Teleworking boom prompts another cloud rollout from DOD

Airman 1st Class Bernard Coe, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, reviews a technical order as he prepares an aircraft for takeoff while wearing a protective cloth mask April 8, 2020. (Air Force)

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The Defense Department has launched a new cloud environment from Microsoft to support the surge of teleworkers that initially strained access to DOD networks a few weeks ago.

The Commercial Virtual Remove (CVR) environment can handle “For Official Use Only” documents and is designed to support the military’s entire 4-million-strong workforce both at home and in military installations around the world. The platform is being rolled out across the services, with the Air Force saying it is onboarding 250,000 users daily through April.

The CVR environment is based on the Microsoft Teams collaboration tool and gives service members, contractors and civilians access to Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. There is also built-in video and audio communications tools and the entire platform is integrated with Microsoft OneDrive for cloud storage.

“DoD CIO worked with Department cybersecurity experts and our commercial partners to ensure the right cybersecurity and monitoring capabilities are in place for the CVR Environment,” an Air Force news release stated.

When social distancing and teleworking orders were put into place in March, only about 10,000 DOD users started logging in from home. But even that fraction of the overall user base caused “unprecedented strain” on DOD networks. As health protections expanded and more workers were required to stay home, more than 100,000 people piled on to the networks, according to an Air Force fact sheet. The Air Force’s software team created a chat platform in late March to handle the initial burden as well.

“This huge increase led to slow and spotty connectivity, and unreliable virtual private network access for some users,” according to the Air Force.

The DOD CIO stood up a “Teleworking Readiness Task Force” to find departmentwide solutions for collaboration like the new CVR, according to the DOD. The task force is also looking ahead at future challenges of long-term teleworking policies.

“Among the most significant outcomes of the collaboration between the [task force] has been a ‘cloud-enabled collaboration tool’ that enables a dispersed global workforce,” Army CIO Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford said in an email Monday of the task force’s work.

Previously, former government technology leaders predictive the unprecedented distributed work environment caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic will accelerate the slow move to the cloud in some parts of the government.

“This will actually accelerate the move to [Microsoft] Office 365 in the Department of Defense,” Nick Sinai, former deputy federal CTO, told FedScoop in March.

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Army Department of Defense Information Network (DODIN-A), Bruce Crawford, Cloud, Dana Deasy, Department of Defense (DOD), Microsoft, telework
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