HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – To boost capacity for users of the Air Force network during the COVID-19 pandemic, personnel from the AFNet Sustainment & Operations branch, or HNIB, here quickly developed solutions to get more users online.
“Our team operates a lot like your home internet service provider but with a much higher level of security,” said Lt. Col. Charles O’Connor, materiel leader and branch chief. “Almost overnight we went from 10,000 users to just under 200,000.”
A branch of the Enterprise IT & Cyberspace Infrastructure Division of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate, headquartered here, did this using the Enterprise User Remote Access Management, EURAM, program they developed to add virtual private network capacity to existing Air Force infrastructure.
“With the legacy network, our capacity was maximum 10,000 users for all of the Air Force,” said O’Connor. “The EURAM program was going to come in and bump that requirement to 62,000, and at the same time upgrade the infrastructure to new devices with better security. But just as we were finalizing this initial deployment, COVID kicked off, as did an increased demand for telework."
“Literally overnight we were being asked, ‘What can we do?’” said O’Connor. “How far can we take EURAM? Fortunately, we did have the ability to rapidly scale it up to just under 200,000 users in under 30 days. And we did that really with just an incredible all-hands-on-deck effort.”
Rapidly scaling the telework capacity for the entire network took coordination and collaboration with many organizations, both inside and outside the Air Force.
“We had to coordinate across multiple organizations to expedite the required changes needed in days versus weeks or months,” said O’Connor.
To increase network capacity, the team worked with the Defense Information Systems Agency to enlarge circuits to accommodate the new traffic. Approval was also needed from 16th Air Force, an organization responsible for all of the cyber infrastructure and cyber defense for the Air Force. These processes, which typically take weeks or months, were completed in days.
To increase the capacity of the Air Force network, HNIB shipped excess equipment from Hanscom to Vandenberg, Peterson, and Beale Air Force Bases. Because of travel restrictions, they worked with on-site base communications squadrons to walk them through installing and setting up the equipment. Once it was installed, engineers from Hanscom logged in remotely to do the configuration and bring the services online.
Maj. Gen. Michael Schmidt, C3I&N program executive officer, said it was critical to expand capabilities that would allow the Air Force to keep meeting mission needs.
“The work our HNIB team has accomplished over the past few months, in partnership with Air Combat Command, has been remarkable,” said Schmidt. “Executing the user expansion in such a short period allowed many missions across the Air Force to continue. Their efforts have been recognized at all levels of the Air Force and the Department of Defense, and I could not be more proud.”
Working around the clock, the team ensured that hundreds of thousands of employees could continue their work from home.
“Most people will never know or understand that a core team made this happen so that people could telework, and do it smoothly,” said O’Connor. “If it wasn’t for our small team we would still be stuck at just 10,000 connections Air Force-wide.”