DISA is intrigued by Web services model for creating systems

In a recent test, the Defense Information Systems Agency compared the cost of developing a simple application called the Tech Early Bird on $30,000 worth of in-house servers and software with the costs of developing the same application using the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud from’s Web Services. Amazon charged 10 cents a minute for the service, and DISA paid a total of $5 to develop an application that matched the performance of the in-house application.

The test is an example of how DISA has been borrowing ideas from Amazon and other Web-based companies and sites, including Yahoo, Google and Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. “There may well be a commercial analog for everything we want to do,” said Dave Mihelcic, DISA’s chief technology officer.

Mihelcic said Defense Department employees could use Web services applications and pay for them by the hour with a government credit card. Such an approach could compress the time needed to acquire, develop or distribute an application or service from months to days or minutes, he said.

DOD agencies have already started to dip into this commercial Web services world, Mihelcic said, and DISA wants to capitalize on those efforts. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency uses Google Earth to supplement its classified imagery programs, and DISA could add Google Earth images to its centralized servers that DOD users worldwide access, he said.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, DISA’s director, said commercial advances in the use of service-oriented architecture, or Web services, could enable revolutionary change in how the agency conducts its business and supports DOD users worldwide. Croom said he believes DOD can adopt such an architecture to lower its traditional systems development costs and accelerate the distribution of new applications.

Croom has the support of John Grimes, DOD’s chief information officer and assistant secretary of Defense for networks and information integration. DOD needs to stop acquiring individual, highly tailored systems and instead use Web services, Grimes said.

Commercial firms have started to embrace Web services for application development, said Drew Clark, director of corporate strategy at the IBM Venture Capital Group. Some market research firms predict that by 2011, a quarter of all software will be developed under the software-as-a-service model that meets Croom’s requirements.

In some ways, DISA is playing catch up with users. Mapping products from Yahoo and Google are already infused in DOD, Mihelcic said. Internet chat is “the way we manage the war” [in Iraq], he said. Speaking at the U.S. DISA Industry Day last week, Croom said a service-oriented approach is crucial to U.S. forces. “Information is America’s greatest weapons system, but processes we have created are holding us back.”

DISA sees a better, faster, cheaper future in Web services

Defense Information Systems Agency officials are considering using a Web services model to develop applications and systems for the agency’s next-generation command and control systems. DISA’s Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC) would combine databases and other capabilities from different sources, including the military services, said Col. Dave Bennett, DISA’s deputy director for command and control system programs.

Wikipedia serves as a good example of how DISA could harvest the Defense Department’s knowledge base through an extensible database known as a folksonomy, said Dave Mihelcic, DISA’s chief technology officer. Wikipedia defines a folksonomy as user-generated labels for categorizing information such as Web pages, links, content and photos.

To develop NECC incrementally in what DISA refers to as a Federated Development and Certification Environment would require approval from DOD’s Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) Office. That office requires end-to-end testing of systems before they are fielded. DISA Director Lt. Gen. Charles Croom said software developed incrementally would be difficult to test end to end.

However, John Grimes, DOD’s chief information officer, said OT&E is taking a common-sense approach to developing NECC, and he is confident the office will approve an incremental development approach.

— Bob Brewin

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