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Defense Department Marches Towards Open Source

DoD Teams with OSSI, ISVs, and 'Non-Traditional Companies'

  • July 31, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

In a new initiative to spur more use of open source software (OSS) within the US Defense Department, the department's Office of Advanced Systems and Concepts (AS&C) has begun teaming up with Red Hat, Novell, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and AMD--along with big systems integrators and "non-traditional" open source companies--to glean insights that will help shorten the learning curve to deployment.

Now ending the first of its three implementation phases, the Open Technology Development (OTD) project is drawing upon the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI) as an invited liaison between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the IT industry and open source community.

Thus far this summer, the OSSI has hosted two informational briefings around OTD, said John Weathersby, the OSSI's executive director. The first briefing, presented in May, was geared to large ISVs and OEMs.

The second one, completed this month in Washington, DC, included key DoD systems integrators such as BAE, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and SAIC

"These briefings provided the opportunity for the OTD team to [give] a strategic overview of the initiative and to invite feedback from the industry representatives on how this initiative [could be] successful," according to Weathersby.

"The DoD realizes that industry has addressed many of the same challenges [the DoD] will be facing in adopting open source/open technology as a core component within [its] core enterprise strategy," Weathersby told LinuxPlanet.

The initiative is working with development environments that include Linux--along with other breeds of Unix--and Microsoft Windows, said OTD team member John Scott, of RadiantBlue Technologies.

"We are trying to let the market decide. We are agnostic to solution," Scott told LinuxPlanet.

Scott credited Sue Payton, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for AS&C, as providing the main impetus behind the program.

Payton had previously funded research studies into open source a few years back, when she ran the NGA National Technical Alliance. But this time around, Payton wanted to work on the concrete "hows" of open source implementation, Scott said.

Specific drivers behind greater use of open source in the military include needs for IT "agility" along with a looming shortage of qualified programmers, according to the OTD team member.

"Since the technological base is always shifting, [we] need to stay on top of the newest and best technologies for the warfighter," he told LinuxPlanet.

"Add in the need for "clearable" (i.e., security clearance) programmers and the [future shortage of programmers] becomes more acute."

Ultimately, he said, the OTD is looking at developing software specific to the DoD, in areas such as weapons systems, command and control, imagery analysis, and satellite programs.

Other OTD team members include Mark Lucas, also of Radiant Blue, and JC Herz, author of Joysticknation. Lucas also runs the Web site at http://www.ossim.org.

But at this point, the initiative is mostly just gathering information on best practices, governance, and "lessons learned" from others experienced with open source deployment, Weathersby said.

"The industry partners we've brought into the mix so far all understand that they have he opportunity to help DoD in the crafting of [its] open source strategy. This will help expand the market for their products and services relating to open source/open technology solutions. The opportunity to help grow the market is a great motivator," according to the OSSI's executive director.

The big SIs, too, are interested in finding out more about open source deployments, he said.

"They work closely with [the] DoD, and they provide a large amount of service and support to DoD programs. Those at the last meeting all seemed to agree and understand that open source/open technology is going to play an expanding role within DoD systems and policy. They [also] want to learn from the open source industry and community on how to develop and employ open source as a part of their offering.

During the first phase of the program, the OTD has launched a project known as Large Data JCRD. "This deals with exabytes of data--moving, storing [and] indexing it, etc.," said Scott.

Plans also call for the OTD with work with Montana State University and other academic institutions to build an OSS repository.

Phase two--which is set to take place from this month through the end of 2006--will focus on activities such as support for an increased number of projects, development of case studies, and creation of a DoD guidance group around how to use and reuse open source software and hardware.

Another priority for phase two is to "examine how to connect [the] DoD source site to that of the greater U.S. government."

Also according to OSSI and OTD spokespersons, OTD projects will be encouraged to engage "non-traditional" OSS companies and communities for their implementation expertise.

In addition, the AS&C will implement financial incentives for both participating projects and participating contractors.

Finally, in the third phase, scheduled to span the whole 2007 calendar year, the initiative is expected to work on goals such as building a support infrastructure, "influencing larger DoD processes," and demonstrating interagency collaboration.

But Weathersby also predicts that the OTD will produce strong impacts outside the world of DoD.

"I think history will show that the OTD initiative represents another important step in the continuing evolution of DoD's IT enterprise. OTD is important because it is a strategic plan, a map to the future that [defines] open source/open technology as a key element within the system," he told LinuxPlanet.

"And since nothing happens within a vaccuum, industry and the open source community will benefit from DoD's spurring on [of] innovation and business opportunities."

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