How agencies can build an infrastructure that supports extended reality

A whole new world is coming to the federal government: a virtual world. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 5G, and more,...

A whole new world is coming to the federal government: a virtual world. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 5G, and more, augmented and virtual reality — commonly called “extended reality” (XR) — is transforming how agencies deliver services, train warfighters, conduct operations in the field, and operate remotely.

For example, the Department of Veteran Affairs is piloting the nation’s first extended reality network to treat veterans suffering from chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder using immersive therapy. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is using XR headsets to enhance situational awareness in theater and support information sharing and decision making.

These use cases are not unique. A recent study from Accenture indicated 78% of federal technology leaders say XR is very or extremely important for meeting agencies’ mission needs.

However, the technologies enabling XR are only as good as the infrastructure they run on. Agencies will need high-performing networks capable of handling massive amounts of data. And, because of their highly sensitive use cases, they must be secure and meet compliance standards.

How can this brave new virtual world be realized? Let’s look at three key areas underpinning XR and how agencies can prepare for the future.

Ensure a robust, high-performing network

Accenture reports found 41% of federal leaders cite insufficient bandwidth as a top obstacle to XR adoption.

To support immersive experiences, XR implementations will require ample connectivity and robust network infrastructure, both within the traditional perimeter and at the edge. If wireless networks are not available, they may need to architect a low latency and high bandwidth 5G network, especially in locations with a high volume of XR experiences.

Ensuring the performance of these networks is also key. Network engineers must consider the bandwidth impacts of XR devices and manage network resources accordingly.

AIOps is ideal for this because it goes beyond traditional infrastructure monitoring to provide complete observability across a complex network of interconnected devices. Powered by AI and machine learning, AIOps automates the process of capturing, analyzing and reporting application metrics and logs. With this insight, operations teams can anticipate network problems, detect anomalies, and proactively fix issues before they affect performance.

Lock down security

XR devices add to the already vast ecosystem of digital endpoints on agency networks, and IT teams must ensure that those devices — and the networks that connect them — are private and secure.

One effective way of bolstering the security of XR experiences is through network segmentation. If a breach occurs on a mission-critical device within a segmented network, it’s easily contained. This can mean the difference between a small incident affecting a network infrastructure segment and a full-scale breach affecting the entirety.

Device management is also critical. Agencies must establish policies and procedures to ensure that headsets and XR devices are patched, managed and can be wiped remotely if they fall into the wrong hands.

Standards matter

XR infrastructures must adhere to existing IT policies and standards – a concern shared by 52% of federal leaders – particularly regarding APIs (the technology that connects the sights, sounds, lifelike visuals and simulated environments that create XR).

API development standards matter because they ensure that APIs are developed in a consistent and high-quality fashion and, most importantly, secure. They also provide a smooth end-user experience. Yet, standardization in the development of APIs is historically lacking.

As they architect XR, IT leaders should inquire about the API protocols (specifically, security controls) and API management platforms used by vendors and whether they conform to federal standards.

Getting the foundation right

As current pilots and use cases prove, XR is already improving how employees are trained, do their jobs, and improve citizen services. It is now up to other agencies to understand how XR can benefit their missions and, most importantly, what foundation is necessary for success.

Brandon Shopp is group vice president for product strategy at SolarWinds

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