In a move that could greatly alter how the Pentagon contracts for software, the Army is poised to launch a new pilot project designed to develop an application marketplace resembling the iPhone App Store for the cloud, said Col. Charles Wells, the project manager of the distributed common ground systems for the Army.
Dubbed App Mart, this application marketplace would host applications, and users of the cloud could download them as needed.
"This is a big change for the industry and the government, and we want to run a pilot program to kind of work through how do we make it a win-win for the government and for industry with this app marketplace, and how do we use this model going forward to kind of get capability to the field," Wells said in a Feb. 21 interview following his presentation at an Institute for Defense and Government Advancement cloud computing event.
The Army met last week for initial talks on the pilot with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which had already gone through phase one of the pilot program, Wells said. The NGA was looking to have a service try this App Mart model for a second phase, Wells said.
The pilot will differ greatly from the current software licensing model, under which the government signs a contract that guarantees a certain amount of software licenses, Wells said. That model was reliable and dependable; in contrast, the pilot leaves a sense of uncertainty over how popular any given application could be. "It might be the killer app from the biggest software company in the U.S. or it might be the killer app from some mom-and-pop company that just gains traction and everybody loves it," Wells said.
The Army aims to launch the pilot in the next three to four months out of the cloud node at Ft. Bragg, NC.
The marketplace will also be available through the tactical cloud node deployed last April to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The pilot is expected to last six months. "That will give us enough data from user perspective and industry perspective to get some meaningful results and think about the way forward," Wells said.
The pilot is designed to consider both technical and business aspects.
Regarding its technical piece, the Army wants the App Mart to host a rating system where users can judge the applications. The marketplace should also have a space for comments. "That's valuable because then we can say, 'Hey, here's our really valuable widgets or applications, and these not so much,' and we can kind of focus development toward these capabilities that the users find valuable," Wells said.
Regarding the business case, the Army wants to make sure that industry will still be able to make a profit, while the government also gets great value.
Wells noted that this marketplace will help lower the barrier to entry that will enable smaller companies to compete, which will help enable best-of-breed concepts. He intends to talk to both industry and government labs to participate. "A lot of government labs are working on lightweight applications to run on the cloud, so we don't want to just say industry would be involved in the pilot to build these web-based widgets; we also want to look at maybe some government labs and things like that," Wells said.
This is one of several cloud computing-related pilot programs the Army is looking at to help the service deploy new or cutting edge technology in the cloud. The Army also is part of a pilot project with the National Security Agency that enables running multilevel security on a single stack. This will go to initial operational capability in the first quarter of fiscal year 2013.
The Army also aims to work with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's video and image retrieval and analysis tool, which is creating algorithms that can automatically find information in full motion video data, Wells said, noting that he had several meetings with the DARPA program manager on the Insight project and hopes to be able to use these technologies as they mature. -- Jordana Mishory