How RangeForce Brings Management, Measurement to Enterprise IT Training

eWEEK PERSPECTIVE: RangeForce’s new approach to guided, cloud-based training brings measurement and management to technology training that was previously unheard of.

RangeForce logo

A recent Forbes Insights survey of more than 200 CISOs found that talent and training constraints have a significant impact on security organizations. An observation that many enterprise IT leaders have started to agree with and extends beyond the realm of cybersecurity into other areas, such as DevOps, IT support, digital transformation, network management and numerous other subsets of the roles IT staffers play in the enterprise.

Yet, training is much like any other IT element; you must be able to measure to manage effectively. The challenge of measuring skill sets, while also enhancing staffer skills remains a major obstacle when it comes to either selecting staffers or charting IT staffer’s career paths. Cybersecurity training solutions vendor RangeForce is aiming to reduce the pain points of IT training while also providing HR and security managers with the tools they need to measure the effectiveness of training, while also improving the skill sets of staffers.

How RangeForce changes the dynamics of enterprise IT training

There are countless organizations that offer IT training and most share the similar goals of educating people in how to work in the field of IT. Some of those organizations use physical class rooms, others provide labs; some leverage instructors, while others try to come up with new and innovative ways to educate students. However, most lack the flexibility to work with evolving enterprise IT department needs, especially when it comes to focusing on the most critical skill sets and roles.  

According to a recent report from Cole Market Research, the most critical and important types of IT training products include IT infrastructure training, enterprise application and software training, cybersecurity training, along with database and big data training. 

The very same training areas that RangeForce is focusing on, but by using a different paradigm, one that combines cloud (browser) based training, with virtual labs for exercises, along with defined milestones that measure progress. The company also adds skills analysis coupled with simulations to provide hands on assessments of knowledge. RangeForce’s approach brings forth an interesting combination of capabilities which may encourage many to rethink IT training.

A closer look at RangeForce

Rangeforce uses a cloud-based platform that combines the elements of training, practicing and lab exercises into a cohesive model that can eschew traditional classrooms in favor of hands-on training that leverages exercises conducted in a virtual lab instance.  

It is probably best to think of RangeForce from two different perspectives: One perspective is that of management or HR, where you are looking to develop an employee's skill set, and the other perspective being one of what a student/employee gets from the platform.

Learner perspective

Students, or “learners” in the RangeForce nomenclature, access the training platform from a browser, where they login to a learner dashboard that has been defined by a manager. The dashboard is populated with courses and the associated training modules and follows a logical progression for educating the learner on a selected topic.

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Image: The Dashboard for Learners is populated with available courses, as assigned by the training administrator. Learners can select modules from the dashboard and step through the training. 

Administrators are made aware of progress and milestones achieved

Each primary educational topic offers numerous modules, which are designed to build applicable skills and then allow learners to practice those skills. Each module starts off with basic reading material to explain what the learner should achieve. After reading the background material, the learner can then practice what has been learned. 

One of the more notable features of the RangeForce educational system is that the platform can spin up virtual hosted environments in just a few minutes, so that learners can practice what they have learned, while also gaining hands on experience by actually executing commands, locating relevant information and so forth. 

All progress is tracked, and the system offers any needed hints as learners practice their new skills. The system also counts the number of hints used, as well as how much help a learner needs to get through a lab. That proves to be a critical metric for managers to gauge how well an employee (or potential employee) can adapt to new ideas or validate that they already know the material.

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Image: Each course is made up of training modules. Learners are informed of what the course covers, the prerequisites and the expected outcomes for the course.

Each module offers additional information, such as the typical amount of time it takes to complete and the skill set level required. For example, some modules are marked as foundational, while others may be marked as intermediate or advanced. Learners are able to save their places in a module, if they have to jump to another task, or simply do not have a full 45 minutes (the typical time requirement for a module) to complete the module in one sitting. Learners can also go back and repeat modules as often as needed to master a skill.

There are several advantages offered by the way RangeForce educates learners. First and foremost, is that learners do not have to sit in a classroom environment or watch “teachers” present material. There are no hour-long videos that a learner has to sit through and the learning can be self-paced. Those with some knowledge can skip over the educational materials and dive right into the labs, especially handy for those just looking to verify their skills. RangeForce adds new courses all the time, making it an ideal environment for continuing education. 

Training modules also cover some of the most popular vendor and open source tools including Splunk, Recorded Future, Carbon Black, VirusTotal, Suricata, Snyk and many more. These modules provide the same hands-on approach with the security tool operating in RangeForce’s virtual environment giving practitioners live experience using the tool.

Management perspective 

One of the biggest challenges today for many organizations is making sure that their IT staffs are technically proficient to effectively perform their jobs. What’s more, many businesses are faced with the uncertainty of hiring new IT professionals. RangeForce attempts to assuage those fears by offering detailed insights into the technical knowledge of IT staffers as well as potential hires. 

Administrators login to the same platform as learners but are presented with a management dashboard that offers numerous statistics on the training platform.

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Image: The administration dashboard offers a visualization of the statistics around training. The dashboard displays registered learner counts, module counts, active training, leaderboards and summaries on training activity.

Administrators are able to perform several functions from the dashboard, such as adding/inviting learners, assigning courses, creating training plans and monitoring progress. Administrators can also drill down into any details to discover relevant data. A module completion report offers additional details on learners and shows the progress achieved in each assigned module.

Administrators can also create teams that can contain different learners. For example, a team can be created for those responsible for SOC (Security Operations Center) duties and that team can be populated by only those staffers and the appropriate courseware can then be assigned to the team. With over 200 hours of training, RangeForce has created “learning paths” mapped to the critical roles managers need to have skills competency. 

Current learning paths include SOC Analyst Level 1, SOC Analyst Level 2, Threat Hunter, Penetration Tester and for application security OWASP Vulnerability Top 10. RangeForce can also help design custom learning paths and introduce additional courseware for specific situations. RangeForce further addresses cybersecurity educational development with its “Cyber Range”, where blue team and red team cybersecurity teams can participate in exercises designed to hone their appropriate skill sets using simulated real world attacks. 

Conclusions

RangeForce successfully changes the dynamic of IT training by helping management define training goals while also providing students with hands-on training via virtual labs. What’s more, the training is designed to speed the learning process for active practitioners that do not need to learn the basics or navigate through the minutiae that many training platforms force active professionals to endure. 

The RangeForce platform is not designed for neophytes and occasional IT practitioners, but is designed to build a foundation and provide continuing education for those committed to IT roles. With that in mind, the platform may prove challenging to those new to the IT game, unless of course, those same individuals are looking to go beyond the basics.

RangeForce may not be suitable for those brand-new to the IT game, but it still proves  appropriate for those looking to build on existing skills or expand their experience into other areas of IT. The platform is also well suited for future challenges and is constantly under a cycle of improvement, with new courses and resources being added all the time. 

RangeForce has also begun working with some major IT vendors to further develop training and to prepare students for specific certifications and support chores related to particular vendor platforms.

Frank Ohlhorst is a veteran IT product reviewer and analyst who has been an eWEEK regular for many years.