DOD report urges adoption of open technology

Sharing code and standards could speed development and lower software costs

The Defense Department should adopt an open-technology model for software procurement and distribution, according to a new report prepared for Sue Payton, deputy undersecretary of Defense for Advanced Systems and Concepts (AS&C).

That report, the Open Technology Development (OTD) road map, states that collaborative software development would save money and give DOD greater systems development and acquisition flexibility.

“We need to get things out to the warfighter faster,” said John Scott, co-author of the OTD report and an open-source development consultant for AS&C. “Ultimately, you’re fighting wars, your enemies are changing rapidly, so we should be trying to change our model for how we’re buying and developing technology.”

The 79-page report states that DOD should share programming code and standards with the open-source community. It also recommends the use of service-oriented architecture.

The Government Accountability Office’s annual Assessments of Selected Major Weapon Programs report showed that DOD will spend nearly $14 billion on software changes in fiscal 2006 alone. “If you put data into an application, you should be able to take it out,” Scott said. “If you focus on open standards, open data, you get the best value for DOD money.”

The report is critical of DOD’s software acquisition methods. A hierarchical method might work for procuring physical objects, but it is too slow for software, according to the report.

Scott said the Internet has changed distribution. He added that the paperwork trail can be used in normal procurement to find any acquired software and start using it immediately.

“The whole concept is really a development methodology,” said Paul Smith, vice president of government sales operations at Red Hat. “What the DOD is trying to accomplish is a change in their governance model. [It’s] a move from their old way of stovepipe development to a more open- source model.”

Red Hat has provided guidance to the OTD team. Other members of the open-source industry have also worked closely with OTD in developing the model.

One of the main advocates for an open-technology model at DOD has been the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI), a nonprofit group.

“Open source is well-entrenched within DOD environments now,” said John Weathersby, executive director of OSSI. “What the OTD is trying to do is analyze it, learn from it and figure out where to leverage these benefits in other areas.”

OSSI has been working with the OTD project for about nine months, serving as a liaison between the OTD authors and industry. The institute also helped develop OTD’s strategic plan.

OSSI set up meetings between the OTD report’s authors and industry. The first such meeting took place May 4 with IT industry officials. Another followed July 20 with systems integration companies.

The next meeting will be held Sept. 14 with the Association for Enterprise Integration, a nonprofit industry and government group interested in electronic business practices.

The purpose of the July 20 meeting was to assure systems integrators of their place in the open-technology business model. “Open technology and propriety technology will fit hand in glove,” Weathersby said.

Scott agreed with Weathersby, saying that developers of proprietary technologies would be able to observe open standards in DOD projects and market their products in ways that complement open source to meet the agency’s needs.

Several DOD test projects are applying open-technology standards. One such project is the Large Data Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration, which involves moving, indexing, sorting and accessing large amounts of data.

Open-source geospatial programs are among those being tested in the integration demonstration. The project has been under way for six months, Scott said.

The next step in the road map is to draft best practices models and papers culled from industry experiences, Scott said. The biggest challenge will be cultural rather than technical, he added.

“Infrastructure seems to be pretty well taken care of, so we’re just moving up the stack [looking at] newer and better applications that are coming out there,” Scott said.

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