Tuesday, July 29, 2008

IBM's 'grammar checker' catches code gotchas and errors in the early development process

It's no secret that the earlier you find a software bug the easier and cheaper it is to correct it, and an upcoming IDC report claims that fixing bugs can cost companies anywhere from $5.2 million to $22 million annually, depending on the size of the organization.

Lone Ranger IBM is riding to the rescue with a new application that catches bugs and other defects at the coding stage, rather than in testing or, in a weak-case scenario ... in the field.

The latest IBM Rational Software Analyzer, announced today, works sort of like a grammar checker for word processing, scanning software for quality and defects before the application is built. IBM says it can reduce errors in the field by 15 to 20 percent. Whoo-hoo!

Catching bugs earlier in the process speeds up time to market by reducing the amount of time development teams spend on manual testing and the effort of fixing bugs at the error-prone testing stage, when 90 percent of the code has already been written. Makes Monday mornings a lot nicer, too.

Built as a plug-in for Eclipse version 3.3, the software analyzer finds software errors, flags them, and makes suggestions for fixing them. The software can automatically scan each line of code up to 700 times, "grammar checking” the code before it goes into deeper testing and/or production.

This approach sure makes sense for dynamic languages, too, where testing is not always, shall we say ... standard operating procedure. IBM's latest grammar jammer supports Java and C++ and "more [languages support is] available through extensions," says IBM. How about helping out the webby apps and rich Internet apps makers directly, too, eh?

At least Eclipse-oriented software developers can use the new IBM software to provide insight to their management team through detailed reporting on software code status and to offer direction into governance and compliance of corporate coding guidelines and requirements. IBM partners and customers can also build an adapter to use the code-scanning technology to improve the code quality and development of their custom-built offerings.

The classic reference for the cost of software bugs to industry is a 2002 report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which estimated that defects cost businesses $59.9 billion. With the world and business moving at "Internet speed," that six-year-old estimate may be a little low today. Companies are leaning more heavily on agility and the necessity of responding quickly to shifting competitive positions in a global economy.

Other studies have indicated that the cost of fixing a bug during testing is 7 times higher than during the coding phase, and the cost of fixing it in the field is 14 times higher than during coding.

SC Magazine, which reported on the upcoming IDC study, says it blames Web 2.0 and service-oriented architecture (SOA) for the financial impact of bug fixes:
Increased software complexity from multicore, Web 2.0 and SOA are said to be increasing code problems and hiking up costs for companies that develop both in-house and through third parties, such as offshore firms.

“The increased complexity of software development environments and the cost of fixing defects in the field (rather than early in the software cycle) combine in exorbitant ways to drain income and to hamstring businesses as a result of critical software downtime,” said a statement issued by IDC.
IBM Rational Software Analyzer is currently available. Pricing for the Developer Edition is $3,500 per user while pricing for the Enterprise Edition is $50,000 per server with unlimited users. More information is available at the Rational Web site.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cast Iron rolls out updated appliance to ease SaaS-to-enterprise integration management

No one has said that the road to software as a service (SaaS) was going to be smooth, but Cast Iron Systems is trying to soften some of the bigger bumps with the latest offering in its "configuration not coding approach" to integration.

The Mountain View, Calif. company last week announced the Cast Iron iA4000 series, an appliance designed to expedite integrating on-demand services with other on-demand services or with on-premise applications. Capabilities include data conversion and profiling tools, an extensive library of pre-configured integration templates to enable out-of-the-box synchronization of one-to-one and many-to-many application endpoints, and an advanced process flow designer.

The latest offering replaces the company's iA3000 version and can be deployed on-site or hosted in the cloud.

The pre-configured components, called Template Integration Processes (TIPs) help solve common integration problems out of the box. In cases where company-specific configuration is needed, configuration wizards are available to help customize the TIPs.

The process flow designer allows users to visualize business processes, the flow of information, and the movement of data on screen. The user interface maps data flows to actual business processes and creates integration workflows between on-demand and on-premise applications.

Other features include:
  • Data profiling, which assesses the quality of the data before beginning migrations.

  • Intelligent data cleansing, which removes duplicate values, and includes "fuzzy lookup" -- rules to highlight and fix such errors as common misspellings, and abbreviations.

  • Data enrichment, which performs lookups with third-party data providers to add value to data.
Fellow ZDNet blogger Phil Wainewright has some good insights into the power and promise of these new means to manage the transition and boundaries between on-premises and SaaS or cloud-based services and applications.

A lingering question is whether integration means such as Cast Iron's will remain as a third-party addition, be supplied by the enterprise or SMB that needs integration, or become a required service that the SaaS provides themselves will pony up. At least for some time, we'll see all three.

But as Internet scale has its effect, I expect that the major SaaS providers will also need to increasingly become integration services and platform providers too. The easier the integration, the more enticing the move to SaaS and the more sticky the relationship ... easy on, and perhaps not so easy off.

And the SaaS leaders will be or are seeking out best of breed approaches to build, buy or partner on to make integration a seamless and tidy value add to the rest of the budding portfolio of enterprise-caliber services. Indeed, convenient integration could be the killer app of SaaS.

StrikeIron adds data delivery punch to Serena Software's mashup exchange

In what could be described as a win-win situation, StrikeIron, which provides solutions for delivering data over the Internet, has joined the Serena Mashup Exchange, an online marketplace for businesses and their partners to connect through mashups.

The move will allow StrikeIron, based in Cary, N.C., to make its Web services available to a wider audience. At the same time, it will help Redwood City, Calif.-based Serena Software extend its mashup footprint. The combined forces will provide business users with access to key external data, while allowing them to focus on creating mashups, without having to worry whether the data has SOA hooks.

The Serena Mashup Exchange provides packaged mashups, template workflows and professional service offerings. The StrikeIron Web Services Marketplace provides over 100 data services from leading technology suppliers including Cortera, Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), Gale, MapQuest, Midnight Trader, NASDAQ, Tax Data Systems, Wall Street Horizon, and Zacks.

One example of a successful Business Mashup is the Serena Salesforce.com Credit Approval Mashup. The Mashup automates the interaction with D&B credit information via a StrikeIron Web service and allows sales personnel to request approval to extend credit to prospects. It can be downloaded for free along with a demo from the Mashup Exchange. A subscription to the data can be obtained from StrikeIron.