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"Is It True the DoD Loves Linux?"
Thursday, February 19 2004 @ 07:21 PM EST

I recently discovered, by chance, that one regular on Groklaw works at the Pentagon. Naturally, I couldn't resist asking if it is true what a Congressional aide told me last month that the Department of Defense loves GNU/Linux. I thought his answer was so encouraging that even though it started as a private email exchange, I asked him if I could print his reply. I know I learned some things I didn't know. For one thing, I learned that the US Navy uses Yellow Dog Linux on Macs. He made a few changes, inserted some urls, and gave me permission to publish, so I hope you enjoy our email interchange. He is speaking as an individual, of course, not in an official capacity, relating his own experience and impressions, as you will note in the disclaimer. [note that the information on the DoD and the supercomputer has been made its own article]


I recently sent a link to PJ concerning some new marketing material at SCO's website, but I sent the email via my account at the Pentagon. PJ replied:

holy cow

Just noticed where "work" is. Hope I'm being good.

Are you allowed to tell me: is it true that the DoD loves Linux? Not to publish, just to know.

What follows is a cleaned up version of my response with minor edits, the obligatory disclaimer, and some interesting links to back some of claims. If anyone else out there has been using Linux effectively in DoD, please add your comments to the thread.


This document was prepared as a service to the GROKLAW community. While this document is believed to contain correct information, neither the Department of Defense nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights.

The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense of this Web site or the information, products, or services contained therein. The Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the Department of Defense. The opinions of the author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Department of Defense, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.


The US Army loves embedded Linux. The "soldier of the future" and battlefield communications will all be created on top of Linux. Embedded solutions can be found in a variety of vehicles for situational awareness and "blue force tracking" (good guys). You need low power chips in such an envirorment, so processors like ARM are very popular. With Linux you have the code, it's secure, it ports very easily to a variety of platforms, and development costs are very, very low. Embedded Linux is a favorite for many communications systems.

The Intelligence Community loves Linux as well. I'm sure you've seen the stories about Secure Linux from the NSA (which was just added to the 2.6 kernel). Just like in the real world, you find it in the back room on the Power User's workstation and on the servers. If you compare the price of Secure Linux on Intel multiprocessor workstations verses Trusted Solaris on Sun HW, you save a boatload of money.

I used Linux on a USAF project during the Kosovo conflict. We pulled the prototype out of my lab and wired a variety of locations throughout Italy with Samba data servers and Perl coded robots that surfed for data and cataloged it directly into MySQL databases. The databases were accessible via apache and PHP. We were credited with helping to save the life of a downed pilot because all the critical information was immediately available to commanders and the Special Ops team in their helicopters doing the extraction. One of the downed pilots was a commander we had met while wiring his intel shop a week before he was shot down. Seeing him back at work 48 hours later is still the best "Thank You" I've ever received for my efforts at work. You can read the unclassified version of the story online. It doesn't call out Linux explicitly, but we used first and second generation Cobalt servers running early versions of RedHat 4.x. You can barely see the server sitting under the laptop in the cover photo.

For now, I am on loan to an Air Force office at the Pentagon, working as a scientist for a variety of special programs. When I came to the USAF in 2001, it was to scale all of the work we did during Kosovo to enterprise systems in Command and Control Centers, and get the data integrated into the cockpit. Everything that started in Linux as a prototype was used in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a fully integrated enterprise solution. The system is mature and battle tested, and it is time for me to move on.

I monitor Groklaw because I use Linux professionally. Any favorable decision for SCO would obviously impact the cost of rolling out new systems and cause significant disruptions of existing mission critical systems. MS lobbies here at the Pentagon, trying to protect existing desktop deals which have to be measured in $billions throughout DoD. Linux is not pervasive yet, but give it some time. Now that it has reached the level of compliance offered by Solaris and HPUX there will be more rollouts.

A typical acquisition program is run by a program manager adverse to taking risks, and Linux is still considered risky by the uneducated. Fast track and innovative programs are using Linux, which keeps it in a favorable spotlight. I expect to see continued growth, especially with IBM, Novell, and Sun(?) packaging desktop and server combinations.

At home, I am a happy Linux user just like yourself. SCO drives me a bit crazy, so not only does Groklaw keep me informed, it lets me vent on occassion. I think your efforts at building (and leading) a community is one of the internet's treasures. I used pull my hair out trying to explain to senior executives how important community building can be, especially among the intelligence analysts on our secure networks. Building collaborative tools and having someone such as yourself to lead a group of analysts is really the key to success for transforming our "business". I don't think I've ever seen anyone do this as well as you have with Groklaw.

So there is a long answer to your short question. From someone who is on the inside, many programs love Linux. For many others, it is still an illicit affair, but it will soon be an "open" marriage.

BTW, Good Luck with your new job, and Thank You for Groklaw.

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