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Who or what will jolt life into open systems?

For some time now the open systems (OS) movement has appeared stalled--deadlocked in part by a chicken-or-egg standoff: Users are reluctant to embrace OS fully until more products are available and vendor commitment to OS is perceived as unambiguous and unequivocal.

Vendors are hesitant to scrap proprietary systems and invest heavily in meeting OS standards until users show more support for them and a greater willingness to buy open systems products.

The U.S. Government could hold the answer. As the largest user of info systems, it certainly has the market clout to require its vendors to adhere to OS standards. And such a posture makes sense from both a practical and policy perspective.

From a policy viewpoint, it's widely recognized that tomorrow's successful organizations will be those that leverage their information resources the best. Forcing adherence to OS on U.S. vendors would give the private sector the pool of products needed to implement enterprise networks and become more competitive in the global marketplace.

Federal migration

For these reasons, there is more than casual interest in the federal initiative to migrate to OS. For more than two years, all new computer networks and major upgrades within federal agencies have had to comply with an architectural standard known as Gosip, for Government OSI Profile.

Gosip is a suite, or stack, of protocols based on the OSI (open systems interconnection) model, which the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) updates as necessary to incorporate additional standards.

Gosip Version 3 has just been released for public comment. Once finalized, it will become mandatory for federal procurements of info systems after a period of 18 months.

Even with mandated standards, it will be some time before OS proliferates throughout government. Some key OSI standards are still in development and federal procurements of large systems can take considerable time.

One of the original OSI architects, Richard desJardins of the Gosip Institute, Fairfax, Va., estimates that only half of all government systems will be Gosip-complaint by 1995.

Meanwhile, NIST continues to keep the government in the forefront of OSI developments. In July, it released an OSI-based management specification to guide federal purchases of network equipment and management tools. The Government Network Management Profile (GNMP) is not part of Gosip, but it supports Gosip standards and has a similar goal of forcing government users to purchase standards-based systems. It is so progressive that network managers within the private sector are expected to include GNMP-compliance in their proposal requests.

GNMP Version 1.0, which mainly addresses LAN management, will become a federal purchasing mandate in the spring of 1994. Eighteen months later, NIST plans to introduce Version 2.0 for the management of applications, followed by a third version for managing information such as object-oriented data bases.

TCP/IP has more support

Ironically, the adoption of OSI standards has been hindered by another federally nurtured suite of protocols, TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/internet protocol). Developed under Department of Defense sponsorship in the 1970s, TCP/IP has now become widely accepted by corporate America.

Current OSI products are not as plentiful and cost more than TCP/IP products, causing users to waver in their support for OS. Part of the problem is education. Multiprotocol routers demonstrate that OSI and TCP/IP can co-exist, but purists from both camps continue to insist on a single architecture.

Bringing it all together

Thanks to a new pilot network implemented by the Corporation for Open Systems (COS) International, users can now test OSI and TCP/IP applications and see how the two architectures can work together in a dual-stack environment. By bringing together the OSI and TCP/IP users and vendors, the COS Open Systems Information Network could lead to greater interoperability between the two architectures and remove another obstacle to OS growth.

At the same time, a number of federal computer executives have formed a focus group, known as the Government Open Systems Solutions (GOSS) Council, to foster education and debate on OS within the public sector.

Membership is open to vendors and users in the private sector. For details, write GOSS, P.O. Box 21062, Alexandria, VA 22320.

The OS movement is alive and well, and the U.S. Government means to keep it that way.

Datacomm consultant Morris Edwards serves as program chairman of the Network Computing Solution Conference and Expo, or NetCom. It will be held at the Radisson Centre, Miami, Fla., March 30-April 1, 1993; and the Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim, Calif., from May 4-6, 1993.
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Title Annotation:Netcomm Update; computer communications
Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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