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CHIPS Articles: Open source software permeates NAVOCEANO systems

Open source software permeates NAVOCEANO systems
By John Lever and John Weathersby - July-September 2002
Open source software is a collective term for software whose license requires its source code or internal blueprint to be open, extensible and freely distributed. The most commonly known open source program is the Linux system.

Preliminary findings from an ongoing Open-Source Software Institute (OSSI) study indicate wide and accepted usage of open-source software within U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office's (NAVOCEANO) enterprise-level systems. OSSI is a nonprofit organization comprised of industry, government and academic reprensentatives. OSSI's mission is to promote the development and implementation of open-source software solutions within U.S. federal and state government agencies and academic entities. It was established to serve as a forum for the exchange of information and promotion of ideals embodied in open source software.

The OSSI report is part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) signed between Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (CNMOC) and OSSI November 2001. A key element in the performance of the CRADA is the administration of a technical and strategic study concerning the application of open-source software at NAVOCEANO. "After interviewing representatives of all departments within NAVOCEANO, it is clear that there is extensive use of open-source within NAVOCEANO's computing infrastructure," the OSSI report stated. "Additionally, as legacy systems have reached end-of-life, they are increasingly being replaced by open-source solutions. These trends, coupled with high enthusiasm for open-source in most departments, and open-source's increasing suitability in enterprise environments, make it likely that a substantial portion of NAVOCEANO's computing infrastructure may depend on open-source systems in the future," the report continued.

The NAVOCEANO Chief Information Officer, John Lever, commented, "The initial findings of the OSSI study have surpassed my initial expectations. I believed that open-source software would have payoff for our IT enterprise, but I was a bit surprised at the extent to which this methodology has already permeated the organization at the grass roots level." "We are very encouraged by what we've found in the preliminary stages of the CRADA process," said OSSI chairman, John Weathersby. "From the beginning, we were aware that several systems within NAVOCEANO were running on open-source platforms, but it appears that the level and diversity of systems utilizing open-source software are more extensive than our initial expectations."

The OSSI report resulted from the first phase of interviews and analysis conducted at the NAVOCEANO headquarters located at the Stennis Space Center during February and March 2002. Additional on-site interviews and analysis are scheduled to continue through the spring with a final report due out in midsummer 2002. "This report represents the very tip of the iceberg regarding the amount of work left to perform in this CRADA," Weathersby said "The initial phase of the study has focused on dissecting the core elements and functions of the NAVOCEANO IT systems. We're simply getting our arms around a very dynamic organization and identifying the numerous systems and processes involved in NAVOCEANO's activities. While this is just the beginning," Weathersby continued, "we've gotten off to a strong start based on the amount of cooperation and support we've received from the command and support staff at NAVOCEANO. We are fortunate to have NAVOCEANO as a partner in this effort."

OSSI's technical review team for the NAVOCEANO CRADA is lead by Chris Maresca, Senior Partner for Technology at Olliance Consulting Group, Palo Alto, Calif. Olliance, a professional service consulting firm specializing in assisting companies and government entities leverage the financial and technical benefits of open source technologies, was selected by OSSI to lead a coalition of commercial parties in the technical review of NAVOCEANO's IT system.

OSSI member, Intel Corporation, has provided cornerstone sponsorship for the first phase of the CRADA. "During the initial on-site visit, we met with representatives of all divisions (of NAVOCEANO), during which systems, resources and needs were discussed extensively," said Maresca. "In addition, overview and background discussions were conducted with CIO staff. As a result of these discussions, an overall picture of the IT systems and data flows emerged. It is clear from the data gathered that NAVOCEANO is currently making significant use of open source at several points in their data processing flow," he continued. Maresca explained that in order to define how open source was adding value to NAVOCEANO's process, the OSSI technical team divided the data processing flows into two basic areas: shipboard or field systems and on-shore systems.

NAVOCEANO, with approximately 1,000 military and civilian personnel, acquires and analyzes global and littoral data to provide specialized, mission-essential products and services for the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, commercial and international customers. To accomplish its mission, NAVOCEANO collects data from a variety of sources including Navy ships, remote sensors and satellites. NAVOCEANO's core shipboard data collection architecture is a system known as ISS60. The current ISS60 deployed platform runs on PA-RISC (Precision Architecture Reduced Instruction Set Computing) systems running HP-UX. Currently, these systems are being transitioned to x86 systems running Linux.

The on-shore systems form the bulk of NAVOCEANO's processing infrastructure. The primary purpose of on-shore systems is data transformation, analysis and deliverable production. Depending on the nature of the data, it may also be fed into modeling tools for predictive analysis. While a variety of commercial operating systems are used in NAVOCEANO's on-shore operations, the only open-source operating system employed is Linux, the report indicated. Linux systems are used in a multitude of roles, including data processing, visualization, desktop and storage systems. In each case, Linux has been customized to meet the needs of the application, and is typically running on Intel x86 architecture hardware.

A large variety of open source modeling tools are also used at NAVOCEANO. These have often been heavily customized to meet specific NAVOCEANO needs. These modeling tools run on a variety of platforms, from supercomputing platforms to desktop systems, and include software developed in academia and by other government agencies. "During the course of the initial on-site visit, several additional items of interest were discussed that were not specifically part of the original CRADA," Maresca said. "These included management strategies and NAVOCEANO's participation in the Open Source Community. As in many corporate environments, meeting specific and unique demands of software development at NAVOCEANO have required departments to be flexible as they build systems and applications to meet their needs quickly and successfully," he said. "According to our interviews, this demand for flexibility, scalability and system management control has facilitated the adoption of open source within the NAVOCEANO system.

The traditional route for making software available to users outside of NAVOCEANO has been through a CRADA. In some instances, this has resulted in NAVOCEANO intellectual property becoming commercial applications. "By open-sourcing certain in-house applications, a significant community of users could benefit from and improve open source versions of NAVOCEANO applications," Maresca said. "NAVOCEANO is only one example of the wealth of programs and systems that are being developed by government agencies and organizations based on open source software. The key reason for its proliferation is that the technology is sound and the management and control of the system is only limited by the need of the client." After a joint review of the OSSI preliminary report, additional site visits will be scheduled to implement more in-depth analysis of the implementation and administration of open- source systems within NAVOCEANO.

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