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Promoting Open Source Solutions

An interview with John Weathersby

The Open Source Software Institute is an advocacy group with a mission to promote Open Source software in government. We caught up with executive director John Weathersby to tell us more.

LWM: There are several advocacy groups for Open Source - how is your mission different?

John Weathersby: There are many really strong organizational groups at work in the Open Source Community. Each of which targets various segments and factions of the overall marketplace, such as standards, policy, licensing, education, desktop, lobbying, etc.

Our mission at the Open Source Software Institute is to promote the development and implementation of Open Source solutions in the U.S. public sector. We work with federal, state, and municipal government agencies, as well as academic entities.

Since OSSI's inception in 2001, our primary focus in the federal market has been the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The reasoning behind this is that the DOD is the largest purchaser and user of IT products and services in the world. As such, we believe that by helping the DOD to adopt and utilize Open Source, it will have a tremendous, long-term impact on the overall IT industry and community.

LWM: What can you tell us about the Open Source software adoption in the DOD?

Weathersby: There are a great many Open Source systems in use in DOD agencies. There are numerous studies and estimates, but I don't think anyone can provide a definitive count on the total number of Open Source programs currently running inside DOD. It's too big and too diverse.

That in itself is both a blessing and a challenge for us. As you would imagine, the military has stringent guidelines and policies that regulate the formal usage and adoption of software.

However, Open Source, being the ubiquitous creature that it is, has found a place in many programs because technically it works, economically it's feasible, and from a licensing perspective, it's not prohibitive.

So practically, it's in play, but formally it's just now being recognized as a viable solution. Its adoption rate was faster and more dynamic that anyone could have ever imagined.

As we've seen in the adoption of Open Source in the corporate world, so goes the story in the government. There are some agencies that recognize the benefits and potential, embrace it, and try to learn how to manage and leverage this new technology. Others wait for it to mature.

We've been extremely fortunate to have found leaders in the Department of the Navy's command structure who have been willing to examine the use of open source objectively in their existing systems and to explore ways to leverage these benefits into other areas of their enterprise.

LWM: The ROI study you did with the U.S. Navy is one of your better-known efforts. Can you talk a little about that?

Weathersby: The first study that we did in conjunction with the U.S. Navy was in the form of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). We worked with the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) based at the Stennis Space Center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The CRADA was an opportunity for us, as representatives of the Open Source industry, to work directly with a branch of the Navy to help them identify where and how they were using various Open Source programs and solutions.

The study was initiated in October of 2001 and formally concluded in October of 2004. From a technical perspective, the study docu-mented numerous areas where Open Source was adopted in the NAVOCEANO system.Most of the instances involved Open Source programs that replaced older end-of-life programs, as well as unique applications developed internally to meet specific NAVOCEANO needs.

The Open Source alternatives were adopted because, as I said, technically they work, there were no proprietary licensing elements to prevent their adoption, and since most of the programs were openly available, dollars could be applied to other programs.

The study included a TCO/ROI component that helped highlight the economic benefits NAVOCEANO had realized. In one instance where a proprietary shipboard Unix system was replaced with Linux, NAVOCEANO realized a nearly 9X savings.

A copy of the CRADA reports are available on our Web site. [See]

LWM: You now have a new effort underway with the Navy that takes Open Source a step further. What are the plans?

Weathersby: We recently entered into a second CRADA with the Navy that will drill down into more specific areas. These include business systems analysis, Web and network services, scientific and mission-oriented computing, and policy. We also have more information on the Web site about this.

We are currently pulling together all of the team members that will work on this project.

LWM: Do you expect to see other advances for Open Source in the federal government based on the work OSSI is doing with the Navy?

Weathersby: I can assure you that Open Source is alive, well, and growing in all facets of the government. And it's not because of anything specific that we're doing. It's because Open Source represents a robust, stable, secure, and manageable development technique.

And, as Open Source matures, more and more decision makers are growing comfortable with the concept and image of adopting Open Source. It's getting to the point where government representatives are asking, "So what's your Open Source component?" in requests for proposals.

As far as our work with the Navy, they are working on an official policy statement on how they will utilize Open Source. That's important because policies, such as this, must be crafted and enacted to help facilitate the procurement process.

We're also involved with other government and industry partners to help obtain government security validation for different Open Source programs. Again, this is part of the process that must be addressed for Open Source to be formally recognized and adopted in certain government circles.

LWM: Can you talk about some other projects you're working on?

Weathersby: At LinuxWorld in Boston, OSSI published our program and activity list for the coming year. [See] Besides our ongoing activities with the DOD, we've launched a Research Fellowship program to help promote and support graduate and professional R&D for Open Source.

We're in the process of setting up a National Center for Open Source Policy and Research (NCOSPR) that we intend on building into a national center of excellence focusing on Open Source.

We're also launching a series of professional seminars and conferences to promote Open Source in local, state, and federal government communities. And, we're working with other like-minded organizations from around the world to learn from one another and promote our collective agendas.

LWM: What are your plans for the next year or so?

Weathersby: Our plans for the future are to continue to support and promote the continued development of Open Source in the U.S. public sector. I'm confident that we'll see an acceleration of Open Source adoption in all facets of the government in the next couple of years.

We have a lot on our plate and will try to grow our programs to best meet the needs of those they serve. It's an exciting time to be in this market. We invite all to join in. The best is yet to come.

More Stories By Maria Winslow

Maria Winslow is the author of The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source, available at and can be contacted at [email protected]

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