Mishmash at work

Once again, the Defense Department is proving to itself that standards, especially
vague or all-inclusive ones, don't necessarily buy you interoperability of applications.


"Joint interoperability" may be this decade's mantra, but old service
rivalries and ill-conceived standards efforts keep interoperability an elusive goal.


This point is being driven home forcefully every day in Bosnia, where dozens of systems
built to the much-touted Technical Architecture for Information Management promulgated by
the Defense Information Systems Agency just won't talk to each other.


Field reports [GCN, March 18, Page 1] depict users forced to deal with
side-by-side systems, each running a different application in a situation where space is
at a premium.


As Rear Adm. John Gauss, the interoperability chief at DISA, put it, "We have
built a bunch of state-of-the-art, open-systems, TAFIM-compliant stovepipes."


Ouch! That's a stinging admission of how far short TAFIM has fallen of its goals. The
operations in Bosnia simply have given stark form to what has been known for some time in
DISA and throughout the IRM staffs of the services. TAFIM, although laudable in its goals,
is just too broad a set of standards to be meaningful.


That's why Gauss and DISA, to their credit, are pushing the Defense Information
Infrastructure Common Operating Environment, or DII COE. This effort will narrow down the
TAFIM to far stricter standards which, if complied with, will really mean application
interoperability.


But you can't just blame DISA and shrug it off as another example of poor government
work. The TAFIM mirrors the half-hearted attempts by the Unix community to achieve
interoperability over the years. The vendors talk a good game, but they prefer to sell
proprietary operating systems, regardless of the number of "ix"or "ux"
suffixes they can dream up.


Too, the major Unix database management system vendors work like the devil to prevent
compatibility with competitors.


TAFIM attempts to acknowledge the requirement that the government be open to all
competitors. No doubt some vendors will howl when the final COE is spelled out by DISA and
their products are found to be non-compliant. In that event, DISA should stick to its
guns.


The point of all these systems is to support the warfighters, as Pentagon brass and the
vendor community are fond of saying. Well, the fact that those in Bosnia are slowed by a
systems mish-mash ought to give a fresh kick to the COE effort.


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