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CHIPS Articles: Q&A with Capt. Michael N. Abreu

Q&A with Capt. Michael N. Abreu
Program Manager, Naval Enterprise Networks Program Management Office (PMW 205) discusses big turning point for NMCI
By Heather Rutherford - April-June 2016
Capt. Michael N. Abreu was appointed the Program Manager of the Naval Enterprise Networks (NEN) Program Office (PMW 205) in October 2013. In this role he is responsible for the program management of the Department of the Navy's (DON) Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), one of the largest corporate networks in the world, and the ONE-Net overseas network, combined serving more than 700,000 civilian and military users around the world.

Prior to his appointment as program manager of PMW 205, Abreu was selected as a Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellow for Academic Year 2012-2013 and was assigned to Google, Inc., in Mountain View, California.

Established on Feb. 24, 2011, the Naval Enterprise Networks program office is a part of the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) portfolio. The program manages the DON's primary shore-based networks, to include the NMCI and ONE-Net, and is comprised of a cross-functional team of contracts, business, financial, logistics, acquisition, engineering, cybersecurity and program management professionals who are dedicated to standardizing the interoperability of the Navy’s shore-based information technology (IT) infrastructure.

CHIPS spoke with Capt. Abreu in May.

Q: Can you talk about your experience with Google? That must have been an interesting place for a Department of the Navy IT Program Manager to have spent some time.

A: You are right. It was an incredibly educational experience and I was honored to have been chosen. It was very fortunate to get to work at the Googleplex, the main headquarters building, for about a year in their Technical Infrastructure division. The culture was definitely different from the military, of course, but I found it was very focused on innovation, learning, critical thinking, and moving fast, all things I’ve tried to bring to my current job. I learned something about what building a massive enterprise demands from not only the team but leaders as well, and also the incredible challenge of serving a multitude of different customers with different needs. I’ve tried to bring some innovative ideas and a bit of Silicon Valley to my team in the program office from that experience and I think we’ve made some changes in our approaches which reflect that.

Q: Cybersecurity is always a major concern, and PMW 205 is responsible for keeping Navy networks safe while operating on a constrained budget. Can you talk about the initiatives that your program has put in place to keep cybersecurity costs to a minimum?

A: Many things are going on in the program office. Cybersecurity is at the top of my priority list. What we’re executing today is a multi-pronged approach intended to meet fleet requirements and provide cybersecurity capability which is in keeping with industry best practices by leveraging the best of new and innovative security approaches as much as possible.

In general, Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command (FCC) exercises control of network operations and defense, and I’d defer to them to comment specifically. But we try to meet mission requirements using a risk-based methodology to provide layered defensive capability, evaluate emerging technology, advocate for funding as needed, and constantly look across all of our capabilities on NMCI to eliminate redundancy to the maximum extent possible.

Our processes are designed to manage capability and risk for anything we do, and that allows us to field what we believe are the best capabilities to defend against a constantly evolving cyber threat on an affordable basis. Part of the approach involves consolidating our security assets as best possible, streamlining ease of use for the operator/defender, and providing innovative ways for us to access network data that more clearly illuminates our security posture on a near real-time basis.

Though it’s a tremendous challenge for any large scale network, we believe we’re on the right path with our mission partners and our service provider, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), to make the network more secure every day. One of the key transformations we’re undergoing right now is that of moving from DoD Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process (DIACAP) to Risk Management Framework (RMF). We’re working with FCC and the Navy Authorizing Official to ensure that we transition in a controlled manner over the next year or so.

Q: BlackBerry services were recently discontinued, and the Navy now has a new mobility service management suite which includes both Apple and Android devices. What kind of return on investment (ROI) can the Navy expect to see with these devices?

A: Typically, ROI is hard to measure with mobility solutions. The thing we’re after is greater capability and productivity from mobile devices. With our implementation of the next generation of mobility solutions, which include Apple and Android devices, we give users a choice. Fundamentally, when you give users a choice, they are most productive in the environment which they choose.

We’ve also moved forward with a containerized approach, where the Navy email is accessed via a secure container which is separate from the rest of the device. So if the operating system on the device has a new vulnerability that just got discovered, or if a rogue application does something to that operating system, the secure container is not compromised. The Air Force has also pursued this approach, and we’re coordinating and communicating lessons learned with them on a regular basis.

Later this year we’re going to offer document editing and document sharing capability within the secure container to allow users secure productivity options when they’re on the road. This will be a huge productivity gain for the Navy, where users can then be almost as productive as they are from a native seat using just a mobile device and the network is still kept as secure as possible.

Q: The full migration of Windows 10 will take place in 2017, and the Microsoft Edge browser will be rolled out along with it. You also mentioned in your brief at the DON IT Conference in April that Firefox and Chrome will be deployed in FY16. Can you talk about how the deployment of these browsers will benefit end-users? Do you anticipate any challenges with the roll-outs?

A: Indeed, this is a big turning point for NMCI, as we have not had multiple browsers available to users in the past. Today most DoD web-based applications are written for Internet Explorer, however we’ve found that many application developers have started to write those type of apps for other browsers due to some of the unique functionality inherent in the way other browsers work.

It’s a chicken and egg thing: do you make all developers write apps for one browser or do you field multiple browsers so you have access to all. The flexibility for the users of the applications and websites will help them to choose the appropriate browser and finish their work without having to access a compatibility mode to allow the app to work properly. That’s the main benefit, that sort of flexibility in terms of the workforce and websites. Also, as browsers become more secure over time and are patched, and are made more functional, we get the benefit of flexibility if they’re already fielded — it’s very hard to decide to field a different browser quickly once you determine it has features you want. It’s much easier to field it and allow yourself the option to use any one for specific purposes.

We’re facing the standard challenges of deploying at the enterprise level in these rollouts due to our large scale. We’re currently in the testing phase for Firefox, and working to accelerate fielding as best possible in the June/July timeframe. We expect to have Firefox fully deployed across the enterprise by the middle of summer and have Chrome deployed in late summer or fall timeframe right afterwards.

Q: The ONE-Net transition is a massive undertaking with more than 30,000 seats on the Enterprise Network worldwide. What can you tell us about the progress that has been made on this initiative so far?

A: The ONE-Net network is comprised of some 30,000 plus seats around the globe which will eventually be combined at some point with the large number of NMCI seats we serve, so it is indeed a significant effort to bring the OCONUS environment into the CONUS type operating and business model. We have been engaged in planning for a while, even before I came into this job. We’ve made tremendous progress to date in planning with our mission partners, to include Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR) and FCC, and are now moving into execution phase in accordance with senior Navy acquisition guidance to do as much as we can to align how we do business across both CONUS and OCONUS while still keeping them as separate entities until NGEN is re-competed in the 2018 timeframe, when the two domains will be merged into one global service delivery model.

The first step is to align towards common infrastructure standards, which has been happening for a few years now, and the second step is to align email infrastructure in accordance with Navy guidance, which will happen later this calendar year. There are other things we will do in 2017 which will prepare us for full incorporation into the consolidated business model with the NGEN re-compete. We’ve had great support from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) and SPAWAR HQ on both rolling out refreshed infrastructure and planning for the alignment. OCONUS is particularly challenging because our users there are very close to the tip of the Navy spear and use the network in performance of their daily missions, so everything we do must be carefully orchestrated to cause no disruption to services.

Q: As part of the Innovation Cell Challenge, you mentioned several benefits of the Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD). Can you discuss the advantages?

A: HVD has been on NMCI for some time. The solution has performed well in some areas but not in others due to technical conditions associated with that particular service offering. The idea of HVD is not necessarily new, and the challenge is providing the right infrastructure conditions for success to maximize capability of that solution. We’re trying to leverage industry offerings here moving forward in order to make the solution more stable and more affordable across the board.

With a virtualized infrastructure, you obtain advantages by having the system software located in one spot rather than on each and every end user machine. For example, we can patch software much more quickly or push out capability upgrades much more quickly in that environment versus pushing to each machine. The challenge is ensuring stability of the underlying support system itself and on reliable bandwidth to ensure users have assured access to their applications to do their jobs.

Q: You mentioned in your brief that there are 31 projects underway with five projects in the planning stages for cybersecurity. What kind of improvements can we expect to see across the Navy’s enterprise networks and business systems?

A: As I mentioned previously, we’re trying to field a layered defense capability to meet our cybersecurity requirements across the board. We intend to bring on solutions which will improve the network operators and defenders ability to detect nefarious activity quickly through a robust continuous monitoring environment, which is no small task across a network this large, as well as give them the tools to mitigate, respond, and recover from threats quickly. We coordinate closely with Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC) and Fleet Cyber Command, and we stay close through a regular and detailed conversation about the way ahead.

Q: The NEN program office held an Industry Day in May for NGEN follow-on contract(s) and other opportunities. What kind of response did you get? Do you anticipate that your office will announce a Request for Information or Proposal this fiscal year?

A: We have released two Requests for Information (RFI) on and SPAWAR e-Commerce Central. Feedback received has been very valuable in terms of educating us on what capabilities exist in the marketplace and how we can possibly transform the network over time to offer greater capability in an affordable manner. We held a second Industry Day on May 25th which was very well attended and offered us a chance to tell industry what we think of their feedback, as well as a notional way ahead, subject to senior Navy approval as we have not yet made our way through the full approval process. Since October 2015 we have conducted engagements with over 40 large, medium and small businesses focused on market research around what technologies and solutions are emerging in the IT space today. These have been fantastic sessions to educate the program office on what may be available to take advantage of as we move forward.

So we’ve had a great response from industry to date and it’s been really valuable to us, and we really appreciate the conversation. I can’t say today whether we will release another RFI, though it may be possible based on where we think we’re at later this summer. But if our approach holds and is approved by my chain of command, we plan to release a draft Request for Proposal for End User Hardware Services in the fall timeframe for industry comment. I’ll hold the door open to another Industry Day potentially to be held after we receive full approval on the way ahead from senior Navy leaders, and I won’t anticipate that happening before the fall timeframe.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to discuss?

A: I look at it this way: we provide capability to hundreds of thousands of users across the globe in a dynamic requirements environment while adhering to multiple sets of guidance and directives with a congressionally appropriated, fixed budget on a network which is under continuous attack. That’s an enormous challenge, to say the least. We have worked to get the NGEN model up and running over the last two years and have learned a lot of lessons, and we’ve adjusted how we do business to get better and better. Our data shows that we have gotten about 30 percent faster each year since we transitioned to NGEN in terms of speed of getting our fleet projects and modernization initiatives through our process pipelines.

We still have challenges in the area of delivering each and every project to all fleet customers, but it’s clear to me that we have made a tremendous amount of progress opening the flow of projects. We’re really now in the optimization phase of the NGEN business model, making constant adjustments to our processes and tools to become more efficient in the business model we’ve built, trying to balance security, cost, speed, and capability every day to provide affordable solutions for the fleet.

The program office is maturing tremendously, and my team makes me proud every day with the focus and dedication they display. A lot of folks don’t recognize what goes on behind the scenes to make Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPR) and Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPR) work effectively every day. My team is up to the challenge, and we’ll keep getting better and faster as we move forward.

Capt. Michael N. Abreu
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