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11/10/2004
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Navy Uses Open-Source-Like Environment To Improve Weather Forecasting And Mapping

SourceForge Enterprise Edition lets scientists and developers at the Navy's weather center collaborate within the safety of a firewall.

The U.S. military relies on the scientists and programmers at the Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC) for timely, accurate weather data and maps to facilitate its missions. Faced with having to create daily about 2.6 million oceanic and atmospheric charts, analyses, forecasts, and related data sets, the center is on its own mission to improve its IT processes.

To do this, the Naval center has turned to the open-source community's playbook, creating a collaborative development environment and online forum where scientists can communicate about projects. Using VA Software's SourceForge Enterprise Edition, military and civilian scientists, meteorologists, and developers have been able since March to communicate from within the center's firewall about objectives, strategies, and deadlines.

Before, "there was absolutely no process," says Earl Ravid, the center's deputy department head of operations. "An individual would be asked to write code without consideration of how much it would cost and how it would be supported in the future."

SourceForge Enterprise Edition lets organizations create a collaborative work environment that resembles the Web-based open-source community. Users exchange open-source or proprietary code within their Enterprise Edition repositories. Unlike E-mail, communications are archived in a single location, facilitating project tracking. This increase in efficiency is crucial for the meteorology and oceanography center, whose team of programmers has shrunk in recent years. "We no longer have the luxury of being able to develop everything on our own," Ravid says.

SourceForge Enterprise Edition supports 64 different Navy projects and up to 200 registered users spread out across multiple locations. Although SourceForge is best known for SourceForge.net, which has more than 900,000 registered users and includes a repository of more than 89,500 open-source programs under development, Enterprise Edition isn't strictly for use with open-source software.

The Navy group will continue to put SourceForge to the test as it plans by the second quarter of next year to migrate its more than 170 applications from a Sun Microsystems platform to Red Hat Enterprise Linux running on Intel-based servers.

It's too early to quantify just how much SourceForge Enterprise Edition has improved application-development processes, Ravid says, but he notes that his development teams call fewer meetings and exchange fewer E-mails.

"SourceForge keeps a record of communication more easily than keeping it in E-mail and cuts down the time it takes people to communicate," Ravid says. This, he hopes, will help keep the migration effort on schedule.

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