Major part of DCGS now open source

Tools

A recently created military software open source foundation received its first major chunk of code when Lockheed Martin donated in May middleware software used in the Distributed Common Ground System, a military data analysis tool the subject of mounting controversy.

Lockheed delivered the code to the Codice Foundation, an industry-driven consortium that aims to foster open source adoption within the Defense Department and become an alternative to Forge.mil, a Defense Information Systems Agency-managed open-source code repository that many describe as moribund.

The middleware is the Distributed Data Framework, a core component of the DCGS Integration Backbone, version 4. The DCGS Multi-Service Execution Team Office in 2012 described (.pdf) the DDF as a means of abstracting services and business logic from underlying data structures and an integration framework packaged with application programing interfaces that permit customized queries.

"Anyone can use DDF to search multiple computer systems securely and at scale with the results presented in a meaningful and useful way," said Lt. Col. Mark Murray, director of the DCGS DMO, in a release (.pdf) provided to FierceGovernmentIT.

The Army version of DCGS, DCGS-A, has been at the center of criticism over rising costs and poor performance. During an April House Armed Services Committee hearing, Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) had a heated exchange over the system, with Hunter charging that the Defense Department is "trying to recreate the systems that already exist in real life and are used by big business every single day" in an inefficient and bureaucratic way. Odierno responded that the system cost is $10.2 billion over 30 years and that a "company commander today with DCGS-A has 20 times the capability I had as a division commander in 2003."

A June 19 article published in The New Republic reiterates much of the criticism, describing the system as prone to crashing, difficult even for trained users, and less capable than commercial-off-the-shelf technology. It mentions the problem of integrating data, but some military software coders say it skates over the fact that DCGS is not only an end-user business-analytics tool but a data integration engine that accommodates many legacy and proprietary data sources that accomodates multi-level security access to data. Many of the problems with DCGS can be traced to its applications, they also say, speaking on condition of non-attribution in exchange for frankness.

The DDF itself is made up of open source components integrated by Lockheed Martin; the company donated that integrated stack for distribution under the GNU Lesser General Public License v. 3.0, under which changes to the source code don't have to be outwardly redistributed. When preparing DDF for open source release, Lockheed Martin refactored the code to remove a dependency on Oracle database software.

The State Department has also approved DDF for distribution under export control regulations.

When combined with applications from the Ozone Widget Framework, a user could create a node with many DCGS functionalities that's also capable of communicating with a full-blown DCGS instantiation, said Kit Plummer, a Codice co-founder and software engineer with Colorado Springs, Colo.-based RadiantBlue Technologies. The node wouldn't quite be a DCGS node because the although the DDF is a core part of the DCGS Integration Backbone, the backbone still has components in it prevented from wider distribution by export control regulations.

One use case the office of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence has expressed interest in, said Plummer, is using DDF plus the OWF to set up easy interoperability with coalition partners. "If you put them together, you get a lot of DCGS functionality for nothing," he said.

OWF has proven difficult to scale up, Plummer said, but added that a refactoring underway is meant to address that problem.

For more:
- go to the Codice DDF home webpage
- read the press release (.pdf)

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