How Open Source Can Help Overcome Govt’s Biggest Challenges

Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality, per se.

– Charles Eames

A new paradigm – the shared economy – has emerged and reshaped business practices, governments and our private lives. This shared economy has affected society in dozens of ways: We share bikes, cars, and even our homes. Crowdsourced services are changing our social fabric and altering how we share knowledge. As a result, we must ask ourselves this question: If we are so committed to the power of sharing in our private lives, why not do the same with software in our agencies?

Well, that’s exactly what government and industry are doing with open source technology – a publicly accessible, collaborative process driven by meritocracy, where everyone is free to make improvements. At Thursday’s GovLoop Training, How Open Source Can Help Overcome Government’s Biggest Challenges, we talked with Jason Kincl, Systems Administrator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and David Egts, Chief Technologist, U.S. Public Sector at Red Hat, to learn more about open source technology – particularly via OpenStack cloud infrastructure – and the benefits your agency can realize by utilizing it.

At Oak Ridge – a lab within the Department of Energy – scientists work on a very diverse portfolio ranging from nuclear security to material research. ORNL’s services are very customer-centric and tailored to individual needs. This is great for the customer but has spread the organization very thin, creating siloes of IT that are difficult to manage, Kincl said. To address this, ORNL had a push towards cloud as a way to centralize these workloads.

The lab decided to try out OpenStack – an open-source cloud infrastructure with a modular architecture that is designed to easily scale out. If you’ve never heard of OpenStack, don’t worry – 55% of training attendees also had no prior knowledge. To execute this change, ORNL faced three challenges: understanding and deploying OpenStack-based cloud, designing a hardware vendor-agnostic cloud, and integrating open source into a customized environment. Below, we’ll walk through how ORNL – with the crucial help of Red Hat – successfully navigated these concerns.

Understanding and deploying OpenStack-based cloud. This was a massive project with lots of different moving parts, said Kincl. OpenStack is a huge, vibrant community, made up of different participants with varying areas of focus and motivation. Therefore, being able to review and evaluate OpenStack without making any initial financial investment was critical. To get a better feel for the environment, ORNL turned to Red Hat to leverage their expertise. Red Hat helped amplify ORNL’s voice in the community, encouraging users to test the system and identify areas of improvement. This widespread adoption provided long-term supportability.

Designing a hardware vendor-agnostic cloud. With different silos of IT that must support a wide range of hardware, it was necessary that ORNL’s cloud solution was not tied to one, specific vendor. Deploying a cloud solution that met scientists’ diverse, demanding needs on varying domains and systems was a significant challenge. With open source, however, vendors have to deliver value or risk being replaced, Egts said. Therefore, with help from Red Hat’s OpenStack Cloud Infrastructure Partner Network, ORNL was able to craft a solution to meet its needs.

Integrating open source into a customized environment. Integrating the solution with the already-establish lab infrastructure that scientists depend on was key. Open source enables customization, letting you see the inner workings, make improvements, and tailor the software to your environment. Red Hat helped ORNL work through this process, ensuring they weren’t developing another piece of soon-to-be siloed IT.

Finally, Kincl provided some lessons learned in ORNL’s deployment of open source technology:

  • Start dialog early and often
  • Evaluate options
  • Do not undervalue testing
  • Watch for hidden requirements

And for senior agency leaders who may be resistant to such change, Kincl put it quite frankly as an “adapt or die” type of mentality. For organizations like ORNL, this was a change that was necessary for its success in the long-term. Failing to act due to fear of the unknown would have been very costly.

Open source holds great potential to reimagine processes and how services are delivered in the public sector. Examining ORNL and its collaboration with Red Hat, we’ve seen how agencies can tailor open-source solutions to fit organizational needs.

Click here for the full presentation and additional resources!


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