VAST Challenge 2013: Mini-Challenge 2


Challenge Description

In this VAST Challenge 2013 Mini-Challenge, we are looking for innovative graphical designs to support situation awareness for large-scale computer networks.


A company called Big Enterprise has hired you to create an innovative visual design that will become the foundation for their future situation awareness display that shows the state of their entire computer network.

The computer network is global and consists of several hundred thousand computers. The network is expected to grow over time. The company wants to be able to keep track of everything important on the network in a single integrated picture.

The new situation awareness display will ultimately become a large display in the operations control room. The display will be used by members of the network operations staff. When you visit the control room to learn about the current operations, you see many computer screens, but the information being displayed is difficult to understand.

Your goal is to design the visualization for the large computer display that will provide operators with situation awareness for the Big Enterprise network.

Background: Situation Awareness

Situation awareness involves obtaining accurate knowledge about some real-world environment – in this case, a large computer network. The situation consists of what the pieces of the environment are and how well they are operating, communicating, and collaborating. Is everything normal? If there are deviations from normal, such as unexpected events, how serious are they? Will important components fail within the next few minutes? few hours? Awareness refers to the collection of knowledge people have about the real-world environment. Do they know which pieces of the environment are healthy, broken, or failing? Are they cognizant of the significance of any particular failure or trend toward failure?

Effective situation awareness of large-scale computer networks depends upon the ability to maintain a constant and clear understanding of network activity, to recognize changes, and to respond as quickly and effectively as possible. A situation awareness display does at least two things:
  1. It provides an accurate portrayal of the network, such as an internal model, map, or architecture.
  2. It communicates information and knowledge about the current situation in the context of the network. The information communicated must be accurate, clear, and useful, so that network operations personnel can make good decisions to ensure the network continues to run effectively.
In a situation awareness display, the health and status of the network is made visible. It displays several different types of conditions:
  • Normal activity - everything is operating as expected
  • Routine issues - common problems for which the solutions are well understood
  • Non-routine issues - new or infrequent problems which may require a response, but the appropriate response is not established in advance.
  • Crises – severe and/or multiple issues occurring simultaneously whose cause root is unclear

Big Enterprise Network Operations Center

The network operations manager is the primary person in the Big Enterprise who works with a team of network operations specialists responsible for the health, security, and performance of the entire network. She explains to you what this responsibility means by providing the following example questions routinely asked:
  • Health: Are all the computers behaving as expected with the necessary patches and updates to operate normally?
  • Security: Are there any attacks that might affect the Enterprise, such as an active virus, a denial of service, or theft of company secrets?
  • Performance: Are there data transfer issues such as routing problems or misconfigurations that are affecting network speed?
As she gives you a tour, you learn a few things about the network itself:
  • You verify that the network consists of several hundred thousand computers. The operations manager cannot give an exact number since the branch offices will connect and disconnect computers without coordinating with her.
  • The network is connected to the larger Internet, and millions of computers access the company’s computers daily.
  • Big Enterprise has a large corporate headquarters with many computers. The headquarters also runs several data centers. Each of these data centers contains thousands of computers. These computers should appear on the network operations manager’s display.
In addition to the corporate headquarters, there are offices all around the world, each of which has its own computers. These computers should also appear on the network operations manager’s display.

Upper management wants your situation awareness visualization to be hosted on a large display to show the state of the entire network. The network operations manager hopes the large situation awareness display will allow her team to get the information she needs from one display instead of several that she deals with now.

She tells you the network operations center is staffed around the clock. In her role as the network operations manager, she and her team must oversee the day-to-day management of the entire corporate network. In addition to responding to routine events, they need to identify and respond to any unusual events occurring across the network. They must continually balance network health, security, and performance issues.

Her main complaints about the current situation awareness display are that the information is often unclear and complicated. The information cues are inconsistent, and important connections between events are often not obvious. She sometimes has to dig into very detailed information to understand something that she thinks could be easily shown up front. She feels that she wastes time digging, and that there has to be a better approach.

Your Mission

Your job is to design a large-scale visualization presenting network activity in such a way that at a glance the network operations manager can effectively and accurately understand what is happening on the network.

Although you would like to ask more questions and get still more background, Big Enterprise executives have politely declined your request. They are looking for a fresh perspective on situation awareness, and do not want to bias your designs by diving into the details of their current approach. The Big Enterprise executives understand that cyber security isn’t necessarily your field. They have said that it is fine if you wish to do some of your own research or talk to people you know who are more familiar with cyber security. Current solutions are inadequate, so Big Enterprise executives emphasize that creativity is key. Instead, they are looking for creative new ideas, possibly borrowed from other fields or using different technologies. They suggested that you remember the following:
  • The sky is the limit: they are looking for bigger and bolder ideas than the status quo.
  • The bigger the better: represent the biggest network you can.
  • The bigger the network, the more stuff happens: represent the greatest amount and diversity of activity you can in the design.
  • Managing complexity is essential: balance network scale and network activity with effectiveness of the visual design.


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Submission Instructions


All entries must be submitted by July 8, 2013, by 11:59pm PDT. Any entry received after that time will not accepted.

Participants are permitted to submit multiple entries, but each entry must contain the complete set of required materials as specified below.

If problems are detected with your entry (such as exceeding word, image, or video limits), the primary point of contact for the entry will be contacted to rectify the entry. These changes must be received no later than July 11. If the entry is not received by this time or the detected problems have not been rectified then the entry will not be accepted for the Challenge.

Required Materials

The following material is required for your submission. Each of these materials is described in greater detail below.
  1. A summary form
  2. A four-minute video showing your design
  3. A high-resolution image of your display design
  4. Annotated storyboards (Optional, but recommended)
You also have the option to submit a two-page paper summarizing your entry. The due date for this paper is August 15, 2013.

Summary Form

A brief summary form is required to accompany each entry. Download the summary form.

Complete the form as follows:

1. The summary form can be edited with Microsoft Word or other word processors. Rename the summary form file to “index.htm”. Make sure to leave the form in “.htm” format.

2. Name your entry using a composite of your team’s organization, primary contact's last name, and the challenge you are entering. For example, for a submission from the University of Maryland for Mini-Challenge 2, from a team led by Dr. Jones, please use UMD-Jones-MC2. If you are submitting multiple entries, please add a number to the end of the file name (e.g. UMD-Jones-MC2-1).

3. Provide a list of team members, their affiliation, and email addresses. Provide a Primary Contact under your list of team members. The primary contact must be responsive to emails to handle all questions and communications related to the submission.

4. Please indicate if this is a student team. A student team is defined as one led by a student and worked on by students. Class projects are good examples of submissions that would be provided by student teams.

5. Provide a list of any software used in creating the design.

6. Indicate whether you give your permission for your submission to be posted in the publicly-accessible Visual Analytics Benchmark Repository.

7. Provide a link to your explanatory video. If size permits, please include this video in your electronic submission package. If not, please post it on the internet and provide a link. Please verify the link is active throughout the contest period, as it may be downloaded at various times by different VAST Challenge Committee members and reviewers. If you do not have a site on which you can post your video, please contact vast_challenge at ieeevis.org to discuss other approaches.

8. Provide a link to your high resolution display design image. If size permits, please include this image in your electronic submission package. If not, please post it on the internet and provide a link. Please verify the link is active throughout the contest period, as it may be downloaded at various times by different VAST Challenge Committee members and reviewers. If you do not have a site on which you can post your image, please contact vast_challenge at ieeevis.org to discuss other approaches.

9. If you submit storyboards, provide a link to your storyboards. If size permits, please include the storyboards in your electronic submission package. If not, please post them on the internet and provide a link. Please verify the link is active throughout the contest period, as it may be downloaded at various times by different VAST Challenge Committee members and reviewers. If you do not have a site on which you can post your storyboards, please contact vast_challenge at ieeevis.org to discuss other approaches.

10. Provide a description of your design of no greater than 1000 words and 10 images. Describe the important features of your design and how it will enable situation awareness on a large-scale computer network.


All entries are required to include a 4 minute video with voice narration. One video must be provided for each mini-challenge entered. The video should be in .wmv format. Please contact the chairs at vast_challenge at ieeevis.org if you have questions concerning the video.

The video is your chance to fully explain all of the features of your design. Some tips for creating a video include:
  • Describe the motivation and inspiration for your design.
  • Explain the important design decisions you made.
  • Describe all of the important features of your design.
  • If your design includes storyboards or interactive components, explain those interactions.
  • Describe how the display you designed will enable situation awareness on a large-scale computer network.
  • Describe any important assumptions you made in developing the design.

High-Resolution Image

Please prepare a high-resolution image showing your design. This image should be in a common image format, such as TIFF, JPG, or PNG. It is recommended that you restrict the file size of this image to no greater than 20MB. This image should show the full situation awareness display.


Participants are encouraged to submit storyboards that illustrate the expected interactions with the situation awareness display. These storyboards should be annotated to highlight the design and explain how they are being used to support situation awareness in the large network. Storyboards should be submitted in a single file. It is preferred that storyboards be in PDF format.

Two-Page Summaries

Participants will be allowed to publish two page summaries of their submission in the Conference Proceedings. These summaries allow the contestant to give a general overview of their approach and tools, significantly highlight novel features, provide references to papers and other relevant work and describe any new discoveries made about tools while working through the Challenge problem.

The two-page summary must be formatted according to the general IEEE VGTC Guidelines. They are submitted separately from your entry, and are due about a month after the entry deadline.

Packaging and Submitting Your Entry

  1. For each challenge we provide an answer form. Rename this form to "index.htm" and save it on your local computer. Use this form to provide your answers either by adding text to the form itself or by linking to the separate files you need to provide.
  2. Create a folder on your computer with the same name as your entry name. Save the completed answer form (index.htm), your video, and your other images in this folder as well. The index.htm file should contain link to all your materials. Use relative links so they will still work when your materials are moved to another folder.
  3. Zip the entire directory and save it in a file using the same entry name, for example, UMD-Jones-MC2.zip. If your zip file is greater than 50 MB in size, please post your video or other large materials on the internet instead of including it in your zip file. The submission system can only accept files smaller than 50 MB.
  4. IEEE VAST Challenge 2013 uses the Precision Conference System (PCS) to handle the submission and reviewing process. PCS is available at https://precisionconference.com/~vgtc/. If you do not already have a login for the system you must register first. Once you are logged into your account please choose VAST 2013 Challenge under “new submissions” and follow the instructions.

Page last modified on Friday, July 11, 2014