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forecast: II. SUMMARY OF ISSUES The Fundamental Issue: Reprise. How important is information manag ment to OSSA's mission? The functions and objectives listed on page 2, Chapter I, tend to imply a need for large and sophisticated data gather ing, storing, and distributing capabilities. Indeed, the Committee under- stood that NASA and OSSA already have considerable information management capabilities, and that the requirements for considerably--greater capabiJi- ties are destined to grow much larger. Even the combined impact of the Challenger disaster and the forced budget reductions stemming from the Gramm-RuUman-Hollings Act have served only to slow down the implementation of NASA's and OSSA's plans; the planning goes on. e- - One example is EOS. OSSA's EOS Data Pane] has made the following "The EOS data and information system will be required to handle daily more data than any system ever conceived. In genera] terms, EOS wild produce several orders of magnitude more data per day and is envisioned to have a duration exceeding any mission ever before proposed." ... "Clearly, the operation of an EOS data and information system will create management problems of a magnitude that cannot even be fully appreciated - this time by either NASA management or the scientific research community who must cope with these data in their research."* . The Earth System Sciences Committee of the NASA Advisory Council has emphasized the increasing interaction, interdependence, and synergism of the Earth-science disciplines,** and asserted the following: * Report of the Eos Data Pane] (Robert R. P. Chase, et-a1.), NASA Technical Memorandum 87777, Volume ITa, 1986, p. 27. ** The Earth System Science disciplines include Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics, Marine Biogeochemistry, Ocean Dynamics, the Stratosphere and Mesosphere, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Terrestria1-Surface Moisture and Energy Balance, and Tropospheric Chemistry. 10
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"Of paramount importance to the successs of Earth System Science is an advanced information system that will promote productive use of globe] data. The worldwide space and in situ observations required for a deeper understanding of the Earth System can be utilized only if the research community has effec- tive access to them. The design, development, and management of the requisite information system are tasks that approach, in scope and complexity, the design, development, and operation of space-based observing systems themselves." ... "Such an information system is clearly a formidable undertaking, but it is essential to the pursuit of Earth System Science."* Evidence such as the foregoing tends to indicate that information management is very important to the OSSA mission and will become even more important as future science discipline programs emerge and undergo development. The Committee has heard the Chairman of the Earth System Sciences Committee and others say that the future success of NASA is tied to the development of integrated, interdisciplinary, multi-task missions. Future missions will become more complex and wild depend much more on coordination and collaboration across the staff. The associated information systems will be much more complex than their present-day counterparts, which generally support single-discipline, single-task missions in support of a single staff activity and which may not be compatible with one another in software or protocols. Introduction to Issue #1 - Centralization of Management Functions. One might then ask whether OSSA's~existing information management o~rgani- zation and processes can handle the tasks to be faced. The Committee members felt intuitively, in the absence of definitive evidence to the contrary, that the scope of future tasks is of such magnitude that they would be beyond the capabilities of the existing organization and pro- cesses. This presumption is based on the fo1 lowing: The authority and responsibility for information systems manage- ment is distributed among the ISO and the science directorates, with most of the authority residing in the latter; however, none of these activities is in charge of the overall effort, and the Committee believes it to be essential that someone be placed in charge. The ISO in its present form is simply too small to handle by itself the workload associated with the types of future missions envisaged or to provide much in the way of leadership and direc- tion on information systems to the science directorates. * Earth System Science Overview: A Program for Global Change, Earth System Sciences Committee (Francis Bretherton, et al.), NASA, 1986. 11
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There are strong indications that OSSA recognizes the problem. The recent assignment of EOS information systems management responsibility to the ISO tends to indicate an inclination within OSSA toward centralization of information management responsibilities. Indeed, the continued exis- tence of the ISO can be interpreted to mean that some degree of centraliza- tion is favored. However, it is not clear to what extent the ISO's authority or resources wild be increased through this action, or whether any such increases wild be sufficient to enable that office to provide central direction of the overall future information systems planning and management workload. Based on the foregoing, the Committee identified the following as an issue that warrants further, more detailed examination: Issue #1: To what degree should information systems management and . planning be further centralized? According to the briefings and literature the Committee received, a great deal of work is being accomplished effectively with the present organization and process. The question is not whether OSSA is doing its information systems job--because it has been--but whether its management and technological approaches can be improved to enable it to discharge the much more complex tasks demanded by such upcoming missions as EOS and the Earth System Science program. However, during the course of this study, the Committee reached certain conclusions that support the idea that OSSA ought to examine this issue closely. For example: The fragmentation of information systems functions within OSSA might well impede any significant progress toward OSSA's goad of interoperable systems with a minimum of standardization, but with provisions for adaptability and growth. There are numerous instances in which benefits have been realized in other government agencies and in industry through the selective application of centralized management principles. By strengthen- ing the information systems organization through some degree of further centralization, OSSA probably could realize improvements in the following areas: e Strategic, long-range information systems planning. The allocation of resources for internal or external acquisi- tion of new technology and for internal or external pursuit of research and development (R&D) in information systems. Shortening of procurement and acquisition cycles, to ensure timely emplacement of effective, current technology and to facilitate cost-effective Jife-cycles for information systems. 12
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o Development and implementation of a cohesive plan for the creation and control of software, similar to the unified approaches taken within the commercial sector. See Chapter Ill for further discussion of Issue #I. Introduction to Issue #2 - InteroperabiJity. NASA's successes in implementing space science and applications missions over the last two decades are well known. Most of these missions and their supporting data and information systems embodied the latest technological practices in existence at the time. Much of the data still exists and is used by the scientific community on a regular basis. However, in most cases the data remains in its original form and format, and it resides in data archives and is accessed by information systems that were developed for specialized purposes that are not compatible with systems being used today or, in some cases, with one another. OSSA has recognized this problem and has supported activities by its ISO that move toward remedying it. OSSA's pilot data systems were designed by the ISO to have a degree of standardization and interopera- biiity, but not necessarily among each other. The situation is not so favorable among other existing systems, and future systems are expected to have more extensive and demanding requirements. This could continue the problems of the past, in which researchers in one discipline were unable to use their data network to access the data base of another discipline. The complexity of future systems and their supporting data and infor- mation systems makes it all the more imperative that suitable standards be selected and adopted soon. Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions and the Committee considers the following to be a second issue that should be examined in greater detail by OSSA: Issue #2. How can interface requirements be established that would ensure interoperabiiity with a minimum of standards? If OSSA had but one information system, or if its information systems enjoyed a high degree of homogeneity, interconnection and interoperability would not be an issue. Unfortunately, OSSA's information systems are largely inhomogenous in their data base formats and languages, their operating systems, and the composition of their network protocols. Several aspects of the interoperability problem are being addressed by OSSA, the Office of Space Tracking and Data Systems (OSTDS), GSFC, and JPL. These include development of the NSSDC On-Line Data Catalog System (NODES) and important work on Standard Formatted Data Units (SFDU). An important part of the interoperabiJity and interconnection issue is that of data transport among information systems. It has been concluded that the Department of Defense (DoD) program to establish interoperability among its networks succeeded primarily because DoD mandated the use of its Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), which were developed in the 1970s. In 1983, the International Standards Organization
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("ISO"), adopted a new Transport Protocol (TP-4) as a Draft International Standard.* However, DoD TOP is not compatible with "ISO" TP-4. To gi ve itself maximum flexibility' DoD plans to adopt its TCP/IP and the "ISO" TP-4/IP as coequal standards after a satisfactory demonstration of TP-4's suitability for use in military networks and TP-4 products are commercially available.** During 1986 both industry and the government embarked on programs to expedite the eventual migration to TP-4, or, more accurately toward the "ISO"-sponsored Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) architecture of which TP-4 is a part. The Corporation for Open Systems (COS), which was formed in January 1986 by a group of computer and communications manufacturing com- panies, is establishing conformance and interoperability test programs to verify member-companies' product compliance with the "ISO" OSI standards. The purpose is to to assure acceptance of an open network architecture in world markets by accelerating the introduction of interoperable, multi- vendor products and services. COS presently has 61 members, including three British companies, one Italian company, and representatives of the British and Canadian governments. In early September 1986, the government announced establishment of the OSI Users Committee, whose goal is to determine an OSI standard for the government. The government also is considering a revision of its procurement policies to prohibit the pur- chase of commercial products that do not conform to the standard, which the committee hopes to develop during 1987. NASA and 15 other agencies belong to the committee. Current estimates range from two to five years for the establishment of networks that are compatible with the OST architecture. OSSA should use the time available to deal with the problems associated with its older networks and to map out its approach to the problem of interoperability for the future, including the establishment of a clear migration path to the OS] architecture. The Committee believes OSSA is proceeding on the proper course for this issue, and we encourage them to continue to exercise caution in the move toward interoperability. This issue is discussed in more detail in Chapter IV. Since the acronyms for the International Standards Organization and OSSA's Information Systems Office are the same, "ISO" is used in this report to indicate the former and ISO is used to indicate the latter. ** See Transport Protocols for Department of Defense Data Networks, a report of the Committee on Computer-Computer Communications Protocols, Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications, NRC, National Academy Press, Washington, D e C., February 1985. 14
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Introduction to Issue #3 - User Involvement. As indicated earlier, it will take a massive effort to have a data system in place for systems such as the EOS in 1995. Although the scope of the overall effort cannot be determined yet, it is clear that OSSA will need to marshal] virtually al] of its information systems resources to complete the task. OSSA has a tremendous experience base available to it, especially that part embodied by the users, for the development of its information systems. The Committee believes that the fundamental purpose of OSSA's information systems is to support its users, so it is gratified to note that OSSA obviously values the viewpoints of its information systems users. An indication of this is OSSA's encouragement of the independent assessment and constructive criticism by user-oriented groups such as the Committee on Data Management and Computation (CODMAC), which was established in 1978 at OSSA's request by the Space Science Board (SSB) of the National Research Council's (NRC) Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Resources. While it is cd ear that OSSA has gotten its users involved in information systems planning and management, the Committee found that all too often OSSA involves users early in the information system design phase, but does not develop a continuing dialogue with them during the development phase. The Committee acknowledges that it is extremely difficult to decide just how far to go in promoting user involvement in the entire information systems process. Because of this inherent difficulty, the following is considered to be an issue that requires further study: Issue #3. To what extent should OSSA involve its users in the devel- opment of and changes to information systems, while still maintaining control? OSSA personnel with whom the Committee dealt acknowledged the need to involve users in defining the limits of its data systems. It makes no sense to field a data system if reasonable use of its output has not been pre-determined. The Committee notes that some of the existing Pilot Data Systems provide more data than the users can absorb. Likewise, the design limits of data systems should be considered when designing spacecraft and instruments. The Committee believes that most users will participate gladly in the identification and evaluation of trade-offs between data system costs and research funding. The Committee considers the International Solar-Terrestria] Physics program to be a good examples of iterative (and effective) user invo~ve- ment in the planning. Conversely, the design of the high resolution imaging spectrometer (HIRIS), which is part of the EOS instrument package, is an example in which OSSA does not seem to be interacting quite so effectively with the users. See Chapter V for further discussion of this issue. 15
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Introduction to Issue #4 - Information Systems Technology. OSSA knows that the increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary scientific work will change the way information systems are structured. With the arrival of the Space Station era, mission and discipline bound- aries wild overlap, and huge volumes of data will be collected by NASA and others to support a large number of interdisciplinary projects involving hundreds of scientists. Comprehensive planning has already been initiated for such missions and for the associated data and information systems to handle the huge volumes of data and the product requirements of the users. But the Committee is concerned about the apparent trend toward development of higher data-rate instruments for use in remote sensing. There is evidence that the current digital magnetic recording and compact disk (CD) read-only memory (ROM) technologies cannot cope with anticipated data rates in the Space Station era. Further, commercial database management systems currently do not have the features required to manage large vo1- umes of space-derived data. Therefore, the following is suggested as the fine] major issue to be addressed by OSSA in the context of this study: Issue #4: How can the projected information systems technologies keep pace with future sensor outputs? Additional areas of technological concern are: (1) the need for cohesive planning and a unified approach to the creation and control of software, and (2) the fragmented electronic communication and problems of transferring data in many incompatible formats among elements of the OSSA and the user community. These technological problems are compounded by such management and operational considerations as the need to control costs (which potentially affects OSSA's ability to support the users) and the need to support the users (which influences costs). This issue is discussed further in Chapter VI. 16
Representative terms from entire chapter: