Farewell LTG Sorenson

I woke up this morning in the Marriott Crystal City. Nothing unusual in that, except that it's Saturday.  Normally it would bum me out to travel on the weekend, but last night I was in town to attend Lt. General Sorenson's retirement dinner.  I was honored to be among the 150 or so friends and colleagues there to celebrate his 37 years of service to his country and the U.S. Army.

I've only known him for a few years so it was touching to meet his friends, some going all the way back to high school.  They made the trip from all over to be there on his last day in the Army.  The sincerity with which his long career was feted was a testament to his style of leadership. You attend these things out of respect, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Part sincere send off, part variety show, it was an unexpectedly pleasurable evening.

The biggest surprise came when Brig(?) General Jeffrey Smith donned his harmonica and guitar and channeled the Smother's Brothers for an amazing and funny send up. It was absolutely brilliant and transformed the Ft. Meyers O Club into a television sound stage.  My favorite snippet, and a line I'll use again was: "Cyberspace isn't that complicated.  It's like a vibrating bed in a Holiday Inn.  Drop in a quarter and people start connecting." 

For my part, I just want to thank Lt. General Sorenson for taking some risks these last few years.  Of course he will be most remembered for GNEC, and that's appropriate.  But I most appreciate his embrace of innovation at the edge.  He put his weight behind experiments like Apps for Army and the ArmyTransformation Architecture and planted the seeds for an ongoing transformation.  

Leadership roles get filled by either caretakers or visionary change agents and Jeff Sorenson is cut from the second kind of cloth.  

General Sorenson, you ended the night by thanking us.

But I really want to thank you sir.

• • •

AKO et al Should Offer OpenID Services

It’s been a while since I’ve consistently blogged here. At the risk of writing checks I can’t cash, I’ll state for the record that I’m going to try once again for consistency. It should be easy. If I can just manage to be half as talkative (and opinionated) here as I am in meatspace I’ll be golden. That hasn’t been the case for the last year, but I’m really going to try. Anyway, here goes…

A few weeks ago I was talking to Blake Hall about the difficulty of on-boarding military members for his new service TroopSwap. It’s a cool idea and I wish it had been around back when I was in the Navy and was trying to unload that solid oak 300 lb entertainment center I was stupid enough to buy. It is sort of like a Craig’s List / eBay hybrid but focused on those out of the way places where the military builds its posts and bases. You know, places too sparsely populated or interesting to find in Craig’s list of supported cities.

Blake’s goal is to help military members who are moving every six to eighteen months find someone to trade their gear, tv, or kitchen table with for barter or cash. So in addition to the focus on out of the way places, TroopSwap also wants to take advantage of the circle of trust inside the military and ensure the user that transactions are with other trustworthy military members. Sort of like a USAA for buying and selling your stuff. But to do this effectively he needs to make sure that members are actually in the military without making signing up so difficult that they just don’t bother. Right now it’s a pain.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Army Knowledge Online / Defense Knowledge Online, Navy Marine Corps Internet, Air Force Portal and etc. took a page from the “government as a platform” playbook and offered an OpenID service? And I don’t mean on the NIPRNet, I’m talking about out in the wild on the Internet. If they did, Blake could accept OpenID’s from that short list of providers and make signing up simple and safe. I know this sounds stupid at first, but stay with me for a minute. It’s not just to make Blake’s business better.

Lt. General Sorenson, the Army CIO, has been pushing for two years to make innovation possible at the edge of the Army enterprise. Apps for Army, the Army Transformation Architecture, and similar initiatives coming out of CERDEC make it possible for soldiers in the field to write and deploy code without waiting for the core acquisition process to figure everything out. They enable emergent innovation in the field.

An AKO OpenID service is like an extension of that idea, but it goes even further. It would extend the Army’s zone of innovation beyond the edge to outside the enterprise boundary, and it would encourage third party services to innovate on their behalf. Ultimately the benefits wouldn’t be just for entrepreneurs like Blake, but would be for soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen by making it easier for outside organizations to offer them targeted services. It might be retail companies like Amazon or Best Buy, or even Domino’s Pizza, using it to easily offer online discounts to service members. It might be companies like Facebook or MySpace offering specially designed areas catering only to military members. Or, it might be non-profits like the USO that already serve the military but want to serve them better online. Once you start thinking about it, it’s hard to stop coming up with ideas.

Flipping the coin over, it’s also good for the military because it gives them a way to see who their people are doing business with and pay attention to the nature of that business. They could easily require third parties to meet a set of “safe for troops” business standards before they would be offered OpenID from those providers.

This may be a little bit more of a stretch, but I can also think of more “tactical” use cases too. As the military is asked to do more disaster recovery and humanitarian aid they may find more need to give service members access to the systems and web applications of various NGO’s. Those NGO’s could easily set up their systems to accept OpenID’s served from government networks.

I know this is a counter intuitive idea, at least at first. But the more I think about it the more I think the military and its members would benefit from extending internal identity services beyond the enterprise boundary through OpenID.

• • •

The Cybernetic Stall – Emergence isn’t Optional

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Intentional Emergence in the defense IT enterprise. I advocate for emergent approaches like open source because I don’t think buckets of money can continue to make up for central planning’s failures, because it’s frustrating to work in an environment where good ideas languish, and, if I’m honest, because I think it would just be a lot more fun if the enterprise felt more like the web. Lately however, I’ve become convinced that facilitating emergence with policy and practice isn’t just nice to have, it’s absolutely necessary. In this post I’ll try to explain why. The argument goes like this:

People cooperate to make society function. In capitalist societies we do this by combining our efforts into companies and other organizations that are centrally planned and centrally controlled. However, beyond a certain scale central planning falls down. It gets unwieldy. So, instead of having one giant company that plans and controls everything (or a socialist government standing in for it), these independently planned entities interact in a market that isn’t centrally controlled, it’s emergent. The market has some simple rules and out of it emerge both prices and patterns of behavior.

Long before Complexity Theory, Social Physics, Chaos and all its about talk of basins of attraction and stuff like that, or before any of the modern offspring of Cybernetics came along, Friedrich Hayak wrote The Road to Serfdom. In it he made the argument that centrally planned economies would always result in authoritarianism and the failure of democracy (or more generally, freedom). The planned economies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, though starting at opposite ends of the political spectrum, kindly reinforced his point by sliding into near mirror-image fascist states. The planner’s intentions made no difference and the Gulag filled up with well-intentioned old Bolsheviks.

So, what does this have to do with Defense Enterprise IT?

The Defense Enterprise is huge. Whether in terms of number of participants, dollars spent, assets, or any other measure, it’s massive. In fact, it has never really been a single enterprise if the definition “enterprise” includes the span of control of a single controlling entity. It has always been broken up into near-independent organizations with different missions, cultures, financials, and etc. to make each sub-enterprise span of control more reasonable. It’s scope and activities make it a lot like an economy filled with at least partially independent organizations.

Inside that super enterprise, individual IT systems (and system acquisitions) proceeded in near isolation. They had external requirements and policy to follow, but those changed slowly and all of the money, authority, and accountability for a given effort intersected at a single program office. The program office might have a devilishly complex task to accomplish, but at least it (mostly) controlled its own destiny.

Of course, I’m not describing a perfect world. Many of these programs were themselves very large by the standards of commercial enterprise. As program size and the necessary controls that go with size increased, a greater portion of their overall effort was consumed with controls instead of code. As a result acquisition cycle times and overhead have increased dramatically in the last thirty years, and so have failures. Also, given the lengths of time involved, by the time a system was delivered it often turned out that no one really cared about it anymore.

This has been true from the very beginning of the DoD’s IT enterprise. In fact the precedent was set by one of the earliest defense IT systems, the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE). It was a massive undertaking that required the simultaneous invention of the first multi-user digital computer (whirlwind) and a continent-wide radar system to go with it. Its completion was lauded as a testament to the newly devised methods of systems engineering, processes we are still living with today. What’s talked about less is that it took so long to deliver that it never served its intended purpose. By the time it was operational, strategic bombers had been supplanted by ICBM’s and the need to vector fighter defense on a continent-wide scale had gone away. SAGE became a useful but very expensive air traffic control system until the early 80’s when it was finally retired.

So, for many years we’ve had programs of such massive size that they have been pressing up against (and frequently exceeding) the limits of our ability to centrally plan and manage them. With that size has come a decline in the ratio of value achieved for the money spent while failure rates have increased. But, we could live with that because we had the richest economy on the planet and now and again, through sheer force of will, all of that systems engineering managed to spit out a useful system. Systems that, if their time had passed, could at least be used for some other related and useful purpose.

More recently however, the DoD has started a migration to NetCentricity. NetCentricity is a revolution in the use of information in warfare. If its proponents are right it will mark a discontinuity in warfare as big as the advent of armor or air warfare. Strictly speaking NetCentricity isn’t about technology, it is about the power of networked organizations, rapid information flow, and self-synchronization to serve as force multipliers and enhance the operational art of maneuver. Technology is a necessary enabler though and the important key to this discussion is the fact that NetCentricity requires systems all across the DoD super-enterprise to share information. For people to have shared awareness and self synchronization in the cognitive domain, their information systems must be connected.

The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University recently published a paper on ultra large systems (pdf) that goes into great detail about the challenges that come with this evolution – from thousands of independent large (or very large) systems into a single ultra large system fabric. I think one of its most important points is that Ultra Large Systems won’t be managed as a single effort, but instead will consist of operationally independent but connected nodes (see page 11). What this is saying without saying it, is that the era of pretending that the DoD IT Enterprise is a single enterprise is over. An enterprise is by definition the people, systems and processes that are under a single span of control. This statement is an acknowledgement that in a NetCentric ULS-operating DoD this can no longer be the case. So, if it’s not an enterprise, what is it then?

Let’s ask the question another way. What happens when hundreds of programs that were already so large that they were teetering at the limits of central planning suddenly get connected to each other? When huge programs that at least had nice clean edge conditions suddenly find themselves having to coordinate across boundaries that were once impermeable and fixed? Do you get an Ultra Large System that is too big to plan? Or do you still have hundreds of only Really Big systems that just tipped over?

Either way it’s a communication storm where suddenly every program manager is taxed with external communications about rapidly evolving boundary conditions (e.g. protocols, taxonomies, semantics, technologies, etc.). The speed at which those boundary conditions change, combined with the effort inherent in all that additional communication is the tipping point into a cybernetic stall. The DoD has become the proud owner of an ultra large system that is simply too large to survive and thrive as a centrally planned entity, but they are still trying to plan it.

Today the Army struggles to respond to this problem (within the still-limited scope of the Army enterprise) with its Software Blocking process. This is an effort to align all of the Army’s related systems into a single release schedule (i.e. blocks). Essentially it attempts to abstract the planning process so that it can span many large programs. But the reality is, what was once a hard problem is becoming an intractable one and while software blocking can help improve interoperability across the Army’s systems, it does it at the expense of speed. To stay in synch, all of the systems in a block have to keep pace with the slowest runner. A better plan would probably be to adopt emergence at the scale of each of those systems like Amazon has, with a combination of architecture, organization, and incentives.

In a more general sense, Software Blocking is part of a broader organizational reaction to the stall. It’s a reaction that seeks to exert more and more control in the face of uncertainty. Acquisition processes add steps to wring risk from the process, SEI issues updates to CMM that require more process documentation and evaluation, and old timers wax nostalgically about the days “when people would just take orders and do what they were told.” What those old timers are really nostalgic for are the days of clear lines of control in the hierarchy. As the hierarchy is replaced by a network both the clarity of accountability and the control that goes with it are lost.

In the military’s culture of order giving and taking, pushing for even more control in the face of failing programs is only natural, but it isn’t going to fix the problem. It’s like trying to sidestep Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle by squinting really hard when you look at an electron. It’s a fools errand, a Paradox of Control. Because it turns out that once you’re in a cybernetic stall, trying to de-risk with more planning and control will just make things worse. By the very nature of software, the slower you build it, and the more complete you try to make your plans before you start, the more real risk you create. Does anyone believe that the JCIDS process is enhancing warfighter effectiveness?

The web, unlike the expanding DoD super enterprise, has always been emergent. Since it was never really under anyone’s control it demonstrated emergence from the beginning – It didn’t need anyone to let go of control for it to get that way. As a result it has experienced a great deal of innovation – innovations that usually start small and in large quantities and then culled as they grow into a power law curve. The exact technologies of the web, or even the exact attributes that comprise its emergent eco-system, might not be the right ones to make the DoD emergent. After all, the DoD has different operational and environmental conditions. However, we would be dumb not to look at the web for ideas for the defense IT enterprise.

This is a conversation with consequences. Despite how it sounds, we’re not just bantering about esoteric theory. Let’s continue for just a moment with the analogy between the defense IT enterprise and the broader economic activity of the state. From The Road to Serfdom:

“It is no exaggeration to say that if we had had to rely on conscious central planning for the growth of our industrial system, it would never have reached the degree of differentiation, complexity, and flexibility it has attained. Compared with this method of solving the economic problem by means of de-centralization plus automatic coordination, the more obvious method of central direction is incredibly clumsy, primitive, and limited in scope. That the division of labor has reached the extent which makes modern civilization possible we owe to the fact that it did not have to be consciously created but that man tumbled on a method by which the division of labor could be extended far beyond the limits within which it could have been planned. Any further growth of its complexity, therefore, far from making central direction more necessary, makes it more important than ever that we should use a technique which does not depend on conscious control. (Emphasis added by me).

China had its Deng Xiaoping and Russia had Beria. Both of them saw (at different times) that central planning was leading to economic disaster. Xiaoping started China’s economy on the road to growth by permitting markets and encouraging the emergence that goes with them. Beria on the other hand didn’t survive the post-Stalin power shake out and as a result the Soviet Union just kept five year planning itself into oblivion.

The Defense IT Enterprise faces a similar crossroads. The scale of the super enterprise (and the Ultra Large System landscape inside it) exceeds the limits of central planning, yet the DoD is still trying to plan itself to success. The result is failing programs, a focus only on the big stuff, and obvious (and growing) digital serfdom for our troops on the ground. In general they are less connected and more constrained in their use and development of IT than their third world adversaries. And to add insult to injury, when they show up at disaster relief sites, they often find that the NGO’s have better situational awareness on the ground. Meanwhile the systems engineering machine keeps grinding out yesterwar’s systems.

This begs the question, who is the DoD’s Deng Xiaoping? The one that will break it out of the Paradox of Control and recognize that along with the planned “enterprise-like” components, there must be vast spaces of facilitated emergence? Most people doubt Mao meant it when he said to let a hundred flowers blossom, but the Defense IT establishment needs to embrace the notion in its policy and create an ecosystem that supports emergent behaviors, or continue to watch large scale system development falter, money get wasted, and our troops fight in digital squalor.

• • •

The Army, the Web, and the Case for Intentional Emergence

Lt. Gen. Sorenson gave a Higher Order Bit talk at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco back in November. I didn't make it to the Summit this year but I'm glad I got to see the video. 

I'm glad General Sorenson is thinking about how the Army's systems and methods can be improved with Web 2.0 ideas and technologies but I wish the Army would really go after the really fundamental benefit of the Web, the fact that it is a platform that supports emergence. It's not just about the specific technologies, it's about the ecosystem of technology, economics, policy, and culture that supports rapid innovation on a generative platform. 

I think the Army can unleash a wave of innovation at the edge by replicating the web's generativity on the battlefield and a couple of California National Guard guys I met have proven it. They managed to get a single Linux box authorized for the SIPRNET in theater and quickly used it to build a collection of web applications called Combat Operations Information Network that scratched a bunch of itches for their unit.

As simple as it was (a single underpowered Linux machine on the network), once COIN was on the network it was a generative node and people lined up to get other problems solved and is now widely used across the theater.

I tell the rest of the story about my reaction to General Sorenson's talk and how the Army's Battle Command System can support innovations like COIN here at Radar. I'll just link to it rather than cross posting the rest of it.

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• • •

Open Technology Conference Wrap Up – Where the Geeks At?

Yesterday I sat on the panel that I referred to here. I thought I’d follow up with a brief post about one topic of our panel conversation.

To start the panel we were asked “what’s bugging us?” This started an interesting conversation about some specific open source roadblocks in defense. In particular, Bdale Garbee made the point that open source projects rely heavily on personal reputation. Even when major corporations participate in open source community, it’s the reputation of the individual that determines whether and how contributions make it into the project repository. People get commit rights, not companies. This can be problematic in the defense space.

I added that many key contributors to open source projects have self-selected to participate. The ability to self select is important to the ability of a project to find people with high levels of commitment and expertise. Look at the list of contributors on the Apache web server project for example. While there are certainly participants that represent major corporations, I would estimate from looking at the list that at least a third self selected. And that third is important as it is often the source of key (and difficult to find) skills. In fact, even many of the company sponsored contributors self selected and were later hired because of their participation.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, within the DoD it can be much more difficult to self-select to participate. In defense work every hour is accounted for and must match a specific project plan line item. Community participation often requires a contributor to assist with things that don’t have an exact corresponding work breakdown structure element from the program that is paying them. In defense work, if you don’t have a charge code, you don’t work. There’s simply less wiggle room for participation that doesn’t directly relate to the program that is funding you at that moment.

We also touched on a bunch of other issues that impact the ability to participate in or contribute to open source projects. Things like export controls, copyright, culture, etc.

These specific issues that impact defense contribution and participation have broad implications if defense is to be able to effectively leverage the work going on in open source communities. One of the things that makes open source community tick is the right to fork. Knowing that you can fork the source if the project direction deviates from your own direction is important to alleviating risk. The antidote to forking is community participation and the development of trust. The more you participate, and the more you develop trust, the more you or your organization can influence the direction of a project or at least make sure that your specific needs can be met. With all of the rules that currently make meaningful participation difficult, it is very difficult for defense contractors to participate in the upstream software value chain. The result is perpetual forking.

It will work like this. A defense contractor does a trade space analysis and decides that they can save a lot of money for the government by using a particular open source project, so they include it in their bid. They win and they build the system using the open source component, however, they realize that they have to modify it in a few critical ways to satisfy some specific requirements. They can’t participate in the community so their changes never get offered back, and never make it into the trunk. A few years later, under a follow up maintenance and sustainment contract, they do an upgrade of the system and, because their changes never made it into the core project, they have to repeat the work again on the newest version of the open source project.

In the not too distant future there will probably be whole classes of software infrastructure that are effectively only available as open source. It simply won’t be economic for a proprietary software firm to compete in areas that have been completely commoditized. Therefore, it’s imperative that the Department figures out how to resolve the issues that are preventing their own people or their contractors from participating meaningfully in the communities that they will be forced to rely on.

That’s probably enough on that. There was one other thing I wanted to touch on in this post. This was the fourth year of this conference and, maybe I’m just an impatient person, but I’m getting really bored of the same old remedial conversations with a bunch of suits (full disclosure, I was in a suit too). Or as John Scott put it to me during a break, “Where the geeks at??” Too much of the conversation is still about whether or not Linux qualifies as CoTS in the FARS and that sort of thing. Where are the breakout groups on open geo tools? Where’s the presentation from the guys using XMPP as a cheap messaging stack in some major program? Where are the non-DoD geeks who are attending because they are participating in an open source community that was started in defense but is now being widely used to solve all kinds of other problems? Where are people trying to build an open service bus that will deal with intermittent service end points that you find on a battlefield? Where are the SOSCOE developers talking about how they used JXTA’s service advertising mechanisms? Etc…

It’s time to move from the basics into the advance course kinds of stuff; the stuff you talk about when you are actually doing it. It’s time for DoD policy makers and decision makers in key programs to really start to push; push for expertise, program outcomes, and key policy initiatives that will alleviate the kinds of road blocks we discussed (again) in our panel. In short, it’s time to stop talking about open source in defense and start using it at such a meaningful scale that next year the room won’t be full of suits, but will be full of geeks and practitioners.

• • •

Open Source in Defense: Consuming it is Nice, but Building it is Better

I’ll be participating in a panel discussion next week at the 4th Annual DoD Open Technology Conference in DC. The Panel is about open source software in defense and will be moderated by John Scott, an author of Sue Payton’s Open Technology Development Roadmap (pdf). Dan Risacher, who recently discussed the DoD CIO’s upcoming policy memo with GCN, will also be on the panel. We’ll be talking about what makes open source valuable to the department – consuming it, contributing to it, and even building it outright. We’ll also be talking about the policy, legal, and accidental process roadblocks that make it more difficult today than it should be.

Yesterday, while I was doing some preparation, I ran across this sources sought on Fed Biz Ops. It got me thinking about the down to Earth practical stuff that is necessary to make a difference in encouraging open source in defense. I am going to come back to the details of this sources sought in a moment.

The DoD has broken the seal when it comes to consuming open source, at least in packaged form. I’m not certain where I got this factoid, but I think the US Army is now Redhat’s single biggest customer. But like I’ve said before, consuming open source is no big deal and really isn’t occasion for a big celebration. Where the DoD stands to gain much more value is in producing open source software.

Every industry has at least some domain-specific software needs. The stuff that makes up their industry-specific “stack” and that isn’t readily provided in the cross-industry products from the major software vendors. For example, the financial services industry depends on things like high speed messaging buses and high availability transaction monitors. Web firms use things like Perlbal, Hadoop, and of course Apache that help them build a massively horizontally scaled web presence. Telecom has specifications like H.323 and now SLEE and SIP and products built on them.

In the old days, if the industry was big enough, domain-specific software vendors would spring up to provide them with the infrastructure that they needed (e.g. Tibco’s Rendezvous). If they were REALLY big, a large software vendor might even offer a domain-specific product, or at least a version of their product.

These days though there is an alternative, Open Source Quasi- Joint Ventures. Well, nobody really calls them that, but that’s how I think of them. They are like accidental joint ventures that do resource sharing the way a traditional joint venture would, but they rely on open source licensing to make the risk of participation low. Plus, they avoid most of the legal and ownership wrangling that happens in a real joint venture.

A great example of this approach is the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) (and associated AMQ implementations such as OpenAMQ). It was initiated by JPMorgan but has grown to include many large banks as participants. The banks don’t give up any competitive advantage by participating because messaging is about passing information to trading partners, but they save money by more efficiently providing for their own infrastructure.

Things like OpenID and Hadoop also fit into this mold. Companies like Yahoo and SixApart are taking active roles in funding and guiding the development of their industry-specific technology. Again, it’s far enough down in their stack that they aren’t giving up a competitive position; but they are saving money by sharing their development resources.

I don’t mean to say that these aren’t normal open source projects in every way. I’m simply making a distinction about how and why they are funded in terms of the specific needs of the industry that is funding them. By joining together to build components for an industry-specific stack and then intentionally commoditizing it within that industry, these projects seem to be filling in where JV’s or domain-specific software companies might have focused before. This open source approach is better than a traditional JV though because new participants can join up at any time and they avoid many of the up front issues of starting a JV.

Back to the DoD. Defense has saved a great deal over the last decade recognizing that it can leverage COTS hardware and software. However, it still has many unique needs for its information technology stack – the DoD operates in a different operational environment and has many specialized requirements. So, while the DoD today is beginning to consume “package” commodity open source projects such as Linux, there is still a great opportunity to steal a page from JPMorgan’s playbook and build defense-specific infrastructure as open source. The DoD builds defense-specific stack components all the time, but they rarely do it in a way that makes it easy for other programs to adopt them (or even know about them). An open source approach would better spread the funding and would also ensure that once the money is spent the pieces could be widely used and adopted.

This brings me back to the WebTAS sources sought.

WebTAS started life years ago to simplify the process of conducting data analysis that spanned database instances and DBMS’s. Over time it evolved to be something like generalized middleware and application framework for data analytics applications (and has been used in even more general applications since then). The sources sought I linked to describes basically a “business as usual” approach to continuing the program as it plans to support continued R+D of the core framework as well as for at least some of the analytics work that will be done with it (which is why top secret clearances are required).

It’s probably worth asking the question whether there is even still a need for a government funded program to build a database connectivity and analytics suite (especially for a program that is expected to cost as much as $300M – that’s almost 25% of the $1.4B value of the Linux Operating System!). A lot of time has passed since the program was started and there are many more commercial and open source technologies available in that space today than there were when WebTAS started. However, for the purposes of this discussion I’m going to assume that WebTAS is continuing to provide unique capabilities to meet DoD-specific requirements. However, with that assumption in place, I’m going to argue that WebTAS should be developed in the fashion of an Open Source Quasi-JV.

Because WebTAS was developed under government contract, it can theoretically be used in any government contract. The government could furnish it to a contractor as Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) for any program. However, in practice this rarely happens. In defense IT, infrastructure software tends to be used only on contracts delivered by the contractor that built the infrastructure. As an example of this tendency, all three of the projects mentioned by the sources sought, SWIC, PANACIA, and MAAP are built primarily by the same contractor that currently delivers WebTAS.

If the government is interested in getting more value out of their investments in infrastructure like WebTAS (and would like to quench the proprietary lock in business model that they are stuck with today) they need to take concrete steps. As the sources sought indicates, the contract is expected to have a five year term. Once that contract is issued, if an open source approach isn’t built in, there won’t be another opportunity to change the approach for five years.

So, it’s great that Ms. Payton’s office wrote the OTD Roadmap and that the DoD CIO is about to issue a clarifying open source policy. However, if I were Ms. Payton, I would take another step and have my staff directly engaging with program managers of programs like WebTAS to ensure they let contracts that would directly support OTD in general and open source in particular.

For example, why not define in the contract’s CDRL’s (basically the stuff that is delivered) that the vendor must establish and govern an open community and the associated code repository? Why not include award fee metrics that incent open community – stuff like the number of other government programs or contractors that are participating in the community and using the software for their projects in order to incent open community development and marketing? While using IDIQ style contracts, why not make the awards to a range of potential contributors so that the contract is positioned to support an eco-system of contributors and ensure that each of them understands the Intellectual Property approach that will be used? Why not split the contract to develop the infrastructure from the use of it for analytics work so that a wider group of contractors (that don’t have to take on the cost of TS clearances) can participate?

The goal should be to establish rules and incentives in the contract that encourage the development of widely available open software with an effective community.

Savvy contractors will realize on their own that taking the initiative to open source infrastructure like WebTAS themselves is good for business. Assuming the code is valuable, aggressively commoditizing it will contribute to wider adoption and more opportunity – after all, these are all services businesses. However, it’s early and we haven’t reached that tipping point yet. So, if the government wants to achieve real strides with open initiatives they need to do more than provide OTD policy guidance. They need to aggressively work programs like WebTAS to establish contractual terms and incentives that will push their contractors past the tipping point before another round of long term contracts freezes progress for half a decade.

• • •

Warfare’s Long Tail – Cyber Warfare in Georgia

800Px-Long Tail

A quick summize search will take you to a bunch of articles like this one focusing on Georgia and Russia’s cyber war; the one that is paralleling the much more deadly kinetic exchange on ground and in the air. While giving the reader ample opportunity to reminisce about Estonia, the reporting raises the usual questions. Where does state sponsorship (and intent) end and “volunteerism” begin? Who is responsible for the attacks and how are they carried out? That sort of thing.

I guess I’m struck as much by who’s not talking about the cyber side of things. As you read the articles you find the intelligence reports coming from non-profits (e.g.
Shadowserver Foundation), private companies (renesys) and private citizens (e.g. Armin) rather than from intelligence agency public briefings. The defensive infrastructure is being supplied by companies like Deutsch Telekom (data links) and Google (blogs to replace downed government web sites). And, well, the offense is probably coming from the RBN.

What you don’t see are press room appearances by a NATO Cyber Defense spokesperson offering assistance or Russian military and government spokespeople talking about their glorious cyber offensives. While the conventional military channels focus on the kinetic war, the “amateurs” talk about (or participate in) the cyber campaign.

Historically, the line between professional militaries and the rest of a society were less clear than it has been since the first world war. Since then, at least in most of the industrialized world, kinetic warfare has been the domain of the professional. We civilians were expected to participate in metal drives and watch news reels and that was about it.

truncated tail

Later, the broadcast medium of television had a significant impact on how professional wars were fought by more tightly coupling success or failure on the battlefield back to the political domain. It dumped real time public reaction and sentiment into the mix and tended to shorten the cycle of political consequence. However, television did little to change who actually did the fighting.

Now it’s different. In the same way it is impacting so many facets of modern life, the Internet appears to be bringing the long tail of participation to at least the cyber domain of modern warfare. As the professional militaries continue to develop capability in this domain we may ultimately see the tail and the head link up in a more seamless manner than we’ve seen in conventional warfare for a long time.

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Barcamp.mil Follow Up


The inaugural barcamp.mil went down yesterday in Crystal City without a hitch and, at least for me, was a real blast. Thanks to John Scott and Mercury Computer Systems for providing space, pizza, and even some celebratory Tsing Tao beer. The turnout was good and we ended up with strong tracks in GIS and DoD open source as well as some great sessions on security (high assurance computing), cloud computing in DoD, and enabling innovation. There were probably others but being able to be in only one place at a time… The lunchtime session on evolving open source policy in the DoD was of particular interest. There are definitely people in the department that get it which is heartening.




John and I both agree that we’d like to do more of these things; perhaps tied in with major conferences such as I/ITSEC, the annual DISA Partner Conference, or similar venues that draw DoD geeks together. If you are running a conference and you’d like to facilitate a simul-barcamp.mil let John or I know.

Some people are probably wondering how it is possible to mix the barcamp ethos with the defense space. All I can say is, you should check it out. Despite the bureaucracy we deal with in this space there is really cool work being done (and some of it can even be talked about). Beyond that, I believe there is a growing cultural gap developing along generational lines within the industry. We didn’t all grow up here and we are bringing our culture, values, and methods of working with us. From agile to open source the defense space is undergoing big changes. barcamp.mil is just another way for like minded people to connect, share ideas, and spread the culture virus.


Industrial age mechanisms simply aren’t working anymore for the connected forces the DoD envisions. We have an opportunity to really make a difference in how tomorrow’s force is equipped, but even more importantly, how it works. Hey, it’s a Democratic Republic and it’s our military too.


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Army Cyber Warrior – Slashdot Interview

Following on the heel’s of General Lord’s interview on Slashdot some months back, the Army’s Lt Col John Bircher responds to questions about the Army’s role in Cyberspace.

I really like the fact that the armed services are making this effort to engage. We are no where near creating the kind of uniform to volunteer continuum that Richard Bejtlich discusses in his recent post about the USAF Cyber Symposium and I think there is much more practical day to day participation that can be done, but these kinds of baby steps toward are important and should be applauded.

On a recent panel at USAF Cyber Symposium I suggested that the USAF Cyber Command should avoid looking inward for the answers to every question and should look for opportunities to engage a wider community. As an example, I suggested that they make their Internet boundary router tap data available to researchers and volunteers as a way to get more eyes looking for patterns of potential intrusions. At one level this kind of proposal is simple pragmatism; get more eyes on the data ala wikipedia or Linux and do a better job solving problems. However, there is a an idealistic angle as well. I believe that in a Democratic Republic it is imperative that people stay involved at some meaningful and personal level with things like governance and defense. On an intuitive level I get nervous when the government and military turn inwards and see themselves as separate and distinct from the people they are governing and defending.

In his response to question number 8 Lt Col Bircher himself discusses this growing concern. There are things in the sphere of Cyberwarfare that are unlikely to become fully transparent anytime in the near future, but the more the membrane between the military professional caste and the people it supports is made permeable, the more room there will be for trust to develop and the more effective the military will be.

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