Tech Success: Long-distance collaboration

Northrop Grumman taps MKS to manage software development

Project: Joint Targeting Toolbox

Agency: Air Force Research Laboratory

Partners:

Integrators: Northrop Grumman Corp., Los Angeles, prime contractor; Eclectic

Computing Concepts Inc., Plano, Texas, subcontractor


Solution provider: MKS Inc., Waterloo, Ontario

Goal

Northrop Grumman needed to manage a software project in which developers were working in offices located 700 miles apart and in two different states.



Obstacle

Northrop Grumman has software that manages the code base. But the software did not allow input from contributors outside the office. The code would have to be physically mailed on backup tapes between the two locations and synchronized manually.



Solution

MKS Source Integrity Enterprise Edition and MKS Integrity Manager.

Payoff: The two offices fully collaborate on the code under one workflow process, accelerating and simplifying development. The code base now resides on one tightly controlled storage area network, eliminating the need to mail sections of the work between locations.

John Nettuno, regional sales manager for MKS Inc.

Annie McCormick

Managing a large software project is difficult enough, but managing one in which the developers work in two different states is even more of a challenge.

So when a Northrop Grumman Corp. team won a $30 million contract to create complex targeting software for the military -- a job that required help from a subcontractor located 700 miles away -- company officials looked to MKS Inc. to provide management software that would accommodate remote collaboration.

"When this project came along, we realized that the tools and the processes we had developed in-house didn't handle distributed development very well," said Steve Solti, software configuration and testing manager for the information technology division of Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles.

Solti works at the Bellevue, Neb., office of Northrop Grumman, which oversees the four-year, $30 million Joint Targeting Toolbox project, originally awarded to Litton PRC Inc., in September 2000 by the Air Force Research Laboratory. Litton PRC was later purchased by Northrop Grumman.

The Joint Targeting Toolbox is a collection of software written to identify targets and assess battle damage. It is designed to draw information from multiple target and weaponry databases. The code base for the project now includes more than 3,000 files, housing code written in a variety of programming languages, from Java to C, Solti said.

To help write the software, PRC subcontracted Eclectic Computing Concepts Inc., an integrator specializing in target analysis software. Since Eclectic was located in McKinney, Texas, the challenge was fitting Eclectic's software developers into Bellevue's workflow.

The Northrop Grumman team had long used management software developed in-house to regulate the software development process. It archived successive versions of programs being written, and enforced policies regulating when certain sections of code could be modified.

Unfortunately, this management software wasn't designed to incorporate outside help. For Eclectic to collaborate on the JTT project in the same controlled fashion, Northrop Grumman would have had to copy parts of the code base on backup tapes and then physically mail them to the developers.

And when the modifications were returned, there would be two databases to update: One that kept track of the versions of the software, and another that kept track of the bugs in the code itself.

"Our biggest problem was that issue management and code management were handled in separate databases," Solti said. Reconciling the two became unnecessarily time-consuming.

In September 2001, the team selected a suite of products offered by the Ontario-based MKS to do the job, picking it over ClearCase from Rational Software Inc., Cupertino, Calif., and the open-source Concurrent Versions System freely available online.

"MKS allowed us to do issue management and code management with one product," Solti said.

MKS' Source Integrity Enterprise provides the version control, while MKS Integrity Manager oversees workflow management, including issue tracking. Both are designed to work together, said John Nettuno, MKS' regional sales manager covering the Washington area.

Each piece of software costs $800, while the Integrity server runs $8,000.

The market for application development software is dominated by companies such as Rational Software and Serena Software Inc., which offer enterprise-scaled solutions spanning the entire development life cycle from design to implementation. However, MKS is carving a niche in the version control side of application development, said Michael Harris, chief operating officer of the company.

The company hopes software features, such as remote collaboration, will divert buyers from purchasing full life-cycle solutions.

Founded in 1984, MKS is rebounding from a 2001 reorganization. It lost $4.2 million against $28.1 million of reported revenue in fiscal 2002, compared to a $26.7 million loss with $27.3 million in revenue for 2001.

MKS also is operating in a weak market for software configuration management solutions. Richard Heiman, a research director following the application development market for research company IDC of Framingham, Mass., said the market was an estimated $881 million in 2001, but is expected to shrink this year because of the weak economy.

Despite the downturn, the company is making a name for itself in this space, said Uttam Narsu, vice president of the Giga Information Group, an e-business consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass.

As developers and integrators subcontract more work out and allow more employees to telecommute, they are increasingly seeking out development management tools that maintain control of work being done remotely, Narsu said.

MKS' customers include integrators such as American Management Systems Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co., and agencies such as the Navy and the Social Security Administration. *

Staff Writer Joab Jackson can be reached at jjackson@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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