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Military enlists open source community

U.S. Defense Department is adopting a collaborative approach to speed software development, reduce cost

By , Network World
April 27, 2009 04:05 PM ET

Network World - The U.S. Defense Department is enlisting an open source approach to software development -- an about-face for such a historically top-down organization.

In recent weeks, the military has launched a collaborative platform called Forge.mil for its developers to share software, systems components and network services. The agency also signed an agreement with the Open Source Software Institute to allow 50 internally developed workforce management applications to be licensed to other government agencies, universities and companies.

Taken together, the two developments show how the Defense Department is trying to take advantage of Web-based communities to speed up software development and reduce its costs.

Dave Mihelcic, CTO of the Defense Information Systems Agency, says the military believes in the core Web 2.0 philosophy of the power of collaboration.

"The Web is a platform for harvesting collective intelligence," Mihelcic said in a recent interview. He pointed to "remixable data sources, services in perpetual beta and lightweight programming models" as some of the aspects of open source software development that are applicable to the Defense Department.

One example of the Defense Department's new community-based approach to software development is Forge.mil, which was made generally available for unclassified use within the department in April. Forge.mil is powered by CollabNet Team Forge, a commercial lifecycle management platform for distributed software development teams.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has issued version two of SoftwareForge (software that runs on the Forge.mil site to enable sharing and collaborative development of open source software) after a three-month trial that grew to 1,300 users.

SoftwareForge provides software version control, bug tracking, requirements management and release packaging for software developers, along with collaboration tools such as wikis, discussion forums and document repositories, DISA said.

DISA said it will deploy a cloud computing-based version of the SoftwareForge tools for classified environments. DISA also plans to add software testing and certification services to Forge.mil.

Mihelcic says Forge.mil is similar to the "Web 2.0 paradigm of putting services on the Web and making them accessible to a large number of users to increase the adoption of capabilities. We're using the same collaboration approach to speed the development of DOD systems."

Meanwhile, DISA has licensed its Corporate Management Information System (CMIS) to the Open Source Software Institute to develop an open source version of the 50-odd applications that DISA uses to manage its workforce. The CMIS applications support human resources, training, payroll and other personnel management functions that meet federal regulations.

CMIS has 16,000 users, including DISA employees and military contractors. Originally written in 1997, CMIS was revamped in January 2006 using the latest Web-based tools including an Adobe Cold Fusion front-end and a Microsoft SQL Server 2005 back-end.

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