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  • December 15 2011

    On December 8th, I again had the privilege to organize and host a Direct Project virtual connect-a-thon. This was the fifth virtual connect-a-thon held by the Direct Project reference implementation workgroup, and the second time we’ve hosted it at Cerner. As an indication of Direct’s increasing momentum, this was the largest connect-a-thon to date, consisting of more than 20 companies, with 13 actively participating HISPs. These connect-a-thons offer opportunities to validate the latest enhancements and fixes to the Direct Project reference implementation source tree, while ensuring interoperability across multiple HISP deployment models and implementers. The outcome of this event will lead to another production release of the .Net and Java reference implementations by the end of the year.

    Technologies tested and validated in the connect-a-thons included:

    • SMTP Transport
    • Security and Trust
    • Certificate Discovery
    • Content Types and Payloads
    • XD* Transformation and Transport
    • Implementation Specific Edge Protocols

    In addition, two brief introductory presentations were given from and ONC's Direct Project Mod Spec initiative.

    Throughout 2011, the connect-a-thons have played a vital role as a proving ground for the code that now runs in several Direct Project pilots across the United States. They have preceded each release of the reference implementation, resulting in a high level of code quality and interoperability. Connect-a-thons are held, at minimum, every six months and additional events are added as requested by the Direct community. These events are open to all organizations that wish to actively participate or just observe, whether they are dabbling with the reference implementation for the first time or have deployed a production level HISP. Anyone interested in participating in future events should watch for announcements on the reference implementation's discussion page.

    Where We've Been

    Here’s a brief overview of where the reference implementation started and how the code-a-thons and connect-a-thons continue to keep it moving forward.

    The reference implementation as it exists today started with a pseudocode proposal by Sean Nolan of Microsoft in the spring of 2010. The proposal, called the security and trust agent, introduced a transport independent method of exchanging messages securely. Over a period of a few weeks, Umesh Madan of Microsoft and I collaborated to write implementations of the proposal in both .Net and Java. In June of 2010, "bakeoff" was held to evaluate four implementation proposals that would become the technology platform of the Direct Project. Interestingly enough, the security and trust agent was integrated into three of the four proposals. Ultimately, the SMTP implementation backed by Microsoft and Cerner was chosen as the backbone protocol for Direct.

    Through the summer of 2010, Umesh and I, along with a few other volunteers, pushed to complete the first functional iteration of the SMTP stack. In October of 2010, a code-a-thon hosted by CollabNet in San Francisco was held to bring together the members of the Direct Project reference implementation and implementation geographies workgroups and begin integration testing between early HISPs. At the start of the code-a-thon, various organizations began standing up test HISPs based on both the .Net or Java source trees. We realized very early on in the meeting that the biggest deployment impedance was the complexity of the setup and lack of concise documentation. Out of the chaos was born the Bare Metal Project: an initiative to facilitate standing up an instance of the reference implementation from scratch.

    Through the rest of 2010 and into early 2011, the coding and testing pushed forward. As Direct began to gain traction in the health care community, various pilots began to spring up based on the reference implementation and the Bare Metal Project. In addition, the first three virtual connect-a-thons were held leading up to the 1.0 release of the reference implementation in February of 2011.

    This year, pilot implementations have moved coders away from new enhancements and innovations to focusing on standing up their HISPs. However Microsoft, Kryptic and Cerner have continued to move the reference implementations forward while simultaneously supporting their own HISPs. Cerner has since hosted two more connect-a-thons, one in June and the latest earlier this month, culminating in three releases to the Java reference implementation.

    Looking forward to 2012, the workgroup will continue focusing on code quality and interoperability as well as hosting at least one connect-a-thon in the first half of the year.

    Greg is a director and principal architect at Cerner. He’s responsible for the services architecture of the Cerner Direct solution and remains actively engaged in development/coding and mentoring new software engineers and upcoming architects. Also responsible for the Direct Project Java reference implementation architecture, Greg serves as the primary gate keeper of code releases to the central artifact repository. This project spans across several companies and organizations across the United States in an open source ecosystem.

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