The U.S. Army is undergoing a major technology shift affecting how soldiers prepare for battle. Core to the Army’s modernization effort is the implementation of a Synthetic Training Environment (STE) combining many different performance-demanding components, including virtual reality and training simulation software.
The STE’s One World Terrain (OWT) concept is comprised of five different phases from the initial point of data collection to final application. During phase four, data is delivered to wherever soldiers are training (for example, the Fort Irwin National Training Center). Raw data is used to automatically replicate digital 3D terrains so soldiers can experience potential combat situations in virtual reality through the Army’s OWT platform before setting foot on a battlefield.
Often, this information needs to be delivered quickly in advance of upcoming missions, and instructors need to be able to take comfort in the fact that the information is complete and accurate. In short, they need the system to perform consistently and reliably.
Unfortunately, that’s not a given, especially with a system this resource- and bandwidth-intensive. The massive amounts of data being transmitted would heavily tax any network, but the challenge becomes compounded when the effort is overlaid on top of an already complex network such as the Army’s.
Making One World Terrain work
For the STE to work as expected, the Army’s IT team should consider implementing an advanced form of network monitoring focused specifically on bandwidth optimization. The Army’s objective with OWT is to provide soldiers with as accurate a representation of actual terrain as possible, right down to extremely lifelike road structures and vegetation. Transmitting that amount of information can create network performance issues and bottlenecks. IT managers must be able to continually track performance and usage patterns to ensure their networks can handle the traffic.
With this practice administrators may discover areas that can be optimized to accommodate the rising bandwidth needs presented by the OWT. For example, their monitoring may uncover other applications, outside of those used by the STE, unnecessarily using large amounts of bandwidth. They can shut those down, limit access, or perform other tasks to increase their bandwidth allocation, relieve congestion, and improve network performance, not just regarding STE resources but across the board.
Delivering a consistent user experience
One of the Army’s primary objectives is to deliver a consistent user experience to STE participants. A soldier navigating a VR terrain from Fort Irwin should be able to see the same rock formations, buildings, and other landmarks as someone based out of the 4th Infantry Division in Fort Carson, Colorado.
But every complex IT infrastructure has potential hidden components that could play havoc with the network’s ability to deliver the desired user experience. There might be multiple tactical or common ally networks, ISPs, agencies, and more, all competing for resources and putting strain on the system. Byzantine application stacks can include solutions from multiple vendors, not all of which may play nice with each other. Each of these can create their own problems, from server errors to application failures, that can directly affect the information that is provided to soldiers in training.
To ensure a consistent and reliable experience, administrators should take a deep dive into their infrastructure. Monitoring database performance is a good starting point because it allows teams to identify and resolve issues that can cause suboptimal performance. Server monitoring is also ideal, especially if it can monitor servers across multiple environments, including private, public, and hybrid clouds.
These practices should be complemented with detailed application monitoring that provides a clear view of all the applications within the Army’s stack. Stacks tend to be complicated and sprawling, and when one application fails, the others are affected. Gaining unfettered insight into the performance of the entire stack can ward off problems that may adversely affect the training environment.
Through training and beyond
These recommendations can help well beyond the STE. The Army is clearly a long way from the days of just using bugle calls, flags, and radios for communication and intelligence. Troops now have access to a wealth of information to help them be more intelligent, efficient, and tactical, but they need reliable network operations to receive that information. As such, advanced network monitoring can help them prepare for what awaits them in battle—but it can also support them once they get there.
Brandon Shopp is vice president of product strategy for security at SolarWinds.