Tactical Command & Control Data Analysis
The Content and Bandwidth Management (CBM) initiative was sponsored by the United States Marine Corps’ Director, Command, Control, Communications, and Computers (USMC Dir, C4) to recommend techniques and technologies to improve bandwidth usage efficiency and strengthen network defense during tactical events. CBM conducted evaluations of the Marine Corps’ tactical network bandwidth utilization and aimed to exploit existing USMC network management tools possible. A critical piece to the evaluation included activities addressing USMC tactical network awareness and network transparency based on observations of network activities at several Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) courses. The data collected during these observations was used to inform analysis and evaluation of network performance characteristics. The goal of post-event analysis was to offer the customer meaningful analytical reports in a short amount of time, with few logistical demands for data collection, to provide quick turnaround to follow-on inquiries or analysis and to be able to make rapid and efficient comparisons of different data sets. Previous techniques for post-event data analysis required instantiation of a lab environment using native network management software, replication of hardware, and administration with recurring licensing fees, to output multiple reports (views) that were “flat” PDF files. Frequently, too much data overwhelmed the system, resulting in timeouts and each “flight” had a separate set of reports focusing on specific flight windows. Additional inquiries from the customer required significant effort to craft custom reports containing data to provide further analysis and feedback.
Power BI is a business analytics tool that offers connection, visualization, and analysis of data with greater speed, efficiency, and understanding. It offers a broad range of live data through dashboards and provides interactive reports. The collection of network data throughout tactical events will remain the same; however, significant efficiencies can be gained during the backup and analysis process when using Power BI. The new approach should provide rich and interactive data to the analyst immediately, allowing for a rapid and effective review and feedback loop on network bandwidth utilization and performance.
The change of approach for post-event analysis enabled CSCI to: produce reports in as little as two weeks after the completion of an exercise, produce a more robust reports illustrating network performance, provide answers to follow-up questions within hours/days, quickly provide dynamic features and search criteria, make comparisons between different data sets, simplify the data collection process and reduce logistics, and reduce administration, infrastructure, and licensing costs. While the utilization of Power BI for post-event analysis requires some amount of preparation of the SQL database, this script-automated process greatly reduces the file size by removing only the data required for analysis (as compared to a full SQL backup). The typical file size for a thirty-day exercise is about 100MB (SQL database is approximately 4GB). Once data is imported to Power BI, the Power BI file is fully transportable and viewable on any computer with Power BI installed; connection to the servers is no longer required. Preparation and import of data in the field have several advantages: it simplifies logistics – files can easily be transferred through email or Secure Access File Exchange (SAFE), provides faster turnaround times for data analysis, and additional infrastructure or software is not required.
The Power BI approach enhances quick analysis capabilities, provides powerful, dynamic and interactive visual dashboard presentation of data and the reduced file size, portability, and custom filters allows the end-user to quickly sort, filter, and analyze data on-the-fly.