Something to Rave About: MITRE's Open Source Collaboration

October 2012
Topics: Open Source Software, Collaborative Decision Making
MITRE is engaged in a worldwide effort to refine the widely-used "social portal" Web platform known as Apache Rave.
woman programmer

MITRE engineers are defining the next wave of open source software innovation through open source development at the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). This sharing is helping to develop and promote an innovative open source platform for application development via Web "widgets"——gadgets that allow websites to incorporate customizable social functions. Participating in this worldwide effort to build an emerging "social portal" platform, called Apache Rave, provides benefits to our employees and our sponsors.

MITRE engineers participate in various capacities in the ASF, which provides organizational and legal support for some of the most widely used open source software programs in the world (see sidebar, "About the Apache Software Foundation," below). These include tools used by Google, Facebook, and Twitter to process colossal amounts of data.

Apache Rave allows websites to host, serve, and aggregate gadgets. It's based on the vendor-neutral OpenSocial standard (used by such firms as IBM and Jive Software and initially created by Google) and on separate software suites originally developed at MITRE and three other organizations.

It's the first open source project specifically designed to meet developers' demand for low-cost, scalable applications with social capabilities, explains Matthew Franklin, a MITRE lead software application developer. Developers worldwide collaboratively supported it via the ASF, and it has produced several successful code releases since it entered ASF's "Apache Incubator" program in March 2011.

A Commitment to Knowledge Management

Apache Rave is an integral part of MITRE's award-winning employee intranet. In fact, MITRE's introduction to the ASF began when the recently developed, second-generation version of our "MyMII" employee intranet was released to open source. (MII stands for MITRE Information Infrastructure.) When the intranet was due to be upgraded, the company's IT organization developed an OpenSocial-based portal rather than turning to a commercial off-the-shelf product.

"Our intranet illustrates MITRE's commitment to knowledge management and information sharing," says Bill Donaldson, head of MITRE's Knowledge Worker Application Development and Maintenance department. "Our goal was to add significant capabilities while making the portal more flexible and easier to manage. We also wanted to cut costs."

MITRE takes advantage of other Apache Rave community members' contributions to the Apache Rave platform and is rolling them out inside the company in the form of features such as employee phonebook pages and project pages on the MII.

Collaboration Yields New Ideas

Today Apache Rave functions as a building block to provide collaboration features for websites, services, and platforms. "Working with this wider community of developers, we get ideas from them about how they're applying this concept to their customer bases, and this gives us ideas we can use at MITRE," says Franklin, who currently serves as vice president for Apache Rave at ASF. "We're collaborating with the foremost experts in the world."

"This work demonstrates MITRE's willingness to take risks by creating an open source community that provides benefits beyond our initial investment. We now can take advantage of new capabilities developed by others, without being locked into a specific vendor." It also marks a shift in thinking by MITRE's IT team. "We changed our enterprise architecture thinking to make open source a more prominent part of our IT development strategy," Donaldson says.

Adding Capabilities, Cutting Costs

MyMII 2.0 features externally developed gadgets such as Google Translator and the New York Times, along with MITRE-developed gadgets. These include tools that provide integration with MITRE's social networking platform, workflow management tools, task tracking, wireless passwords displayed in the form of QR codes, tools for navigating and finding data within collaboration sites, employee travel management tools, security alerts, and many more.

"We're constantly improving the intranet so that employees have all the tools they need to do their jobs more efficiently," Donaldson says.

When MyMII 2.0 was released, MITRE was able to retire 15 physical servers in favor of three virtual machines, without a loss in performance——resulting in a significant cost savings.

Another project in the works, the MITRE Partnership Network Portal, uses the Apache Rave platform as well. The portal will be an access point into the complete set of services, demonstrations, and content produced by all MITRE centers that's accessible to our partners.

According to Franklin, this work also enhances MITRE's reputation in the gadget community across the world. "We're now known as the experts in widget-based portals."

——by Maria S. Lee


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