NASA open-source project gains Apache's top-level status

Agency's Object Oriented Data Technology is recognized as a Top-Level Project by the open-source flagship

An open-source project by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has gained the support of the Apache Software Foundation as a Top-Level Project.

Object Oriented Data Technology (OODT) is a data-sharing architecture NASA developed to use metadata to seek out disparate and geographically dispersed data sources for access by any user. It was developed for that purpose in 1998 and has evolved in the past 12 years to accommodate data sharing among several NASA Earth science projects, including the NPOESS Preparatory Project, a joint effort by NASA, the Defense Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Soil Moisture Active and Passive test bed.

"Each database is broken into a different data type," said Chris Mattmann, a senior computer scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab. "The system collects data with different technology and turns it into an online entry point that allows people to search across datasets."

OODT’s primary use is to allow scientists and academicians to conduct deep research in the databases without having to start from scratch for every search. Mattmann said the foundation and the lab have configured OODT to also allow users to add data to the sets.

"One thing that we are currently focused on is a way to intuitively extract data, allow its use to target our users more effectively," Mattmann said. "We are also working toward improving the graphical user interfaces."

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One interesting use for OODT outside Earth science and planetary datasets is in the realm of health IT. The Jet Propulsion Lab received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to perform informatics and other data functions for Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Specifically, the lab has been using OODT to support the hospital’s Virtual Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

OODT acts as middleware code written primarily in Java. Its architecture can handle computer processing workflow, hardware and file management, information integration, and database links. It also has several Java and Python-based application programming interfaces that allow users to easily interact with the system, according to the Jet Propulsion Lab.

Now that it has been recognized as a Top-Level Project by the Apache Software Foundation, OODT can receive project management and resource support from the foundation. After some research, NASA chose to make the code open source and enlisted the Apache Software Foundation’s help in January 2010. That partnership opened up the code to a community of 3,500 open-source developers who are diligent in providing quality service.

"We regularly used open-source software in our daily [lab] tasks and were impressed with the quality of code and vibrant nature of free and open-source software communities," Mattmann said in the Jet Propulsion Lab announcement.

The group’s open-source community can help OODT become a more robust architecture and quicken the pace of development because more developers can work with the code at the same time.

OODT is the first open-source project to be awarded Top-Level Project designation by the Apache Software Foundation. Fewer than 100 software packages have that designation, making OODT part of a prestigious group.

The Apache Software Foundation is the flagship open-source community and powers the Apache HTTP Server, which runs most of the technology behind the Internet.

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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