Military Explores Expansion of Open Source Technology

Open source technology can help military and other government entities modify software quickly without sacrificing data security. That flexibility, coupled with lower overall cost, is helping fuel a rapid increase in government adoption of open source software, advocates say.

Members of the Mil-OSS group, which represents the military and government open source community, are holding a meeting to discuss these and other developments May 22-24 in Charleston, S.C. Mil-OSS LANT, the group's first Atlantic region conference, will address a wide range of topics that include cloud computing, mobile development, crowd sourcing and other open source-related initiatives. Attendees will hear from speakers representing government, industry and academia.

"As a major open source conference in the Southeast, Mil-OSS LANT promises to be a great opportunity to report on progress regionally and to discuss future directions," said Joshua Davis, a research scientist with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and a co-founder of Mil-OSS. "Budgets continue to shrink, in the U.S. and abroad, and the result is that governments are paying more and more attention to the advantages of open source technology."

Under the open source paradigm, developers make their source code available so that it can be changed and improved by other programmers in the community. Open source advocates maintain that bringing many minds to bear on program code leads to software that is high quality, low cost and rapidly available. They argue that when the military must go back to owners of a software product for important code changes, the process often takes too long to be useful.

Activity and interest in open source technology has increased significantly in recent years, said Michael Howard, a South Carolina-based executive with QinetiQ North America and a Mil-OSS LANT organizer.

Howard said that the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), which delivers advanced information technology to the U.S. Navy, is pursuing several projects that involve open source and open technology capabilities. These include TRANSCOM GAM/GAS, PEO-ES, Navy P-8A, Standardized Infrastructure Management (SIM) and QGlobe.

"We will be focusing on open source initiatives championed and supported by SPAWAR Atlantic, industry partners and other government agencies," Howard said. "Our goal for Mil-OSS LANT is for all attendees and speakers to walk away with a better shared understanding of open source in the government space."

At the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Davis and other GTRI researchers are engaged in government-funded open source efforts that include the Homeland Open Security Technology (HOST) program and the VehicleForge (vehicleforge.mil) project for collaborative military vehicle design.

John Scott, director of open integration at RadiantBlue Technologies Inc. and a Mil-OSS co-founder, said adoption of open source technology continues to build in the Washington, D.C., area.

"We're familiar with -- and in several cases working with -- government entities that have been using open source technology for some time, but now they're talking about it and using it openly," Scott said. "That's new, and that's a big win."

For example, he said, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) recently announced that it needed to reduce the cost of its information systems. In a document made public in April 2011, the NGA said it was shifting its IT infrastructure away from its current heavy reliance on commercial, proprietary software towards open source applications.

Among the sponsors of Mil-OSS LANT are Canonical Ltd., Carahsoft Technology Corp., Dell, DLT Solutions, Geocent LLC, Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), LCE Life Cycle Engineering, Maga Design Group, OpenGeo, QinetiQ North America, RadiantBlue Technologies, Red Hat Inc., Riverbed Technology, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), SPARC LLC, SRC Scientific Research Corp., URS Corp. and VMware Inc.

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