The new Defense Modeling & Simulation (M&S) Catalog, which achieved full operational capability in November 2014, represents a complete hardware, software, and conceptual upgrade from its predecessor. Based on operational and maintenance experience with the previous version of the Catalog, combined with considerable input from users, the Defense Modeling & Simulation Coordination Office (DMSCO) initiated the upgrade in 2013. The result is a far more capable and user-oriented system designed to advance DMSCO’s aim of achieving the goals of the Department of Defense (DoD) Net-Centric Data Strategy . These include making data products visible, understandable, trusted, and accessible by “authorized but unanticipated users.” The design of the new Defense M&S Catalog makes these goals achievable.
The previous version M&S Catalog was a proof-of-concept system that, because of its initial success, was adopted as an interim operational product. It continued in regular use for nearly three years, but it was apparent that long-term sustainment would require system upgrades and capability enhancements. Maintenance of the Catalog had become problematic. Support for the commercial software at the heart of the system began to decline and eventually became unavailable after the original vendor was acquired by a competitor. Of equal concern was that the server on which the Catalog was hosted in the Pentagon had reached the end of its service life and was to be retired without replacement.
Feedback from Catalog users indicated other necessary changes. Users wanted a less complicated search interface, one that was more intuitive and required no special knowledge of the organizational plan (the “schema”) of the metadata. (Metadata is descriptive information concerning, in this context, an M&S data product such as a computer model.) Because of limitations in the Catalog software, support personnel were unable to make the desired interface modifications.
In addition, organizations that regularly contributed or updated metadata records to the Catalog wanted to have full control of those records—to publish them to the Catalog when they were ready, to retract them when obsolete—without requiring intervention from the Catalog support staff. As the previous Catalog was configured, it was necessary for the support staff to perform manual transformations on all incoming metadata before it could be published. Retracting metadata records from the Catalog could also be done only by the support staff. Commercial online transactions today are routinely conducted without humans other than the user involved. Defense M&S Catalog users wanted similar levels of automation and convenience.
Finally, for DoD organizations to place full confidence in the Defense M&S Catalog, it had to comply with expanded information assurance (IA) requirements. The previous version of the Catalog did not fully comply, and while this defect was not entirely a consequence of the hardware and software deficiencies described above, it made sense to remedy the IA problem while implementing the necessary hardware and software upgrades.
Upgrading the Defense M&S Catalog
Objectives for the current Defense M&S Catalog were to provide users updated, intuitive interfaces for searching and publishing metadata on upgraded and sustainable hardware and software, compliant with DoD IA requirements, and available via the DoD’s Nonsecure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) in the “dot-mil” domain.
New commercial servers were acquired as part of a routine hardware refresh for DMSCO’s M&S Core Tools Suite  in early 2013. Requirements gathering for the software components of the current version of the M&S Catalog began during the autumn of 2012. This was followed during the subsequent winter and spring of 2013 by an analysis of alternatives (AoA). This consisted of an expert panel of government and government contractor technical personnel conducting interviews with prospective software vendors and comparing capabilities against a matrix of requirements. Numerical grades were assigned based on compliance with the various requirements, and these were aggregated to determine the most suitable solution.
In May 2013 the selection panel presented its findings and recommendation to the DMSCO Director, who concurred and ordered that development begin immediately.
The Defense M&S Catalog constitutes a key component of the data management concept envisioned in the DoD Net-Centric Data Strategy within the DoD M&S communities. It serves as a repository of metadata about M&S products—models, initialization data, output data, user notes, etc.—sufficiently detailed that users other than the originators can discover the existence of, evaluate the utility of, gain access to, and reuse those products. The objective is to enable authorized but unanticipated users of M&S data products to leverage investments of time and funds made elsewhere in the Department—a process termed “discovery and reuse”—in order to accelerate decision cycles, increase efficiency, avoid unnecessary costs, and improve interoperability.
The intended users of the M&S Catalog are organizations and individuals whose duties involve the creation, maintenance, or use of M&S data products for DoD missions. Because M&S is used throughout the DoD in support of operations, training, program and system analysis, acquisition, and other activities, no specific bounds are placed on the organizations or individuals within the Department who may gain access.
Access is controlled differently depending on the user’s role—whether the user merely searches the Catalog’s records or, in addition, is a registered user, or is a member of a source-contributor organization. Various levels of access are controlled as part of the Catalog’s information assurance regimen.
The Catalog system complies with the Defense Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process (DIACAP). In addition to DIACAP activities, tasks, and management practices, the Catalog has additional business rules designed to enhance its IA posture. Access to the Catalog is controlled by Common Access Card (CAC) or equivalent certificates obtained from an External Certification Authority (ECA) . All CAC or ECA certificate holders may access the Catalog for the purpose of searching its holdings. Publishing to the Catalog is more restricted, however. To publish M&S metadata records to the Catalog, the user’s organization must be registered with the Catalog system administrator as a source contributor, and the user must be indicated by the source contributor organization as an authorized publisher.
To make its holdings as broadly available as possible within an IA-compliant environment, the Defense M&S Catalog is available via NIPRNet (https://mscatalog.msco.mil/). All metadata in the Catalog is unclassified (though it may describe classified M&S products as long as the description remains unclassified).
Major system components of the Defense M&S Catalog are shown in Figure 1.
- The DoD M&S Catalog block contains the commercial cataloguing software providing metadata indexing, storage, search, and retrieval capabilities. It also manages the web-services that enable data and metadata transfer among system elements.
- The Enterprise Metacard Builder Resource (EMBR) block is an integrated user toolkit that enables local management of user-controlled M&S metadata. Tools include a menu-driven metadata record (“metacard”) builder, a locally-controlled database to store metacards and associated M&S data products, and a locally-controlled publishing option to send metacards from the originator to the M&S Catalog for department-wide visibility by authorized but unanticipated users.
- The Federated Search blocks represent other DoD catalogs and data repositories that the Defense M&S Catalog can search at a user’s option. Shown here as currently working examples are the DISA Enterprise Catalog and the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) publicly available holdings.
- The User Systems block represents repositories of M&S metadata created and stored locally by M&S Catalog user organizations. Data transformations make it possible for such systems to publish their metadata holdings to the M&S Catalog. This is an option available to user organizations and is not mandatory.
- The Catalog Users block represents individual users and user organizations in several modes of interaction. These include conducting searches of existing M&S metadata in the M&S Catalog; conducting broader federated searches of other catalogs and repositories; creating M&S metacards using the EMBR toolkit; and managing user-controlled M&S metadata or data products in the user-controlled partition of the EMBR database.
The M&S Catalog re-indexes its metacard holdings hourly. New metacards submitted by users for publication in the M&S Catalog will be discoverable by all other authorized users generally within an hour.
Metadata records created using the EMBR toolkit conform to the Modeling & Simulation Community of Interest Discovery Metadata Specification (MSC-DMS) , an extension of the Defense Discovery Metadata Specification (DDMS). While conforming to DDMS, MSC-DMS includes additional descriptive elements particular to the M&S Community of Interest, such as fields to describe the Verification, Validation, and Accreditation (VV&A) status of a product. This provides more relevant information for M&S practitioners than is available from DDMS alone.