NASA Langley Research Center

The Challenge

The NASA Langley Research Center conducts hundreds of tests each year designed to make aircraft and spacecraft safer and more efficient. These tests – which are performed by different teams of engineers, researchers, technicians, managers and customers – are highly collaborative, as teams need to be able to share ideas and view each other’s test documentation.

NASA built a homegrown collaborative portal, aeroCOMPASS, which allowed Langley to create individual team sites for sharing and commenting on documents, notes and other research files. But after 10 years of use, the aeroCOMPASS software had become outdated and could no longer meet NASA’s strict security guidelines.

With over 800 sites in use, NASA needed to move aeroCOMPASS to a new collaboration and document management environment with a similar look and feel, but using a more secure, modern architecture.

The Solution

Alfresco Share provides NASA users with the collaborative team sites they were accustomed to in aeroCOMPASS, but with additional security and features. A personal dashboard allows users to easily see what new documents, images or videos have been added to their project sites and what individual team members are working on. Within a team site, users can create and share lists of items and activities.

Alfresco Share’s open source software code enabled NASA’s IT department to easily customize the platform to meet its unique needs. Because the customized user interface has a familiar look and feel for end users, adoption of the platform has been quick and easy.

Alfresco Share integrates with NASA’s OpenSSO/ OpenAM authentication system and users can leverage single sign-on technology to access the Alfresco Share aeroCOMPASS sites. Users outside NASA Langley are invited to a team site using the NASA account management system and authentication. This allows NASA Langley to ensure that users have the appropriate security permissions to access sensitive information.

Though Alfresco is not used to manage classified information, NASA does use Alfresco for sensitive, but unclassified (SBU) data. For these sites, managers have the ability to customize specific pages to include a bright yellow banner labeled "SBU." This notifies users that they are viewing sensitive information.

"The ability for administrators to customize at the site level has been very helpful,” said Dave Cordner, the chief IT architect with NASA’s Langley Research Center. “We have users who are members of literally hundreds of sites and are constantly bouncing around. This customization really pops and reminds them where they are."

The Results

Today, the Alfresco repository stores 2.5 TB of information in its document library and has over 400 users with access to the platform, a 20% growth in user adoption since its initial deployment two years ago.

"We have users coming into the system from all over including researchers, Lockheed Martin engineers, and researchers wanting to build teams," said Cordner. "When they come back to the system, all of their documents and research is there waiting for them."

Another big benefit to using Alfresco is the platform’s open source flexibility and licensing model, which relieves administrators of the burden of having to manage individual users. This saves time and ensures that users can access collaborative content whenever they need it.

“We don’t have to manage each user, which is great,” said Cordner. “And as our activity rate increases, we can easily leverage more users and upgrade our support package.”

NASA is in the process of upgrading to Alfresco 4.2, which will improve its search capabilities. In the future, the organization hopes to integrate the Alfresco platform with mobile technologies to provide better remote capabilities and access on mobile devices such as iPads, iPhones and Android tablets. NASA’s current single sign-on environment and authentication process prevents users from leveraging Alfresco’s mobile features.

“Our engineers and researchers come to Alfresco because of the team aspect and the ease of collaboration,” said Cordner. “They keep their personal files on their desktop and the team documents in Alfresco, which keeps things simple and allows everyone to be more productive.”