Adelstein: Linux use drives innovation

FBI info-sharing project is one of a growing list of open-source successes

Some say life evolved from small tidal pools. Innovation certainly does.

More than half a century ago, Clarence "Kelly" Johnson inspired generations of Americans to improvise and invent technology with whatever scrap materials and bold dreams they could find. In 143 days in 1944, Johnson led a Lockheed

Martin team in makeshift quarters to develop the first U.S. jet fighter. That team became Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Projects Unit.

Following in Johnson's footsteps, engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center attempted to reinvent supercomputing in the 1990s with 16 Intel 486 computers, some Ethernet cable and the Linux operating system. The open-source operating system's flexibility allowed engineers greater freedom to tailor technology to their needs.

The supercomputing effort spawned the Beowulf Cluster and massive Linux clusters at universities and Energy Department laboratories. It even contributed to sonar arrays on U.S. nuclear submarines.

Based on this same open-source inspiration, National Security Agency developers created Security-Enhanced Linux. Today, two Linux distributions meet the Common Criteria security standards because of NSA's work. The latest release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux includes NSA's security structure for use in federal agencies.

Linux is well-suited to federal projects with small teams and scarce resources. And many Linux applications, such as the Census Bureau's Fast Facts service, can support an entire enterprise.

As Linux became a viable option for the government, FBI officials started a project that grew to become the Emergency Response Network (ERN), a Linux-based information-sharing system that observers say is ready for large enterprises. As officials at other agencies hear more about ERN, they should be convinced to try Linux.

Jo Balderas, YHD Software's chief executive officer, helped start the FBI project when she volunteered for a bureau outreach program. She provided the Linux-based ERN technology that enabled agents at the FBI's Dallas office to immediately access information at American Airlines, Sabre, EDS and other organizations during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The system allowed Dallas FBI agents to check the network's status every hour.

During the attacks, it took FBI agents four hours to get hold of local police chiefs. In comparison, the ERN system can place 10,000 calls a minute.

ERN uses the best of open-source software, including Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the Apache Web Server, MySQL database and the PHP language.

"Because we use the crown jewels of open source, we can deliver fast, easy, cost-effective technology that has successfully addressed many of the information-sharing challenges that are obstacles to homeland security," Balderas said.

Adelstein works as an analyst and open-source software consultant at Hiser + Adelstein in New York City. He is a co-author of the book "Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop" and author of an upcoming book on Linux systems administration.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group