The COVID-19 Impact on Modernize, Innovate and Defend

By Aaron D. Weis - Published, June 1, 2020

Aaron D. Weis, DON CIOIt was late February, just three months ago, that we were preparing for the DON IT Conference in San Diego. At the time there were some COVID-19 cases in a nursing home in the state of Washington and there were rumors of an isolated case near San Diego. At the conference, hand sanitizer stations were in place, so we hand sanitized a little more than usual, and some tried to minimize handshakes, but for the most part it was business as usual. However, while we were there, a follow-on West Coast business trip was cancelled, and we started hearing about cancellations of upcoming conferences in San Diego.

Just one week after our return to the Pentagon, there was talk of preparations to possibly telework. Three days after that, we were thrust into mass telework mode due to COVID-19 cases that were increasing exponentially from day to day. While the Department of the Navy's IT infrastructure was already in place, the DON had to rapidly meet the challenge of supporting a record number of teleworkers. I am proud to say that the DON – the Navy, the Marine Corps, and those supporting the DON headquarters staff – rose to the challenge. The numbers tell the story.

The Navy doubled its network capacity from 20 GB to 41 GB, increased the capacity for using Outlook Web Access (OWA) for email access from 10,000 users to 300,000, and increased Remote Access Service (RAS) capacity for the full desktop experience, from 25,000 to 123,000 users. These enhancements enabled over 400,000 Navy personnel to securely telework. The Navy also implemented collaboration capabilities using Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Microsoft Teams, increasing from 700,000 provisioned Navy accounts to almost 105,000 active Navy accounts.

Likewise, the Marine Corps quickly expanded the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN) telework capacity and capability. The number of teleworkers in the Marine Corps increased from 1,000 users to 51,000. VPN capacity increased from 12,500 users to 60,000, and OWA capacity increased from 70,000 to 105,000. Additionally, the Marine Corps accelerated Office 365 deployment from 1,000 users to 25,000.

The majority of the efforts of my office revolves around the themes of Modernize, Innovate, and Defend. These themes are spelled out in the DON Information Superiority Vision of February 2020 and are being further refined now. These themes are even more important in the world of COVID-19 telework. While we would have never imagined a situation like COVID-19, it has reaffirmed that the vision document is directionally correct.

The increase in network capacity and capability proved that the DON could take rapid steps toward modernizing a network that was seen as fragmented, obsolete and sometimes a barrier to daily execution of the mission. This would have taken years if we had followed the status quo, but we proved we can move very far, very fast if we have unity of effort and set out clear direction. The rollout of CVR Teams enabled our users to hold virtual “face-to-face” meetings, share files, and instantly chat with colleagues. This rapid rollout proved that our networks can support innovative technology services. It also proved that, by working together across the DON and leveraging DOD, policy and capability barriers could be overcome.

The Department's mass telework reaffirms our need to focus and intensify the efforts around defending our information. Part of defending the network relies on implementing new tools and improved processes, but much of it relies on communication and cultural change. It was important for us to remind our users that every Sailor, Marine, and civilian should be a “cyber sentry,” so we published updated DON guidance on acceptable use of DON IT and developed a message to the community promoting data protection during teleworking.

In short, the COVID-19 telework experience reaffirms that our vision is spot on, that we can move fast, and that we can have a great and positive impact on our DON IT users. I cannot end this column without thanking those who helped make this happen. To my Deputy CIOs for the Navy and Marine Corps, their leadership and staff, DoD leadership, Fleet Cyber Command, Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command, and the IT divisions across the Department that worked on the ground to make this happen, I appreciate your leadership and efforts in support of the Department's IT, and I look forward to what we can continue to do together.

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