Oregon alliance pushes info-sharing standard

On March 29, officials with Oregon's Regional Alliance for Infrastructure and Network Security (RAINS) plan to publish what they're calling an open alternative to proprietary vendor solutions for information sharing as a way of promoting interoperability and security among government networks.

The seamless sharing of information among industry and government entities is considered one of the most important demands of homeland security, but the lack of interoperability among networks and concerns about data security are seen as major roadblocks to developing better information sharing.

The RAINS Open Specification for Sensitive Information Sharing is based on the organization's Connect and Protect program, which provides a real-time communication bridge between diverse and geographically dispersed organizations within the framework of a centrally managed, secure wide-area network.

The specification will promote the use of Web services and will be based on the standards used to build those services. The public/private RAINS partnership will operate a Universal Description, Discovery and Integration registry, which enables RAINS participants to easily locate and establish transactions with one another. The partnership will also be responsible for accrediting systems for operation under the RAINS banner.

The first production version of RAINS-Net was released in August 2003. It distributes incident alert information from the Portland 911 center to local federal agencies, state and local governments, key businesses, Portland schools and first responder organizations.

RAINS officials have been promoting the Connect and Protect program as a model for other states and localities. A Washington state chapter of RAINS has been formed, and Virginia officials have also expressed interest in developing a version of RAINS.

Charles Jennings, chairman of RAINS and chief executive officer of Swan Island Networks Inc., one of the founding members of RAINS, said officials of at least one regional network and part of the federal network are expected to announce their adoption of the RAINS model within the next few months.

The RAINS open specification will develop through an organic, grass-roots process rather than the more formal route followed in a public specification or standards-making process, Jennings said.

"The basic specification will be the one we have now in the Connect and Protect program, and as new projects come on board, that will add a new set of requirements," he said. "In that way, we hope the RAINS specification will be a continually growing spec that truly reflects what the market wants."

"We want to motivate a sense of urgency and try to make something happen here," Jennings said.

The open specification program has already gained several significant industry supporters. ESRI, the leading geospatial information systems vendor, has signed on as a premium sponsor, and Hewlett-Packard Co. "seems heading that same direction," according to Jennings.

He hopes the RAINS open specification will be a way for smaller companies to get connected and market themselves to government.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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