It’s hard to believe that just ten years ago Linux was something hard to buy, hard to use, and forbidden in many parts of the U.S. government. But all that changed quickly. In 2001, with engineering collaboration with Red Hat, the National Security Agency (NSA) released a new security feature for Linux – SELinux. This was a significant benchmark for Linux because not only did many people in government see Linux as an unreliable project but now NSA was contributing to the project with their own software.
In 2003, the U.S. Army commissioned a study on ‘The Business Case for Open Source Software’ and the DOD CIO released the first DOD-wide guidance on open source software. This implicitly permitted its acquisition, development, and use of Linux. Just nine months later, the Office of Management and Budget issued a similar memo that covered the government as a whole.
At the same time, Red Hat released the first version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, RHEL 2.1 which was used in the Army’s Blue Force Tracker system. The U.S. Army still remains one of Red Hat’s largest customers by volume and recently Red Hat was made part of the Army’s Common Operating Environment.
Red Hat was also making inroads in civilian government around this same time. NASA, NOAA, the Department of Energy, and the National Weather Service all began moving their workloads to Red Hat Enterprise Linux. In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau consolidated all their databases and chose to standardize on Red Hat.
Over the next several years, the U.S. government followed its counterparts in the commercial sector, and began adopting more and more Linux and moved from expensive, proprietary hardware to commodity, x86-based systems. In 2006, Red Hat’s collaboration with the NSA, the open source community, and other industry partners on the SELinux project bore fruit: RHEL received the internationally recognized Common Criteria security certification and would go on to receive additional certification in the next six years. This development helped open the doors to the DOD and intelligence communities.
That is when all the conversation changed and the U.S. government became more comfortable with open source in general and Red Hat specifically. In 2007, the U.S. Navy collaborated with Raytheon, IBM, and Red Hat to add real-time features to the Linux kernel, which it needed for its new DDG-1000 destroyer. The Navy insisted that the patch be released back to the Linux community.
This deep engagement between Red Hat, the open source community, and government was becoming a more commonplace. Open source policies have appeared at the federal, state, and local levels. During the Obama administration election, the Open Government Memo was issued, the DOD announced its own open source community, forge.mil, and Open Source America was founded.
By the end of 2011, the federal CIO announced a “Shared First” policy, which mandates re-use and sharing among civilian agencies. Open source and Red Hat, were now officially mainstream.
The adoption of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and open source in government is an evolution. Leaders like the Army and Census Bureau helped take the first steps in not only using open source but creating their own open source communities. Red Hat is proud of the critical role Red Hat Enterprise Linux has played in this transformation, and is so grateful for the deep and meaningful collaboration they have with our government customers. With Red Hat and open source at the heart of initiatives such as Shared First, big data, and cloud computing, they expect the next ten years to be even better.