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GCN : April 2014
IN THE EXCITEMENT over big data, much of the discus- sion has focused on analytics -- using data "facts" to derive interesting conclusions about specific areas of interest. The attention has been on sophis- ticated algorithms and the technologies that implement them on the back end. As complex as these algo- rithms and technologies can be, they only tell half the story. Eventually humans need to consume the results of analyt- ics. This means visualizations on the front end are just as essential to reaping the ben- efits of big data. As we ve seen with commercial products like Tableau and open-source tools like Gephi and D3, interest in cool visualizations to supple- ment cool analytics continues to grow. Long a proponent of big data analytics, the intelligence com- munity also recognizes the role visualizations play in helping analysts make critical decisions to safeguard national security. To that end, the community has worked with private con- tractors and the Government Open Source Software Board to build and open source the Ozone Widget Framework. OZONE WIDGET BASICS To understand OWF, let s ex- plore the concept of a widget. Imagine one contractor builds a map to render geospatial data in a browser, another builds a timeline to render temporal data in a browser, and a third builds a viewer to render tabular data in a browser. OWF can unite all three disparate Web applications within a single dashboard by providing a small window displaying each within the browser simultaneously. Each of these windows is a widget. Developers are empowered to build applications with- out any knowledge they will ultimately be "widgetized" in OWF. That s a configuration detail for an integrator later. It gets better. Despite the independent origins of these applications, OWF uses the publish-subscribe pattern to endow widgets with the abil- ity to communicate with one another. For example, the map wid- get can subscribe to messages broadcast by the table widget and re-render itself with new geographical data accordingly. This interactivity among once- isolated applications lies at the core of what makes OWF so powerful. Taken together, the widgets on the OWF dash- board can provide di erent views into the same data and allow analysts to draw mean- ingful conclusions. OWF is essentially a Java Web application. More precisely, it is built in Grails, a Web framework based on the Groovy programming language that runs in the same environment as Java. This means OWF is deployed to Web servers like Tomcat and JBoss just as with traditional Java Web applications. OWF can tailor dashboards to user preferences stored in a relational database and to per- missions stored in something like Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), which are managed by Hibernate and Spring Security respectively. Both are popular frameworks in the Java open-source eco- system. Meanwhile the front end of the application, the widget dashboard, is built with the Ja- vaScript library Sencha Ext JS, which provides a robust appli- cation programming interface for generating attractive user interface components. IMPACT OF OWF Though initially developed by private contractors under the auspices of the National Security Agency, development of OWF now spans multiple agencies, and the broader intelligence community has taken notice of its immense potential. OWF is the front end for analytics that drive the U.S. Army Intelligence & Security Command Futures e ort. The Coast Guard and the Defense Information Systems Agency have also adopted OWF. But aside from its value as an analytic tool, OWF carries broader significance. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act required OWF to be open source, so the code is available on GitHub for anyone to fork under Apache 2.0 license. It is a credit to the Defense Department that it has taken a position of leadership in bringing the innovation of the open-source community into government. OWF continues to be a work in progress. While new features are developed, there is an e ort to refac- tor the existing code base to remove dependencies on Grails and Sencha Ext JS and to improve performance and scalability. While related projects like Ozone Marketplace and OWF Mobile need to evolve, there is no denying the potential for OWF to prove valuable for intelligence analysts and a sig- nificant victory for government open-source advocates. • --- Neil A. Chaudhuri is founder and president of Vidya and has over a decade of experience building complex software projects for commercial and government clients. A TRIP THROUGH THE OZONE, WHERE VISUALIZATION IS AS IMPORTANT AS ANALYTICS INDUSTRY INSIGHT BY NEIL CHAUDHURI As we've seen with commercial products like Tableau and open-source tools like Gephi and D3, interest in cool visualizations to supplement cool analytics continues to grow. 22 GCN APRIL 2014 • GCN.COM