ALM boundaries are expanding in application development

ALM vendor trends and customer needs have led to an expansion in what constitutes Application Lifecycle Management. Vendors like HP, IBM and Microsoft continue to offer their customers more ALM solutions, broadening the scope beyond the software development lifecycle and encompassing business and operations processes."

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While the pool of application lifecycle management (ALM) vendors tends to be dominated by four big swimmers -- IBM, HP, MKS and Microsoft -- it's a crowded space, with many players offering pieces of the solution. But the next wave is making the pool itself deeper, as the definition of "lifecycle" broadens, encompassing not only the development/test lifecycle, but requirements and architecture, portfolio management and operations.

"People are beginning to see a broader lifecycle of the application," said Mark Sarbiewski, senior director of products and solutions marketing, HP Software & Solutions. "For a while everyone focused on the SDLC [software development lifecycle], then you go live and it's somebody else's problem." ALM, he said, "needs to happen upstream through the full life of the application and ultimately until you retire it."

Agile development is also broadening the definition of ALM, he said. "When you change the way you deliver, when you change how often software is delivered, how frequently you touch the application, and who's involved in the business -- those are some of big points—clearly that touches automation. So how do you automate not just testing but deployment, monitoring and change in production?"

The transformational shift in ALM is toward the organization as a whole, said Scott Hebner, vice president of worldwide marketing and strategy for IBM Rational. "All the focus used to be on how to make the individual developer more productive and effective. Then it shifted to how to make the team more effective. Now it's about the organization -- the teams of teams -- and how the development organization links and works with other parts of business. The big shift that is occurring is the focus on the business of software delivery, and putting in place best practices/processes and focusing on the outcome."

ALM is building out, said Theresa Lanowitz, founder of industry analyst firm voke inc. "People say ALM is not yet complete. I think that it will never be complete; it's constantly evolving. Four or five years ago vendors with point solutions were getting into [ALM]; now those vendors have been in the market for while." And the four big vendors, she said -- IBM, HP, Microsoft and MKS -- "continue to make partnerships and acquisitions, to expand from the sweet spot where they entered."

What's happening is the constituents for ALM solutions are expanding, Lanowitz said. "As the application lifecycle continues to grow it brings in new constituents. We've seen business analysts come in. There are more people interested in the user experience, and we're going to ops side of the house."

This expansion is both a reflection of the ALM vendors expanding their core functionality as well as a greater alignment of business and IT, she said. "You have to tear down the imaginary functional silos between dev, QA and ops; then the walls between IT and line of business. And now as we expand outside the organization, they too have an enterprise and that has to be up to speed and functioning like us, with those silos shattered."

Software delivery

While a lot of the focus of ALM today is on delivery, Lanowitz said it's really always been about delivery -- "the whole experience, everyone who goes into making that application or project a success, so looking at how it's delivered, what's the best way to deliver, what's the best way to architect it, how to define requirements, and how to manage as well as deliver it."

IBM's Hebner said the current economy has "forced organizations to look at the cost associated with their ability to deliver the applications and software they need, to understand how to better control it." With delivery cycles getting shorter, and security concerns and new regulations to manage, "applications are more living things," he said. "Everything is becoming interconnected and instrumented, the notion of systems of system, where applications are less likely to work in isolation. So you have the convergence of the need to focus on costs and to improve success rates of the investments in software and applications."

As a result, Lanowitz said, "I think there will be quite a bit of disruption on the ops side of things. They will have to think more in terms of application development methodology and practices rather than being a reactive environment. The ops group has to be proactive and understand what they're putting out there."

In the operations area, Forrester Research principal analyst Jeffrey Hammond says there are two main connection points for ALM. "The first is the change management aspect. A lot of times the organizational impetus for changes comes from infrastructure/operations. The other touch point is release management. Who cares if a developer can write a thousand lines of code a month if you only get 200 into release management and it creates a defect anyway."

Hammond added, "The last 10 years done we've done a lot to solve productivity at the developer lever and the design level, but we've not paid attention to the release management process. We see an emerging area where companies are trying to build tooling to support best practices in that space. I think with emerging technology like cloud and virtualization, your release management process will have to change."

Influence of Agile, Cloud

Hammond said he sees the ALM market going in two directions. "In the commercial space there's always pressure to add more [functionality and features] to justify the high prices. We're also seeing the emergence of best-of-breed ALM, where companies are taking products like Subversion, Jira and Hudson and self-integrating and putting together a solution that works for them."

This is allowing organizations to slim down and strip out pieces of the traditional ALM model, he said. Agile adoption, he said, is one of the biggest reasons. "A lot of the classic ALM tools that go end to end don't work quite as well when you're running a Scrum project. We're seeing a number of vendors alter their course to put more agile capability into their products."

Over time, he said, "agile management" will not be separate and distinct from ALM.

The emergence of cloud computing will also impact ALM, Lanowitz said. "We're going to start seeing software application lifecycle tools built to understand cloud usage," she said. "Two of biggest things are performance and security; and you have to look at what delivery model you'll use. You have to make sure you run in the cloud the same way as you do locally, and that it's secure. We're seeing movement in that direction, with all the major vendors talking about how they will support and provide their offerings in the cloud. IBM has a huge offering; we're seeing smaller companies coming out with cloud offerings."

"I think cloud has a significant role to play in ALM," said HP's Subbu Iyer, senior director of products, ALM. "Testing especially is a significant opportunity for cloud." He noted that HP has had a SaaS model for its ALM products for some time. Where the cloud model is particularly well-suited for platform as a service is in the areas of performance testing and testing on demand, he said. "We're looking pretty extensively at that; we see a significant opportunity for us to evolve to a cloud model. We're also looking at are there other pieces in our portfolio on the ops side to lend itself well to cloud model."

Who and what to watch

With the influence of cloud and virtualization, Lanowitz said she expects to see more competitors come to the ALM market with lighter-weight solutions. Two interesting players she noted are QMetry, which offers a SaaS-based test management platform, and TOMOS Software, which offers a lightweight SaaS-based ALM solution.

And, she added, "Microsoft with Visual Studio 2010 will shake up the market quite a bit. Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 will push the idea of virtual lab management to a whole new level. Virtual lab management will eliminate the bottoneck of operations. It won't take forever to provision an environment."

One player Hammond said he has been following is rPath, which has a release automation platform that automates system provisioning and maintenance across physical, virtual and cloud environments.

Other companies he noted are Atlassian, CollabNet and Kovair, which has ALM and IT service management products.

Hammond also expects IBM and HP to offer up new capabilities as well, "but they're having a challenge with respect to pricing. Traditional toolsets are very expensive."

Hebner said IBM recognizes that the market will have room for smaller players. "There is a lot of very specialized capability that will be needed for a long time. Our strategy, with our Jazz initiative and open source-based standards, is that we've got to recognize there will always be a heterogeneous environment for tools, and you've got to get them to work in a collaborative environment."

Next Steps

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Dig deeper on Application Lifecycle Management Tools and Processes

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