Data-Centric Integration for Interoperability and Competitive Procurement
Open Architecture (OA) focuses on identifying best practices within defense procurement programs that promote an open competitive procurement process and the inherent interoperability of warfighter equipment. Specifically, it outlines how these programs mandate data-centric integration to achieve these objectives.
Two-Minute Topic: Interoperability
Open Architecture (OA) is critical – and increasingly desirable – for defense procurement agencies. As electrical and computing systems evolve and proliferate, these agencies are challenged to foster competition, increase innovation and decrease delivery times to the armed forces they support. They also have to meet the warfighter requirement for systems that inherently interoperate whenever they are deployed, regardless of the prime integrator.
The focus is now on cross-systems level interoperability, which allows agencies to rapidly mix and match the best subsystem capabilities and components into existing deployed systems.
Managers of progressive programs such as GVA from the UK MOD have mandated architectural approaches that use a data-centric integration strategy for electrical and computing system designs. Government-defined data-centric architecture can guarantee that independently-developed subsystems will interoperate, even if they are introduced after system deployment by competing suppliers.
Savings through OA: an Example
The UK MOD GVA program developed and mandated the use of a Land Data Model to all sub-contractors. The Land Data Model was a Systems Data Dictionary (SDD) of the information that needed to flow around the system. The MOD then mandated that all sub-contracts use the data-centric DDS messaging middleware for communications between subsystems.
This approach took advantage of open-standards-based DDS to decouple every subsystem from every other subsystem to enable independent development, innovation and interoperability over time. Designed for highly-reliable distributed systems, DDS facilitated any order boot sequences, as well as components that joined late or left early or unexpectedly. With this technology, agencies could be confident that subsystems procured any time during development and deployment would successfully interoperate with existing and legacy systems.
For the armed services, OA opens up the possibility of plug-and-fight – the ability to take a subsystem from one vehicle developed by one vendor and successfully connect it to a vehicle from a different vendor, in the field.
Deploying multiple systems that adhere to an Open Architecture implementation has another benefit: it dramatically simplifies the supply chain, since one subsystem can be used across many different systems from different suppliers.
C2 and C4 communications subsystems deployed in war zones are interoperable through explicit design. But it took a lot of time and effort to make that happen. Asymmetric warfare and unconventional, rapidly-changing battlefields continue to demand more inherently interoperable systems.
In warfare environments, troops must use and maintain high-tech systems sourced from many suppliers. Each system often has unique build and integration requirements. Each system needs its own supply chain and local expertise for maintenance. Costs quickly escalate, but more importantly, systems cannot adapt quickly to their deployed environments.
Subsystem capabilities – not just the subsystems – need to function better together. Troops should be able to swap a targeting system from one vehicle into another, even if both systems and the vehicles all came from different suppliers.
The goals of an OA are to:
- Create a truly open competitive systems procurement environment
- Reduce risk and costs over project lifecycles
- Deliver subsystem level interoperability and reuse across separately procured systems from independent and different suppliers.
Current OA defense procurements are bolstered by government mandated cross-program open architectures. They include Def-Stan 23-09 Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) of the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense (MOD) and the UAS Control Segment (UCS) program of the U.S. Department of Defense. The GVA focuses on vehicles and UCS focuses on unmanned ground control stations.
A single standardized integration architecture between all sub-systems of all similar types of system procurements creates an open competitive procurement environment to:
- Significantly reduce initial procurement costs
- Drastically decrease system delivery times
- Minimize redundant development and integration across systems
- Radically decrease lifecycle maintenance costs
- Massively simplify and cost-reduce logistical field supply chains
- Markedly increase innovation and its rapid deployment
Procurement agencies today are working towards interoperability by combining, mandating and consistently applying these initiatives across similar programs:
- Open architecture for systems procurement
- Data-centric system design
- A common integration architecture
A truly interoperable OA is a type of computer or software architecture that allows users to freely add, upgrade and swap components. True OA in an integrated system allows the simultaneous exchange of hardware and software components. Standardized hardware buses such as PCI and VMEbus accomplish this for hardware, but software is another matter.
Like hardware, software must connect to a system wide bus of some sort. With differing subsystem objectives physical buses may be VME, Ethernet, memory or often a combination of buses. Unlike hardware, software must be loosely coupled. Physical connectivity and transports may change over time, but software must still facilitate the basic functions of sharing data across subsystems and sustaining system state.
Requirements for OA
There are two essential defense procurement requirements for achieving cross-system (or program) interoperability through OA:
- Adopt a common OA across the software system architecture for all similar systems
- Mandate a data-centric integration strategy, which includes:
- System Data Dictionary (SDD) defined by the defense procurement agency
- Open standards data-centric software communication middleware
- Well defined set of physical buses and power system
The core concept underlying this approach is the understanding that system state is maintained on the system bus. To join a system, any new subsystem merely needs to know how to obtain the system state from the bus and how to contribute state changes to rest of the system. A common data model and an open standards based communication middleware enable complex communication for data-centric systems.
Benefits of OA
Several defense procurement agencies have already independently identified the need for a data-centric architecture. With these mandates in place, several OA benefits emerge:
- Subsystem interoperability
- Open supplier competition
- Enablement of rapid innovation
As a result, stovepipe connections between subsystems are eliminated. Loosely coupled subsystems can be easily replaced, updated, removed or redistributed as functional requirements change.
Perhaps most importantly, innovation can continue to flourish within subsystems, or through new subsystems. The system integrator still decides how to implement subsystems. And existing or legacy systems can use an OA-compliant data wrapper to integrate with newer systems.