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.

Linux runs right under the radar, not exactly in stealth mode, at many high-profile government agencies, including the Departments of Defense, State and Labor; the General Services Administration; the Census Bureau; and USAID. At the heart of these applications lies the LAMP framework, which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, Perl or Python. Tom Walker, former Lt. Commander of Navy Special Operations and adamant proponent of open-source technologies, said, “The next computing revolution, like that of the Internet, will emerge from unexpected and perhaps even modest sources...the next great leap in computing and software technology will come from small firms who have the creativity and strength to stand up...by offering advanced solutions using Open Source technologies.” Firms like Walker's group and a few others have led the charge on Capitol Hill and elsewhere with open-source software (OSS).

Driving Linux

Lack of an integrated response within the US intelligence community prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001 has heightened government awareness of the disconnected databases in use throughout the country. As the Congressional Report on Intelligence Actions and the September 11 attacks revealed, “The intelligence community continues to be fragmented.” In response to this situation, Peter Gallagher and Martin Hudson of devIS state, “The need for governments to share information and solutions is fueling a new framework for eGovernment problem solving.” Gallagher explains how Linux has made its way into the public sector:

Early on we were able to use OSS only because the applications were outsourced. We could not talk about Linux, for instance. Now our clients really are considering how OSS might improve their internal environments—they want to talk to us about it. This is a big change. It always is a pleasure to see the look on a customer's face when they come to us asking about how to take advantage of OSS and then we remind them that together we have been for years!

We have shown that it works rather than just talking about it. I expect that in a few years there won't be interest in OSS for eGov per se, it will be just another option—we think the winning option.

Open-Source Software Institute

John Weathersby sits in his office at the University of Southern Mississippi pulling together geographically diverse groups of people with a mission. He runs the Open-Source Software Institute (OSSI), a nonprofit organization comprised of corporate, government and academic representatives. OSSI exists to serve as an advocate and as a collective resource and venue for the promotion, development and implementation of open-source software solutions between corporate, government and academic entities. Additionally, OSSI serves as a forum for working committees to address open-source issues in regards to government/industry standards, academic research, economic/market and legislative policy.

OSSI members John Weathersby (front) and Richard Kuebler (middle) pause with Mark Goodman (left) and Matthew Schick (right) from the University of Southern Mississippi as they tour campus. The Administration building stands in the background.

Shortly after inception of the Web site Government Forge (governmentforge.org), Weathersby reached out and began supporting Project Leopard, a framework for developing LAMP applications in government. Within two weeks, he pulled together open-source developers to facilitate building a common infrastructure. He next found an immediate application need within the judiciary branch.

Other recent wins include a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Naval Oceanographic Office delivered in August 2003. The Institute also serves as the coordination body securing government certification for OpenSSL under FIPS 140-2 approved cryptography. In addition, Weathersby has coordinated an effort in which the North Mississippi Education Consortium (NMEC) will lead a pilot program designed to provide free and open-source software to Mississippi's public school system. The program, called Freedom to Learn, is part of a PhD-level study exploring alternative technologies and methods of reducing costs while increasing efficiency and student productivity within public school systems.

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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
sandy@telus.net

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.

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