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Re: [sahana-maindev] a brief history of Sahana

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  • Ravindra De Silva
    ... wow! it is one good article! I would consider this information to be a very valuable and useful for anyone, and suggest we extract some stuff from this
    Message 1 of 4 , May 19 5:31 PM
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      > The recent message by Paola on the humanitarian-ict list has made me
      > realize that there now are probably many on this list who don't know how
      > this all started. So let me take a bit of time to write a short narrative
      > of the story of Sahana .. told from my memory and perspective.

      wow! it is one good article!
      I would consider this information to be a very valuable and useful for
      anyone, and suggest we extract some stuff from this and put in the site
      as SAHANA->history.

      cheers
      ravindra
    • Sanjiva Weerawarana
      The recent message by Paola on the humanitarian-ict list has made me realize that there now are probably many on this list who don t know how this all started.
      Message 2 of 4 , May 21 10:37 AM
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        The recent message by Paola on the humanitarian-ict list has made me
        realize that there now are probably many on this list who don't know how
        this all started. So let me take a bit of time to write a short narrative
        of the story of Sahana .. told from my memory and perspective. My
        apologies if I missed any key people (I probably did :(..) and for any
        other mistakes in my narrative. I'm on a long flight so I don't have net
        access to check my old blogs to validate the dates. If anyone is
        interested you can read the blogs I wrote during the tsunami to see the
        gory details of the really early days; Google will help you find those.

        Sunday, December 26th, 2004. Tsunami hits Indonesia, Sri Lanka and many
        other Asian countries. In the first week of the tunami, 1m people (or 5%
        of our population) was homeless. 2/3rds of Sri Lanka's coast was affected
        in some way. Later on we find that nearly 40,000 of our people have died.

        Tuesday, December 28th, 2004. Many different organizations in Sri Lanka
        start efforts to write various bits of software to help manage the
        disaster. (This bit of the story was repeated in other countries- India,
        Indonesia, Thailand etc..)

        Wednesday, December 29th, 2004. Many of these folks get together at the
        ICT Agency in Narahenpita, Sri Lanka to discuss ways of putting the
        software all together to make it easier to manage the situation. That nite
        I called the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s CIOs office
        (after finding the phone number in a powerpoint presentation he had done
        proposing developing a disaster management software system) and asked for
        whatever software they had. I was told that FEMA had no software that
        could help .. they only had software that was used to cut checks to people
        after hurricanes.

        In the 3-4 weeks that followed, many many individuals, universities and
        software companies and Sri Lanka Telecom contributed to what became known
        as Sahana. Amongst the IT companies, Virtusa was the leading contributor
        with more than 75 of their engineering staff helping at some time or the
        other. While most contributors to the initial effort were from Sri Lanka,
        I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the urgent support we got from folks at
        Tigris.org (which we didn't end up using) and later SourceForge. We
        desperately needed a code repository and other infra (like mailing lists)
        and these folks willingly and urgently came out of their holiday slumber
        and got everything that we needed. Special mention also needs to go IBM's
        Crisis Response Team lead by Brent Woodworth, who were then regular
        visitors to Sri Lanka. From day 1 that entire team supported, encouraged
        and cheered on the Sahana effort. In fact a good part of the initial
        development was done on 15 notebooks that IBM donated within a week or so
        of the tsunami.

        This joint effort was organized and managed by the Lanka Software
        Foundation. In the early days we had a 24x7 operation and the first bits
        of software went into production use in about a week. Over time more and
        more capabilities were added and used in various ways. After about 3
        months this initial phase was completed and the software and its
        deployment reached a certain level of equilibrium.

        In the meantime, it became clear to us that there was a huge hole in the
        world of disaster management software. The state of the art that the UN
        team that came to Sri Lanka with was a system called SUMA- something
        written on FoxPRO. (Anyone remember FoxPRO? Yes, that was the
        pre-relational desktop database system from Microsoft!) IBM had some stuff
        based on Lotus Notes but it wasn't easily deployable, scalable and, most
        importantly, didn't embrace the Web. The tsunami gave us a unique
        opportunity to look at disaster management in the modern world: even
        though there was sooo much death and damage, the communication network was
        in tact. Cell phones worked. The IP networks worked. Land-lines worked. A
        modern disaster management system must work in a connected environment ..
        and if communication has indeed failed (as often happens in earthquake
        type disasters) its now quite easy to airdrop a box that sets up a local
        communication network with a satellite uplink. Clearly, there was a huge
        need for modern software that could live in this world and help first
        responders and follow-up recovery folks be more effective at responding
        and managing a disaster.

        We were not going to let Sahana die; we decided we are going to make it
        into something the world can reuse readily. "We" at the time was primarily
        Jivaka Weeratunge, co-founder of LSF and its then volunteer COO, and myself.

        Chamindra de Silva, who had been one of the original people from Virtusa
        who started the people registry which became a key component of Sahana,
        agreed to leave his job at Virtusa and take a 1-year position in LSF to
        take Sahana forward if we could get the funding for it. Chamindra became
        part of the "let's take sahana forward" team.

        On February 11th 2005 I wrote the following in a cover letter on the
        proposal we submitted to Ms. Asa Heijne, First Secretary of the Swedish
        Embassy in Colombo along with a proposal seeking Rs. 8.548m (approximately
        $85k) in funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)
        to re-do Sahana:

        "Further to our discussions in late January, enclosed please find a
        proposal to further develop the Sahana Relief Management system into a
        fully reusable, globalized relief management system. We believe the
        potential global impact of such software will be tremendous and view this
        as an opportunity to help the world at a time when the world is helping
        Sri Lanka so willingly and widely."

        SIDA approved our proposal and Sahana phase II started with that funding
        on August 1st 2005. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of
        Per-Einar Troften in getting this funding- Per-Einar is in SIDA in Sweden.
        He and Asa have (with the grant of $100k to start the Apache Axis2 project
        and the Sahana grant) singlehandedly (two-handedly?) changed the role of
        Sri Lanka in the FOSS world. If not for their trust in what LSF was
        proposing to do Sahana wouldn't exist in its current shape today.

        I must also acknowledge LSF's co-founder and then COO Jivaka Weeratunge-
        he's the one who helped manage LSF and make sure that we ran a superbly
        tight and clear ship which made it easier for a funding agency to trust
        us. Oh yeah, Jivaka was a total volunteer doing all of that, as is the
        entire LSF Board. Jivaka was a key part of the strategy behind LSF overall
        and then both and Sahana as we took them forward.

        I think the following paragraphs we put in the proposal about why open
        source was a critical component of disaster management may be useful for
        folks to read:

        "Very few countries and organizations today can afford to invest a lot of
        resources in disaster management when there is no disaster present. While
        this is obviously true of poor, developing nations, it is also true of
        richer, developed countries as well because there are always higher
        priority items that need the funding. Worse yet, even if there are some
        national scale systems that may get deployed, it is very unlikely that
        regional and local level systems will ever get deployed if they cost any
        significant amount of resources.

        Because no one is willing to pay for the software, no one is willing to
        build it either. This is what we see in the world today – while disaster
        management software is critically needed, there is no complete commercial
        or non-commercial software solution that is widely available.
        Going the open source way can address both these concerns. Using the open
        source development model, it is possible to develop this software at a
        much reduced cost compared to pure commercial development models. This is
        true because while commercial entities are not willing to invest into
        these systems, there are hundreds and thousands of well-meaning IT
        professionals who are very happy to donate a few hours of effort to
        helping build such systems. We are already seeing this with the nascent
        Sahana project. Thus if there was a small team which was driving such a
        project, then it is possible to get a lot of assistance from the global IT
        community to make those systems truly exceptional.

        Going with open source approaches can also greatly reduce the deployment
        cost of this software in peace (i.e., non-disaster) times. The Sahana
        system, for example, can be deployed on any PC with just a Linux LiveCD
        (that is, a CD from which the entire system can be booted up and brought
        on-line). Thus, not only is it possible to run this on commodity,
        inexpensive hardware, it is in fact possible to not even have dedicated
        hardware around – just take any office PC and make that the “disaster
        management center”! In fact, that is how Sahana was first deployed in Sri
        Lanka – on a borrowed PC. (Later it switched to running on a borrowed
        server as the capacity requirements increased.)

        Thus, open source is the natural way to providing disaster management
        solutions."

        So that's how Sahana Phase II was born.

        LSF has managed the Sahana project (and charges 20% overhead on the human
        resources part of the budget to do it .. a grand total of Rs. 1.008m or
        around $10k for phase II) with the LSF board being the final authority for
        how the Sahana team was deployed.

        For those of you who know nothing about LSF- the board of LSF consists of
        local software company senior executives (usually CEOs), heads of CS
        departments of the 4 main public universities in Sri Lanka) and a few
        other distinguished individuals. The board is not compensated and everyone
        participates to help improve Sri Lanka's position in FOSS- not for direct
        commercial or personal benefit. We're of course a non-profit organization
        legally registered in Sri Lanka. LSF's finances are annually audited by
        Ernst & Young in Sri Lanka.

        What LSF does is find the funding for and run projects like Sahana.

        After the funding for Sahana from SIDA finished at the end of July 2006,
        we've received a few additional grants .. with special thanks again to IBM
        for both cash and significant hardware donations. Google also donated some
        funds for LSF/Sahana.

        Sahana has of course been a TREMENDOUS success. Kudos go to the core
        development team (Chamindra, Pradeeper, Ravindra, Mifan and the rest of
        the gang) for producing superb software, the committed bunch of folks on
        the Sahana mailing lists (with special mention to Paul, Louiqa, Don and
        Gav) and to the numerous others who have helped with developing Sahana,
        deploying it or just talking about it. Special mention must go here to the
        efforts of the IBM Crisis Response Team in deploying Sahana in numerous
        disaster and pre-disaster situations. On the recognition side, the recent
        FSF Award is clearly the high point, being the second recipient of that
        after Wikipedia. The list of deployments of Sahana is absolutely
        incredible .. and now includes both poor and rich (richest?) countries.

        In this context the LSF Board started thinking last year about how to best
        take Sahana forward and about the role of the LSF Board. We concluded that
        the best thing to do was to hand over "reigns" of the LSF part of Sahana
        to a new team of people who would be focused purely on making Sahana climb
        as high as it can. In doing that, we CLEARLY separated the successful FOSS
        project that Sahana is from the LSF managed work in developing and
        deploying Sahana. In order to further the FOSS project of Sahana, we
        created the Sahana Project Management Committee, modeled closely on the
        Apache Software Foundation's model. The FOSS project and the PMC are
        purely community efforts- while we created the PMC, the future membership
        of the PMC will be determined by the current PMC members. We bootstrapped
        it and now its off on its own. Good luck!

        The board has been appointed by LSF and will take overall charge of all
        LSF activities related to Sahana, including budgets. Sahana Board members
        are all volunteers and we're extremely grateful for their willingness to
        help take Sahana forward. LSF is the underlying legal authority for the
        activities that the Sahana Board governs.

        The specific roles and responsibilities of the community, PMC and the
        Board were documented in an email I posted to this list earlier. See:
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/humanitarian-ict/message/2674

        I hope this helps people understand how Sahana got started and how it has
        evolved. Most importantly, I hope it makes clear the governance structure
        of Sahana and its intrinsically open nature.

        I personally drove the creation of this model (in close consultation with
        a bunch of folks, esp. Chamindra, Louiqa, Paul, Don, Gav, Pradeeper and
        more) and I used my 10+ years of experience with Apache and other open
        source efforts to help create what I think is an absolutely open model.
        That said, there's always room for improving the structure and activities-
        make constructive suggestions and I'm sure the community, the PMC, the
        Sahana Board and the LSF Board will be willing listeners!

        Sanjiva.
        --
        Sanjiva Weerawarana, Ph.D.
        Founder & Director; Lanka Software Foundation; http://www.opensource.lk/
        Founder, Chairman & CEO; WSO2, Inc.; http://www.wso2.com/
        Director; Open Source Initiative; http://www.opensource.org/
        Member; Apache Software Foundation; http://www.apache.org/
        Visiting Lecturer; University of Moratuwa; http://www.cse.mrt.ac.lk/
      • Louiqa Raschid
        Sanjiva - Thanks for a great recap of the past glory days of the project and looking forward to the future. Chamindra - please archive on the wiki if it is
        Message 3 of 4 , May 21 6:07 PM
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          Sanjiva - Thanks for a great recap of the "past glory days" of the project
          and looking forward to the future. Chamindra - please archive on the wiki
          if it is not there yet and also forward to the Board. Thanks. Louiqa
        • Chamindra de Silva
          Will do. Traditionally we have had Sahana history on the Wikipedia entry, so I will archive it there as well. Chamindra de Silva
          Message 4 of 4 , May 21 10:02 PM
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            Will do. Traditionally we have had Sahana history on the Wikipedia
            entry, so I will archive it there as well.

            Chamindra de Silva
            http://chamindra.googlepages.com


            Louiqa Raschid wrote:
            >
            >
            >
            > Sanjiva - Thanks for a great recap of the "past glory days" of the project
            > and looking forward to the future. Chamindra - please archive on the wiki
            > if it is not there yet and also forward to the Board. Thanks. Louiqa
            >
            >
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