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US Navy sails the open seas

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The US Navy is bored with manufacturer lock-in and wants to buy IT systems based on open standards.only.

Speaking this month at the Navy IT conference in Vienna, VA , Vice Admiral Mark Edwards, the 'CIO' of the Navy, declared: “The days of proprietary technology must come to an end,” he said. “We will no longer accept systems that couple hardware, software and data," FCW reports.

“We can’t accept the increasing costs of maintaining our present-day capabilities. In the civilian marketplace, it’s just the opposite. Some private-sector concerns are cutting their costs by 90 per cent while expanding their performance.”

Edwards' proclamation sounds new, but it's merely one step on the road he's travelled since January 2006, when Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullins reorganized the IT staff to "be aligned with ... all these systems that are so important to our future".

Even in 2006, the concepts and philosophies of the open source and open standards communities were filtering into the consciousness of information technologists at the top of the Navy ladder. "We can't have networks or platforms be at the center of the universe," Mullins explained at the time. "I want networks and platforms that put Sailors at the center of the universe. To empower the fleet, our networks must empower Sailors."

Edwards picked up and ran with the boss's vision. In December 2006, CHIPS, the Department of the Navy Information Technology magazine ,published an interview with him about the N6 Directorate, the Navy's term for its IT department. As the quotes below show, this is peppered with inevitabilities that prepare the way for this month's "no more proprietary" goal.

  • One of the areas I'm very interested in is having better visibility into how our IT money is being spent across the Navy

  • It's my sense that many of our legacy IT systems are in a sustainment mode...

  • We have a new generation of Sailor entering the Navy that grew up with the Internet, who is collaboratively and technologically savvy.

  • I have directed my staff to use greater scrutiny in approving expenditures based on the capability [of] return for the operating force. In-service legacy IT systems can be a tremendous drain on our limited resources, and they prevent us from being more agile in the IT arena.

Edwards also spoke of a 100-day plan that directed "specific action" in areas that included rapid capability development, open architecture, and "low-cost, operationally responsive" IT structures.

The Navy's early adopter stance comes as no surprise Open Source Software Institute's executive director John Weathersby, a leading advocate of open source in American government. "It's not just the Navy, but the Navy does continue to lead the way in open technology," he says. "Everyone is accepting that open is everywhere. Now they're saying, how do we deal with it? It's a maturing of the process." ®

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