COMMENTARY

Industry, government need to embrace the power of open standards

The IT landscape is continuing to evolve. To keep pace with modern day demands, federal agencies and especially the Department of Defense must make a concerted effort to move away from restrictive systems that can preclude them from achieving their IT objectives.

Instead, they must be poised to retrofit the rigid foundation of their digital infrastructure -- the network.

But how do they achieve this, exactly? The key is embracing open standards-based technology, which allows agencies to innovate, scale and ultimately achieve greater cost savings without the limitations of being locked into proprietary technologies or solutions.

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And what is the difference between open and proprietary? Simply put, industry led standards organizations work together to develop open standards that any entity can deploy in their solutions. By design, products that deploy the same open standards are interoperable.

Conversely, companies also can develop proprietary protocols or augment standards-based protocols with capabilities and features that only their products deploy. Products that deploy proprietary protocols would not necessarily interoperate with those running on open standards.

Contrary to OMB guidance and security recommendations, DoD and civilian departments often rely on proprietary technologies instead of open standard-based solutions. Proprietary technologies limit government agencies to specific vendors or brands with inflexible architectures, leading to higher accrued costs and reduced innovation.

When an agency is locked in to deploying non-standard architectures, technologies, and capabilities of a specific vendor or brand, that brand has limited incentive to continuously innovate and improve their solutions.

On the other hand, all manufacturers can, by definition, deploy their solutions based on consensus-based and open standards. Open standards generate significant competition between manufacturers to improve their solutions, leverage innovation, lower costs and deliver best value to the government.

Open standards also drive increased security as the technologies, protocols, and capabilities are developed and vetted to consensus security recommendations and baselines. They also provide the foundation for building flexible, secure, and future-proof technology solutions that are able to evolve with Agency IT requirements and demands.

The renewal of the Technology Modernization Fund resulted in the latest push to innovate across the federal government, which means that agencies are looking to innovate as quickly as possible. But, buying multiple IT products from multiple vendors exposes the biggest problem with a closed, proprietary system—a lack of integration between different systems.

Agencies should be looking to multiple vendors who excel in different aspects that allow them to modernize IT, but they need to be able to use them all cohesively without extra manpower devoted to technology integration, interoperability and system control.

An open standards-based system would address these issues and allow IT managers to quickly use new solutions and ensure cohesive security and control over the entire environment. And we know it can work. Cloud.gov, the federal government’s cloud platform, was built on open-source technology and continues to run on it today.

The last time the cost savings was calculated in 2009, MeriTalk found that the federal government could save $3.7 billion from open source and IT solutions using non-proprietary code. Over these ten years, that cost surely increased significantly with a hike in federal mandates.

If agency requirements were written to require industry-led, consensus-driven, open standards and not a proprietary technology or protocol, then we would enable agencies to achieve their modernization goals by fostering greater collaboration, interoperability and innovation with best-of-breed technology solutions.

About the Author

Mike Loefflad is the systems engineering leader for the defense and intelligence business at Juniper Networks.

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