A blog for the enterprise open source community
GOSCON gives government good open source ideasJay Lyman, October 22, 2008 @ 4:32 pm ET
As always, the Government Open Source Conference (GOSCON) in Portland, Oreg. provided some fascinating discussion about how governments across the country and across the globe are using open source and how they want to use more of it. The fourth year of the event that brings public servants together with project and thought leaders of open source, this year’s GOSCON drew nearly 175 attendees. While the event has typically featured a large number of nearby officials from the Pacific Northwest, travel freezes imposed in states such as Idaho and Washington may have curbed attendance and also reminded those who did make it of the current economic situation, as if they needed that. Nevertheless, GOSCON always provides a good measure of how, similar to the enterprise, open source has become pervasive in government IT.
Ironically, some of the most interesting discussion at GOSCON was kicked off by sponsor Microsoft and a talk from the company’s Director of Open Source Strategy Bryan Kirschner about how the company fits into a world where open source is more than just a hobbyist fad. ‘You don’t need to feel sorry for us,” Kirschner said, reminding the government-minded folks in attendance of how pervasive and successful Microsoft is, as if they needed that. Still, Kirschner continued to reinforce the idea of Microsoft not as the dominant vendor of a finite IT industry, but as just another ‘small part’ of a greater IT ecosystem that has grown exponentially, become more participatory and opened opportunities for vendors as well as government customers. While Microsoft still suffers from skepticism over the idea it is participating in open source, its latest moves to support open source display a different approach.
GOSCON always provides some interesting use cases for open source by the public sector, and while we might not associate public service with space travel, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena presented on how integral open source BI software from Jaspersoft was integral to the Phoenix Rover Mission. JPL Lead Engineer Terry Himes told attendees how he and his team have navigated the procurement process while Jaspersoft Vice President Nick Halsey went over what his open source company has done to accommodate its government customers, which are accounting for significant revenue. Halsey stressed that Jaspersoft’s federal GSA Schedule listing and federal Section 508 accessibility compliance, announced at the conference, were examples of where the vendor was able to ‘bridge gaps’ in compliance that the development community would not have otherwise addressed. This highlights how, although we expect use of open source without commercial support or backing given economic conditions, commercial open source vendors may find refuge in government and enterprise markets where the need for a vendor is greater.
Zenoss, among open source systems management vendors that are reporting brisk business with government customers, teamed with DLT Solutions, a government IT VAR, to co-sponsor GOSCON and to present some interesting survey findings regarding open source in government. Zenoss cites the Federal Open Source Alliance’s Federal Open Source Referendum study and says that of Department of Defense, federal civilian and intelligence IT executives, 71% reported their agency can benefit from open source and 58% said they were more likely to consider open source while consolidating datacenters.
There was also an interesting panel discussion of cross-boundary collaboration and projects, where there is less focus on the openness of code and more focus on how open are lines of communication. One key issue that came up was the idea of persistent identity. Similar to other open source opportunities and challenges in the enterprise, governments want to know how they can better serve the public without making employees and citizens deal with multiple log-ins. Panelist Brian Behlendorf from the Mozilla Foundation pointed out the need for collaboration not only across geographic boundaries, but also across vertical categories, so that benefits to health record data management might also transfer over to education or other areas, for example. Another discussion of the potential benefit of some kind of government-specific open source software repository included input from Arup Patranabish, President and CEO of Anayze Soft, a systems consulting and software design company. Patranabish said they had worked on a repository, adding that while the technology and data sharing were not a problem, the required hardware and bandwidth was. Another panelist, Collaborative Software Initiative founder and CEO Stuart Cohen, talked about how collaborative projects are now drawing in not only software developers and engineers, but business and subject experts who are bringing a social networking aspect to collaboration in the public sector. Cohen also stressed the opportunity in developing software centrally, but distributing it locally, a model that may be another good match of open source and government. Other parts of the discussion focused on leveraging federal funding for cross-boundary sharing for things like disaster recovery and building on open source that can be used, developed and improved collectively by governments and agencies over time.
Throughout the event, there was still a degree of uncertainty, particularly among consultants wondering where and how they or anyone else can make money from open source. However, given their attendance at GOSCON, there were plenty of open source software experts, users and proponents ready to convince them that there is indeed money and progress to be made from open source software.
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