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By Cindy Waxer  |  Posted 2006-07-10 Print this article Print

-sharing solution thats all things for all people"> "The research community is a very heterogeneous environment," Baenen said. "We have users that are on everything from Windows machines to Macs to Solaris machines to Linux machines. We wanted to allow end users to continue to use the tools that they were accustomed to; the only way to do that was to focus on open standards."

In addition to being open-standards-based and able to support cross-platform clients, the solution would have to accommodate a variety of Web browsers, including Netscape, Safari and MSIE; provide both application-based and Web-based user interfaces; and handle authentication via a Linux/Open LDAP-based server.

A secondary set of criteria included e-mail notifications of file status changes, the ability for users to access the application without having to install any new software on their desktops, and support for sites located behind at least one layer of firewall.

Such a tall order entailed an extensive search for the right solution. Over the course of three months beginning in April 2003, Baenen reviewed market surveys, conducted research, met with six prospective solutions providers and staged in-house trials of two solutions.

In the end, Baenen said that the most positive user feedback to the WebFile Server solution proved to be from Xythos Software in San Francisco. Xythos WFS is a content management platform that lets users manage and share documents, presentations, spreadsheets, reports, images and other types of files.

During a two-month evaluation period, a subset of DOD researchers quickly learned how to set their own file permissions and manage document version control with ease. As a result, in mid-September of 2003, the DOD completed its purchase of Xythos WFS, and only a couple of weeks later the system was fully operational.

At first, driving adoption of Xythos WFS posed a challenge, according to Baenen. He said time and education were crucial factors when it came to persuading the DODs multifaceted research community to try out the new solution.

Today, nearly 1,500 DOD research community members access Xythos WFS on a daily basis for document and file sharing. However, enabling such collaboration hasnt come cheap. Since 1996, the DOD has invested nearly $6 million in the VDL project, including equipment costs, software licensing fees and manpower expenses. Xythos software solution accounts for approximately $30,000 of that price.

But countless benefits help to offset these costs. For starters, by allowing users to upload and retrieve documents rather than having to FedEx them, Xythos WFS has helped cut mailing costs. A reduction in delivery lag times has tightened research development cycles. And researchers are now free to focus on core competencies rather than on stuffing envelopes.

"By using the centralized VDL system, the DOD is able to amortize its costs across many projects," Baenen said. "With just a handful of staff, we can maintain the system to serve a larger user base and the projects dont have the expense of maintaining their own system."

Today, the VDL project continues to serve an ever-expanding list of research projects. And as the DOD adds more programs, an increasing number of Xythos WFS end users are getting the picture on the importance of information sharing.

Cindy Waxer is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Contact her at cwaxer@sympatico.net.

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