New SCM Tools: Streamline Program Management

New SCM Tools: Streamline Program Management

Bulked up with new technology, the Hercules C-130J airlifter that ferries U.S. troops and equipment to combat and humanitarian missions is faster and smarter than its predecessors.

A new propulsion system allows the aircraft to fly faster, farther and with greater fuel efficiency, and a new digital cockpit has trimmed crew size from five to two in many cases, said Bob Ventimiglia, team coach for environment, tools and software configuration management at Lockheed Martin Aerospace Systems, Marietta, Ga.

Engineers implemented more than 30 software systems while meeting stringent Federal Aviation Administration aircraft certification to achieve these gains. To help manage the modernization effort, the company deployed PVCS Dimensions, a software configuration management tool from Merant PLC, Mountain View, Calif.

Such devices have become an indispensable part of the of the program manager's toolkit. The worldwide market for software configuration management (SCM) tools is forecast to swell from $595 million in 1998 to $1.5 billion by 2003, said Dick Heiman, an analyst at International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass.

Rational Software, Cupertino, Calif., owns 23 percent of the fragmented market, followed by Merant and Computer Associates of Islip, N.Y. , which each have 14 percent. Neither IDC nor the vendors track sales by market sector, but the three largest vendors report healthy public-sector sales with growth equal to or better than those in the private sector.

The rise of distributed computing is making the tools even more important, said Heiman.

"When the mission critical systems were mainframe-centric, they were all locked in one glass room under the control of one management structure," he said. Today, there can be "a mix of Unix boxes, PCs and maybe even a mainframe in the backroom all connected together." These networks are also often geographically dispersed and linked to the Internet.

To make all these elements work together, "you have to control what is on them," Heiman said. SCM tools are designed to do just that. The SCM market includes tools for specific uses, such as source code or version control, program defect tracking and requirements management, as well as the
systems that bundle those functions with the capability of automating many of the development processes. These systems vary considerably in capability and can cost an organization up to $3,200 per user annually.

As they become more sophisticated, these tools are being segmented by the degree of process they support or enforce, with PVCS Dimensions at the high end of that spectrum and Microsoft Visual Source Center at the other end, Heiman said.

The differences among the products also reflect competing market approaches. Makers of systems such as PVCS Dimensions and Computer Associates' CCC/Harvest claim they offer their clients a great deal of capability right out of the box. Rational offers a more incremental approach with tools that can be enhanced with add-ons for differing development needs.

"Project requirements are going to change over time, so while you might buy a product ... that works for you now, it may not work well for you later," said Brian White, product manager for Rational Software's ClearCase.


Criteria for selection often begins with the project's size and complexity. "A project of 10 or 15 developers wouldn't want to have a heavyweight, process-oriented approach, but one of 150 people would fail without a more rigorous process," White said.

At its peak, the C-130J program had 150 software developers and an equally large flight test team, said Lockheed Martin's Ventimiglia. "It was a complex, highly integrated, concurrent parallel development environment," he said.

Merant's Dimensions product proved especially important to managing the processes involved in creating Integration Problem Reports, or IPRs, officials said.

"If something didn't ... behave the way the [test] pilot or crew thought it should, they would write ... an IPR starting a review and remediation process that could result in software changes," Ventimiglia said.

Indeed, in the case of the Hercules airlifter, there could be more than 100 IPRs a day affecting up to 500 files. In the past, attending to the IPRs had been a costly and intrusive process, requiring a dedicated cadre of engineers to make sure the fixes were made and recorded. Dimensions automated that process and made it easier for program manners to verify that the problems had been corrected, Ventimiglia said.

The company also uses
Dimensions for its F-22,
C-27J and C-5 avionics modernization programs.
Merant also offers discrete SCM products, including the PVCS version manager used by a number of military and civilian agencies.

Facing similar challenges, United Defense selected CCC/Harvest to help install advanced systems into the latest version of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle for the Army, said Bruce Lima, senior configuration management specialist for the San Jose, Calif., firm. The company actually has a hybrid system, using Rational's Apex tool for a few tasks and CCC/Harvest for the bulk of the processes, Lima said.

The program has helped engineers manage numerous changes, most for problems discovered during the development process. "We frequently have hundreds of changes in a given release," he said.

CCC/Harvest provided a clear record of program changes to both developers and customers through a customizable, online process change report. Over time, it has grown from a standard report to about four pages, including all kinds of metrics, Lima said. "Our customer loves it and has driven most of the changes to it," he said. The company has 200 active users of CCC/Harvest, said Lima, and 22 software licenses worth about $110,000 a year.

Acquiring CCC/Harvest when it bought Platinum Technology International Inc. of McLean, Va., earlier this year, Computer Associates also offers Endevor, the dominant SCM tool in the mainframe market.

Begun in 1991 as a small research project at its Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., NASA's effort to develop Center-TRACON Automation System (CTAS) was the model of a ClearCase SCM project.

At the time, NASA and the FAA were working to develop the automated air traffic control system known as TRACON, or terminal radar approach control.

A pilot system was deployed at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport in 1996, and beginning next year, the FAA plans to install CTAS systems at all major U.S. airports through its contractor Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif.

"We have evolved," said Michelle Eshow, software engineering manager at the Ames Research Center. CTAS is composed of three tools to improve air traffic control: a traffic management adviser, a final-approach spacing tool and an enroute and descent adviser.

At first, the project used the elementary Source Code Control System, a free version control device, Eshow said. In 1994, the project began using Rational's Quantify and Purify, two testing tools, "when we realized that our products would be used by [air traffic] controllers for extended periods of time and we needed long-term reliability of software," she said.

Paying about $50,000 in licensing fees, NASA acquired Rational's ClearCase and ClearDDTS, a defect tracker the space agency uses to follow its changes and facilitate the transfer of technology to Computer Sciences Corp. for nationwide deployment. These tools gave NASA and Computer Sciences engineers working on CTAS "a common view of all of the software and a bug-tracking system," she said.

"We could each see what the other was doing to the code, merge changes back and forth ... [and] trace any software change back to who did it and [determine] why they did it," she said.

The biggest benefit of ClearCase is that it allows for parallel development, she said. "Our developers can all work on the same files and not interfere with each other."

The ClearCase system now supports about 40 people at Ames, 50 people at CSC and workers at a small number of FAA sites.

Eshow's research team is using the tools to develop several new CTAS systems, including a planner for departing aircraft and an improved version of a spacing tool that helps controllers at airports direct aircraft making their final approaches. Both are scheduled for a field test next year.

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