Defense maps out an open-source approach

One plus of software reuse: saving money

The Defense Department has a practical reason for using more open-source software and incorporating open source into its procurement cycle.

DOD can save money by promoting reuse of software across its agencies, according to a recently released report on technology development methodologies. The Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Advanced Systems and Concepts commissioned the Open Technology Development road map (GCN.com, GCN.com/636), which was published in April but only recently released publicly.

'This report highlights how open source has shifted from a curious alternative to a mainstream engine for value creation for industry,' said David Mihelcic, chief technology officer for the Defense Information Systems Agency. 'The road map starts with our national interests and proceeds to lay out practical measures that DOD can put in place to explore the potential of this strategic approach.'

The concept of Open Technology Development is based on sharing software code developed by the Defense Department and its contractors, as well as by the worldwide open-source community.

The report said DOD could save a significant portion of its costs because most open-source software 'is available for a nominal cost, often the price of the media, or the time of the download. No more 'per-seat' license fees.'

Among open-source's benefits will be increased interoperability among DOD users and enhanced security, Mihelcic said.

'Moving forward, my goal is for us to embrace open source in our development,' he said. 'We will require our vendors to take all of the software they develop for us and place it in an open-source license so it will be available to everyone over time.

'Open source is going to be a model moving forward because it's going to help accelerate the development of software and it will help us with software reuse in the DOD. With open source, it's easy to share and reuse software.'

He also said DOD will benefit from open source's security features that give users 'complete visibility into the development process.'

'DOD [is] officially saying, 'We recognize the technical benefits of open-source technology; now, how do we go about making it part of our existing process?' ' said John Weathersby, executive director of the Open Source Software Institute of Hattiesburg, Miss.

More attention

With the report, 'open-source procurement issues'[such as] intellectual property, licensing and valuing open-source solutions'have been elevated to where they may now get the attention they deserve,' said Peter Gallagher, president of Development InfoStructure of Arlington, Va.

Gallagher said the report provides an alternative to the traditional IT procurement methods of purchasing commercial software and developing, or contracting to develop, government-specific software.

'The business model of purchasing physical goods and services has served DOD well in the past; but it falls short when applied to software acquisition,' the report concluded.

Currently, software code is rarely reused, the report noted.

Fritz Schulz, chief of DISA's newly created Technology Reconnaissance Office, agreed.

'While the DISA/Mitre report of three years ago showed that a great deal of open source had already been deployed in our infrastructure, a great deal of potential value for DOD remains,' Schulz said. 'DISA's experience has shown that a spectrum of sharing, from very limited distribution up to full public open source, is essential for a variety of DISA missions.'

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