Navy R&D project looks to open-source use

Von Todd R.

For the second time since 2001, the U.S. Navy is looking to increase its use of open-source software through a research and development program with the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI) and a growing group of IT vendors.

The three-year program, which will explore the use of open-source software within the Naval Oceanographic Office"s Web services, scientific computing and enterprise architecture systems, was unveiled late last month.

On Wednesday, the Hattiesburg, Miss.-based OSSI, a nonprofit group that promotes open-source use within government and academic institutions, announced that Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. is the latest IT company to join in the project. Red Hat"s Barry Duplantis will serve as the program manager for the project and will coordinate the activities of all participating industry program members.

John Weathersby, executive director of OSSI, said the new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) program is designed to help the Navy leverage and build on the open-source software it already uses, while increasing its technological capabilities and saving money. The new OSSI agreement will review open-source use in the Navy"s Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command group.

This CRADA program follows an earlier one that was completed in 2004. That project built a research relationship between the Navy and OSSI, Weathersby said, helping the Navy better understand the assortment of open-source applications it is already using. The original CRADA found that the Navy had experienced real technological and cost-savings benefits.

"Everybody kind of knew about it, but nobody had documented it," Weathersby said. Of the nine naval divisions OSSI analyzed in the first study, six were using open-source applications in mission-critical systems.

"Some parts of the military just turned a blind eye" to open-source applications, Weathersby said. "But the Navy has been on the cutting edge."

The latest CRADA program will help the Navy drill down into its open-source use to determine more specifically where it is being used and can be expanded, he said.

"We"re watching the evolution of open-source within the largest segment of the IT world," which is the U.S. Department of Defense, he said. "To watch it bloom from the inside out is a fascinating ride."

In addition to Red Hat, software compliance vendor Black Duck Software Inc. and researchers from Syracuse University and the University of Southern Mississippi are involved in the project. The team from Syracuse University"s School of Information Studies will examine enterprise architecture management practices of the naval group, along with planning context and methodology. The team from the University of Southern Mississippi will work with the university"s School of Science and Technology"s Department of Computer Science to develop and implement "code only" software tools to study the Navy"s software development, maintenance and restructuring processes.

Weathersby said the software tools will analyze the open-source code used by the Navy without having to interview developers about what they did to build the applications.

Other IT vendors are expected to join the project and will be announced next month, Weathersby said.

Duplantis couldn"t be reached for comment today.