Commercial off-the-shelf


Commercial off-the-shelf

In the United States, Commercially available Off-The-Shelf (COTS) is a Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) term defining a nondevelopmental item (NDI) of supply that is both commercial and sold in substantial quantities in the commercial marketplace, and that can be procured or utilized under government contract in the same precise form as available to the general public. For example, technology related items, such as computer software, hardware systems or free software with commercial support, and construction materials qualify, but bulk cargo, such as agricultural or petroleum products, do not.

COTS purchases are alternatives to in-house developments or one-off government-funded developments. COTS typically requires configuration that is tailored for specific uses. The use of COTS has been mandated across many government and business programs, as such products may offer significant savings in procurement, development, and maintenance.

Contents

Considerations

Motivations for using COTS components include hopes for reduction of overall system development and costs (as components can be bought or licensed instead of being developed from scratch) and reduced long-term maintenance costs. In software development, many had considered COTS to be the silver bullet (to reduce cost/time) during the 1990s, but COTS development came with many not-so-obvious tradeoffs—initial cost and development time can definitely be reduced, but often at the expense of an increase in software component-integration work and a dependency on third-party component vendors.[1] In addition, since COTS software specifications are written externally, government agencies sometimes fear future changes to the product will not be compatible.

One example of product obsolescence is a USAF supercomputer built out of PlayStation 3s (PS3) running the Linux operating system. Now that Sony Computer Entertainment has disabled the use of Linux on the PS3, no replacement parts will be available,[2] and that requires customized support for the COTS products, or conversion to another system using other products. Such obsolescence problems have led to government-industry partnerships, where various businesses agree to stabilize some product versions for government use and plan some future features, in those product lines, as a joint effort. Hence, some partnerships have led to complaints of favoritism, avoiding competitive procurement practices, and claiming sole-source agreements where not actually needed. There is also the danger of pre-purchasing a multi-decade supply of replacement parts (and materials) which would become obsolete within 10 years. All these considerations lead to compare a simple solution (such as "paper & pencil") to avoid overly complex solutions creating a "Rube Goldberg" system of creeping featurism, where a simple solution would have sufficed instead. Such comparisons also consider whether a group is creating a make-work system to justify extra funding, rather than providing a low-cost system which meets the basic needs, regardless of the use of COTS products.

One of the successes of COTS has been a recent upgrade to the sonar of United States Navy submarines.[3]

See also

  • Off-the-shelf component

Notes

References


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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • commercial off-the-shelf — adjective Systems which are manufactured commercially, and then tailored for specific uses …   Wiktionary

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  • off-the-shelf — /ˈɒf ðə ʃɛlf/ (say of dhuh shelf) adjective available as a commercial product; not custom made …   Australian English dictionary


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