LAMP Development at Public Sector Web Sites

A new breed of IT firm is helping federal, state and local governments create a “public infostructure” of interoperable, effective Web-based applications.

Peter Gallagher and Martin Hudson direct traffic from the second floor of the historic Underwood Building in Arlington, Virginia. Gallagher, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, saw the need for more appropriate technology solutions in developing countries. Hudson had a deep interest in making computers more useful and was pushing desktop applications. They met as consultants, worked together at two different firms and then decided to start their own company, Development Info Structure (devIS).

Using LAMP became Gallager and Hudson's stock and trade. As Peter explains:

The opportunity to develop a public info structure with less redundancy, lower costs, greater flexibility and better service is the eGovernment challenge in this new world. devIS anticipates further expansion in the coming years based on accelerating interest in open standards, eGovernment and efficient use of open-source software solutions. devIS has capabilities in software development and outsourcing that are unique for a small business, and projections indicate rising demand and associated revenues. State and local governments are showing increased interest in open systems. devIS has begun actively soliciting partnerships with these groups. Recent changes to federal procurement rules now allow state and local governments to purchase services from federal GSA contracts, providing standard access to any governmental agency at various levels.

OSS was essential to devIS as a small business competing against mega-corporations for federal work. Some of the high-end proprietary tools are so expensive to get started with—you pay for partner licensing and all types of required training, including marketing...just to try the product.

The next big thing, now that we all know we need to share data using XML standards and Web services, will be to share components. I know it will be hard, but it has to happen—eGovernment is accelerating and the logic of public infostructure is too compelling—the necessary standards and architectural boundaries are becoming understood. Shared OSS components will move eGovernment ahead quickly.

Martin Hudson adds:

The Government's adherence to published standards, at multiple levels, is making the market more competitive, making it possible for small companies like devIS to compete on larger, mission-critical, applications. When we formed devIS the higher order systems looked more like fiefdoms for large integrators—small business could not get in the door.

Our ability to implement inter-networking applications fully—we host data servers for state, USAID, GSA and labor—makes us different from most of the small businesses in our sector. And we are able to do that largely because of our roots in open source.

Gallager and Hudson's recent wins include the US Department of Labor's Workforce Connections program. They elaborate:

This just-in-time dynamic content publishing environment powers over 50 federal Web sites, including, the official portal for US government information on people with disabilities. The Workforce Connections application environment also publishes structured learning content, including question and answer interactions, all using the same object-oriented engine.

The tool exceeds federal specifications for Section 508, which is the federal implementation of the W3C Accessibility Guidelines. IT contractors now are legally liable to meet these requirements just as a construction projects must provide handicapped access. The system also meets another standard important to the federal government called SCORM, shareable content object reference model.

SCORM is an XML standard that makes it possible to share and re-use learning objects independent of proprietary authoring/presentation systems. Workforce Connections allows for distributed maintenance and instantaneous publishing by government content experts through a secure administration interface. The software was created in Python using the Zope content application server and runs on GNU/Linux Debian with the Apache Web server. Many of the sites are private. devIS currently is working with the DoL to release the product under an open-source license.

devIS also is doing work for the US Agency for International Development's TraiNet Project. Gallagher and Hudson describe TraiNet as:

...a secure, Internet-enabled visa application pre-processor [that allows] worldwide staff to comply with new security rules for training foreign nationals in the US. A Web-based work-flow interface, connected to a federated system architecture that relies on XML messaging to compensate for inconsistencies in connectivity among developing countries, provides a robust environment.

The system is in use at over 300 locations around the world to monitor training programs worth hundreds of millions USD for thousands of students. The visa processor has a secure machine-to-machine link with Department of Homeland Security systems to facilitate centralized production of the special student visas used for government-funded programs. OSS technologies used include GNU/Linux Debian, Apache, PostgreSQL and XML Blaster. Server-side applications are written in Python. devIS built, hosts and manages this application, including help desk and other operational support.



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Re: LAMP Development at Public Sector Web Sites

Anonymous's picture

Cash-strapped local governments will soon be forced to
consider Linux applications, or face law suits for squandering
public funds. Here in Canada, there is hardly a city hall that
couldn't save hard earned tax dollars from open source apps
aimed at this sector. Question is... Are there apps ready to
take on the task? If anyone knows of companies offering such software, I'd be interested in knowing who they are.

Sandy Milne

Re: LAMP Development at Public Sector Web Sites

Anonymous's picture

Blast Internet Services, Pittsboro, NC 27312 (OpenNMS, Open source network management software).

Re: LAMP Development at Public Sector Web Sites

Anonymous's picture

There are a very few small OSS businesses that support and customize some open source packages like Zope and OpenCMS... but there are a large number of small firms that COULD become active in this area if the Canadian federal and provincial governments would adopt the required policies on OSS procurement.

This will become an area of great interest as the benefits to the economy of increased business for local and national high-tech firms become realized... political motivation may succeed where financial benefits remain under the radar.