Legacy code is the bane of many older organisations existence and it’s hard to modernise, upgrade, and secure, so DARPA wants to change the paradigm.


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The entire US military, the whole of US government for that matter, runs on legacy code that was designed and deployed decades ago, and that’s hard to debug, migrate, secure, and upgrade, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that DARPA, the bleeding edge research arm of the US military, has just announced it’s looking for new ways to replace it all and decouple it from hardware – a key modernisation objective touted by senior Pentagon IT officials.


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The new $40 million program is geared toward situations where completely retiring an IT system is not an option. The Department of Defense has other modernisation efforts that focus on wholesale replacement of software and the development of new enterprise development platforms, but DARPA says the military also needs the capability “for more precise updates.”

“The goal of the [Verified Security and Performance Enhancement of Large Legacy Software] program is to create a developer-accessible capability for piece-by-piece enhancement of software components with new verified code,” a broad agency announcement for the program states.


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The V-SPELLS program is focused on “(re)engineering” legacy software instead of “clean-slate introduction.” DARPA is asking for open-architecture development practices so parts of the code can be replaced while the whole system is still in use or being transferred to a new piece of hardware, according to the announcement.

The lack of ability to go line-by-line has created a logjam when software that was coupled with old hardware needs to be transferred to updated physical tech. The code may have shortcuts put in by developers that are specific to how the software interacts with old hardware — and that render it useless with new hardware.

“As a result, critical systems are locked into obsolete hardware and software components,” according to the announcement.


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DOD IT officials have said that decoupling software from hardware is a needed step in the broader goal of modernizing the force. Whether it is to be able to update software to improve the abilities of a piece of hardware, or vice-versa, it’s important the two can operate independently, Deputy CIO for Information Enterprise Peter Ranks said in March.

“Most programs in the Department of Defense still deliver systems, integrated hardware-software systems,” he said, “so there is a need to drive the de-coupling of our software and hardware as quickly as possible.”

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Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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