DISA's cloud helps DOD embrace open-source software

ProjectForge highlights advances in collaborative development

The recent decision by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to make its ProjectForge software development platform available to the broader defense community — including contractors -- may not have generated much attention when it was announced two weeks ago. But for those looking for early signs of cloud computing traction in the federal government, DISA’s latest announcement deserves more than casual notice.

ProjectForge is a pay-on-demand software service that allows software developers to manage software iterations, track issues and requirements, and collaborate with other developers. It is an offshoot of a similar service named SoftwareForge. While SoftwareForge is designed to work with open-source software, ProjectForge is for applications where proprietary products are involved or greater access controls are necessary.

Both are components of DISA’s program, which, along with DISA’s Rapid Access Computing Environment, has attracted growing attention over the past year as a model for building and certifying software applications quickly and collaboratively in a functioning cloud computing environment within the Defense Department.

DISA originally limited ProjectForce to the Army and Navy, but on Jan. 13 made it available to other military branches and DOD civilian employees and contractors, effectively expanding the pipeline of expertise available to work on DOD applications. At last count, already had 4,000 registered users, working on 170 hosted projects, and had produced more than 500 software releases.

From DISA’s perspective, saves a significant amount of time, money and headaches associated with many software development projects by giving software developers a controlled environment to test and certify how new applications will perform on DOD’s classified and unclassified-but-sensitive IP router networks.

From a broader perspective, however, serves as a powerful illustration of how agencies might use a cloud computing environment — admittedly, a private one — to dispense on-demand software and development platform services.

However, is also demonstrating something else that to many people remains counterintuitive: Namely, the power of communities to build and enhance open-source software applications even for networks as guarded as the military’s.

That notion gained important support in an Oct. 16 memo issued across DOD in which the department's deputy chief information officer, David Wennergren, reiterated the fact that open-source software “meets the definition of ‘commercial computer software,’” and can “provide advantages” given DOD’s need to “update its software-based capabilities faster than ever.”

The burst of activity in suggests that government is not only learning how to embrace open-source software in applications once reserved for proprietary projects, but that open source is becoming an increasingly important resource for it.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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