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Application Lifecycle Management: The movers and shakers

Devs and ops feeling the love

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Old applications never die; they just stick around sucking up valuable computing resources and helpdesk time. If your business faces that problem, then it’s time to take application lifecycle management seriously.

Code is alive. Applications are living, breathing things that are supposed to change as the business changes, and which need to be altered when they don’t deliver the level of service expected. Eventually, they’ll become so irrelevant that it’s time to retire them.

Stewarding software through this process over periods of several years is a complex task, and that’s where ALM comes in. It is a process designed to support and manage that lifecycle, from cradle to grave, and in doing so, it touches all parts of the IT shop, from the business analysts through to the developers, the testers, and the helpdesk staff.

Just like human lifecycles, ALM consists of stages. Requirements gathering, build (design and development), quality (testing), distribution, software change and configuration, and maintenance are all part of the application lifecycle, as is decommissioning.

“The software process goes from requirements gathering with stakeholders, to enable them to be more competitive. Those requirements need to be managed, defined, and visualised,” says Melinda-Carol Ballou, program director for IDC's Application Life-Cycle Management research. “Then, the software needs to be built, and it changes.”

Top guns

Gartner’s ALM Magic Quadrant, most recently revised in July, defines two axes when evaluating ALM vendors: ability to execute, and completeness of vision. In the top-rightmost golden quadrant, containing ‘leaders and visionaries’ sit Microsoft, IBM, and Atlassian, clearly out in front.

IDC’s Ballou backs up the IBM and Microsoft endorsement. “IBM Rational is the obvious one. It has a very solid portfolio of lifecycle management capabilities, along with other aspects of IBM software,” she says. “It created the Jazz architecture - an enterprise services bus for ALM and then integration into other third party products.”

IBM appears to have established an early competitive advantage by dint of its speed in embracing open API. This enables third party developers to hook into the company's ALM tools, through initiatives such as Open Services Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC). We say “early”, because other major ALM vendors will no doubt follow suit.

Microsoft offers a breadth of ALM coverage exceeded only by IBM, according to Gartner, which praises its close integration between its versioning system and the rest of the ALM planning tool.

The firm’s close integration of its products around the software development lifecycle and regular updates of power tools via the Microsoft Developer Network makes it a strong player in the ALM space, but it falls down on integration with non-Microsoft products, warns Gartner.

Atlassian avoids the term ALM, instead calling itself a ‘concept to launch’ company, says Gartner. It has a variety of tools in its arsenal, including the Jira project and issue tracking software, and its GreenHopper agile project management software.

The products integrate nicely but can also stand alone, and they have some advantages that others don’t, including cloud-based integration with Internet-based services such as Google Apps and Salesforce. Gartner likes its social integration in particular.

HP, Rally Software and CollabNet are also strong players. Along with IBM, HP arguably created the ALM brand with its acquisition of Mercury Interactive. HP is particularly strong in application portfolio management according to Gartner.

It has a strong dominance in the software quality market, too, which is an area that it has been building up for years. One of the firm’s biggest challenges right now, however, could be political and structural; its volatile management and disjointed strategy has left the firm spinning, with plunging financial results that might make enterprise customers think twice about it as a strategic ALM partner.

Where HP lags slightly in its completeness of vision on the Gartner quadrant, Rally and Collabnet trail the top three in terms of ability to execute - although they still sit up there in the golden quadrant. All these firms face the challenge of a changing market with new, complex trends.

One of these is the post-PC, mobile world, in which a plethora of clients has complicated the deployment phase. Not only has this meant a more varied base of destination devices, but it has also sped up the development lifecycle. Mobile app culture means that people want software updated quickly on their mobile devices.

Get lively

Anthony Dickensen, cloud computing service director at Glasshouse Technologies, an IT consulting firm, argues that the emergence of cloud computing is also creating new challenges for ALM teams, whether delivering mobile or software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps. “There is much tighter collaboration, so they leverage the orchestration of cloud to deploy applications two-three times a day,” he says.

This concept of continuous delivery, begotten by mobile and cloud computing, creates the need for another concept in ALM: agility. In its own report on the software lifecycle management market, the tech analyst firm Ovum argues that agile development has reached the mainstream. This is creating demand for ALM systems that support agile principles. “You have to take it extremely seriously,” says Ballou.

“The ways in which you go about structuring the change management, and the quality management.” CollabNet is making particular strides in agile software delivery and enterprise cloud development, says Gartner, although its traditional focus has been more heavily on the software change and configuration management (SCCM) side, the analyst firm says.

Stop the finger pointing

The need for agility is tied closely to an emerging trend in ALM: DevOps. This involves the coming together of the development and operations teams, which have traditionally been siloed. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming each other for failed deployments, the two teams are beginning to work together more smoothly.

Problems that emerge in deployment or operations are being fed back to the QA team, and on to developers. DevOps done well can lead to surprising results, according to Ovum, including applications that contain hooks and links to trigger change management processes for security and infrastructure capacity if certain conditions are met.

Much of this change is happening as IT service management processes become more embedded in IT departments, and we can expect to see the DevOps tide rising over the next couple of years. But for many companies basic tasks such as application portfolio management are a good first step, because until you know what you have, you won’t be able to optimise it and introduce an appropriate level of governance. ®

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