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4/11/2012
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NASA's New Web Plans Stress Open Source, Cloud

NASA's entirely new Web architecture will lean heavily on cloud computing, open source tools, and social media.

NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery
NASA's Blue Marble: 50 Years Of Earth Imagery
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
NASA is building an entirely new Web architecture that leans heavily on cloud computing, open source tools, and social media. It will be used both for public-facing websites and internal Web services, the space agency announced Tuesday.

The new Web architecture is part of version 2.0 of NASA's Open Government Plan. All the major federal agencies released updates on their open government efforts this week as part of the Obama administration's larger Open Government Initiative, which was jumpstarted by a memo from President Obama in January 2009, soon after he took office.

The NASA plan's focus on the Web is not only natural for any open government effort, but also for NASA in particular, as the agency has been on the Web since the early 1990s. NASA websites are quite popular as government sites go, drawing 600,000 daily visitors and 140 million annual visits. NASA also has more than 250 social media accounts across at least eight social media platforms.

However, today, NASA's Web infrastructure includes development and hosting for about 140 internal and external Web applications and 1,590 websites deployed over a variety of underlying systems. According to NASA, the new plan will focus on creating a single infrastructure to support these Web applications and a majority of the websites.

[ Learn more about NASA's plans. Read NASA's Space Network Update Enters Next Phase. ]

Specifically, the new infrastructure will be an open standards-based cloud computing platform that will provide platform-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service, and software-as-a-service for internal and external Web apps and agency websites.

The infrastructure strategy will prioritize open standards, open source, and commercial off-the-shelf technology over custom-built systems, and instead of one big hulking project, the infrastructure will be built with iterative development processes like agile development.

Open data is a part of the new plan as well. The plans, according to NASA's announcement, are to "liberate NASA data and content through published APIs and functional interfaces."

Many of the initial stages of this strategy will be delivered within the next year. By this time next year, the agency plans to release a procurement for NASA IT services, pilot and deploy open source content management system, consolidate blogging infrastructures to that system, and develop an API for NASA data. Within two years, the new Web infrastructure should be entirely up and running.

In addition to the Web strategy, which is the centerpiece of NASA's plan, the plan also focuses on a commitment to open source tools, including continued use of the agency's own open source code repository, code.nasa.gov. NASA has worked to publicize its open source efforts, which include building its open government site in open source. The agency held an open source summit in March 2011 that saw 700 attendees, and plans to hold another such summit this summer.

Another piece of the strategy is the release of open data through the use of data.nasa.gov and the larger federal government open data site data.gov. NASA plans to release 500 more data sets within the next two years, "representing as much of NASA's internal work as possible.

InformationWeek's 2012 Government IT Innovators program will feature the most innovative government IT organizations in the 2012 InformationWeek 500 issue and on InformationWeek.com. Does your organization have what it takes? The nomination period for 2012 Government IT Innovators closes April 27.

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