? that operation will expand if sales visions materialize.

The manufacturing group largely handles final assembly of components that Cryptek subcontracts to specialty electronics suppliers. The DiamondSAT boxes sell for about $8,000 to $12,000 each, depending on configuration.

By the end of next year, Cryptek, which is seeking to add several engineers to its design team, wants to increase sales of its civilian and commercial sector. The goal is a 60-40 split between its military-intelligence business and its other customers.

In particular, Abraham is focusing on the health care arena, where federal requirements for patient records require increasing security. Cryptek's compression technology can handle real-time secure video, adding teleconferencing and other diagnostic applications.

Cryptek's tale of reinvention plus a its back-room production line offer sharp reminders demonstrate the importance of flexibility and nimble action as that the evolving integration of telecommunications capabilities and security requirements reshape conventional operations.leads to new operating methods.

Specialized IT companies are not known to be manufacturers; but security requirements are prompting companies to sprout facilities where they can craft their highly customized devices.

Some, like Cryptek, have grown from entrepreneurial roots. Others, such as SafeNet Inc, based north of Baltimore, have growth through acquisition from software providers into full production companies. (SafeNet now makes firewalls, semiconductors and a larger range of devices to augment its original security lineup).

Still other companies are specialized spinoffs of much larger ventures. For example, CyberGuard Corp., a Florida firewall company, traces its beginnings to the giant Harris Corp.

The Harris Computer Systems group was known for its flight simulators, which required a specialized security platform. That led to an appliance-based firewall, which in turn migrated into CyberGuard, an independent company.

It's all part of the reinvention process, accompanied in many cases by specialized manufacturing for the new applications that are developed during this evolution.

It's also a reminder about the value, during this stage of the information age, inof

In the process, there may be benefits in taking a step back to the old, but essential, mainstay of the industrial age: manufacturing.

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