RealTime IT News

A Rational Approach to Quality Software

Parts of IBM's software will soon be standardized under Hyades, an open source project for automated software quality (ASQ) tools.

By tweaking its Rational software code to meet the standards of the Hyades Project, a sub-project of the Eclipse Project, officials said components and controls built on the platform will work with third-party vendors and customers using the Eclipse IDE , creating baseline capabilities for tools like load tests and runtime analyses.

Geoffrey Bessin, a software quality market manager in IBM's Rational group, said the move is part of the company's new Continuously Ensure Quality (CEQ) initiative, an effort to get software engineers to make better software sooner in the development process.

"Most engineers -- chemical engineers, mechanical engineers -- by definition need to have well-understood designs, they must promote a lot of reuse; most of the time, when they're creating mission-critical designs, safety is not an option," he said. "In software development, it's expected you will make mistakes and I think it's a combination of mindset, of education, and of tools."

IBM wants to change that habit and thinks its Rational software, which has purview over the entire lifecycle process, makes it a good choice for Hyades standardization. They've targeted four areas every development team should look at when readying an application: continuously ensuring quality, developing iteratively, focusing on architecture, and managing change and assets.

CEQ was proposed to instill those four elements into the product lifecycle of every project that's started, "to build it into the product, rather than hope you've built it into the product and do late lifecycle testing," Bessin said.

Tom Swain, a senior research engineer with the University of Tennessee's Software Quality Research Laboratory, said that although software quality should be a given in any project under development, in many cases sound engineering practices aren't being used.

"You obviously have to weigh business issues and so on when you're making decisions on what your process is going to be," he said. "There's a lot of people espousing software quality but not much of it is what I would characterize as theory-based engineering; it's sort of all [rule of thumb] and with quite a bit of hype used to attract people to tools and methods," he said.

Hyades was launched back in 2002 with the goal of collaborating on the implementation of software quality tools standards. Competing vendors create specialized compilers, Web services applications, debuggers, source code and so forth, and usually provide their own test bed for applications. Sometimes, however, it's not the best program out there; Hyades will act as a sort of open source clearinghouse of the best applications and methods out there.

So far, IBM (and Rational), Telelogic and Scapa Technologies have pledged to donate code to the project. Serge Lucio, Rational's senior product manager for automated software quality, said the Hyades Project has reached enough of a maturity level in its two years to warrant bringing Rational's own quality tools in line with future development.

"We saw that there was a lot of commonality in our software tools and that we needed to reduce the cost of building our products by aligning around a common infrastructure for our own sakes," he said. "We decided that going and building a common infrastructure was the right thing for us to do."

Lucio said new Rational software tools will be developed using the Hyades model and that many already incorporate the software quality project's standards, with existing applications getting revamps in the coming months and updated down the road. He expects other companies to do the same.

"In the past six months we've seen an increasing interest in Hyades, both from customers and their vendors," Lucio said. "Very recently, Compuware and Intel joined the [Eclipse] consortium; they've not yet formally announced their intent to build products on top of Hyades, but they are actively contributing to the IDE which leads us to think they will -- sooner or later -- deliver products built on the platform."