Will there be a 'Dell' of software?

Will there be a 'Dell' of software?

Summary: Enterprises can no longer afford to wait for a vendor's version cycles. Over time, large monolithic applications will be replaced by commoditized, loosely coupled components available on a moment's notice.

TOPICS: Tech Industry

Winston Damarillo, founder of Gluecode (now IBM's open-source WebSphere Application Server, Community Edition), remembers the days he had to stealthily slip his software into companies, beneath CIOs' radar. My, how times have changed.

"I had to kind of sneak Gluecode into departments that couldn't afford expensive WebSphere," Damarillo, who is now CEO of  Simula Labs, told me in a recent interview. (Full article appears in the March issue of Database Trends & Applications.)  "After sneaking it into departments, we'd hope it would bubble up, to the point where the CIO had no choice but to support it." Winston Damarillo

These days, however, many CIOs see commodity software/hardware architectures as the key to the agility of their enterprises, Damarillo says. "For many enterprises, commodity software and commodity hardware has become part of a long-term strategic goal that provides the velocity for faster product cycles." Behind the commodity software stack is the perfect storm of open-source and open-standard software.

Thanks too open-source and Web services/SOA, Damarillo says, "software is going to commoditized, much like hardware has commoditized a decade ago." Over time, Damarillo added, traditional applications will be supplanted by commoditized, loosely coupled components available on a moment's notice. "Enterprises can no longer afford to wait for a vendor's version cycles," he said.

"Eighty percent of the software that needs to be written has already been done collaboratively," Damarillo pointed out. "If you apply software standardization, along with global collaborative development, you're going to have all the modular building blocks you need for any application you need, available for free. The vendor landscape is going to change, as it did for hardware, moving from Compaq and IBM to more like Dell. Software companies are going to look more like Dell, not IBM."

SOA is driving this building-block, assemble-to-order approach, Damarillo believes. "Modular infrastructure is increasingly complementing large monolithic applications, and, over time, the large monolithic applications are going to go away, and replaced with modular, loosely coupled architecture in SOA runtime space."

The SOA/collaborative open-source combination "is fast providing an environment where free software foundations can deliver faster code than closed source, and redefine the entire business," Damarillo added. "But there are opportunities for commercial vendors -- as Dell did with hardware -- that create an assembly of components into a stack, manage the versions, and deliver it to the customer."

I first heard the idea of commoditized, assemble-to-order software components a couple of years back in an article published by Microsoft's Jack Greenfield. Greenfield foresaw the inevitable "industrialization" of application development, calling this phenomenon "software factories." (Though Microsoft may not be all that comfortable with the open-source aspect that Damarillo discusses!) Greenfield said that "software factories are really just the logical next step in the continuing evolution of software development methods and practices... introducing patterns of industrialization. Through the use of standardized components and methodologies (such as XML and Web services), we may be able to assemble applications far more quickly and efficiently than the more pain-staking approaches we've known."

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Dell does almost no R & D

    how can you have a software company that does no research & DEVELOPMENT? Doesn't seem likely to work out this way, or perhaps Dell is a poor example.
    • Dell relies on partners' R&D...

      This is true. For example, with microprocessors, Intel and AMD do all the R&D work, then Dell assembles the finished products into their boxes, and markets or distributes them through its channels. What I take from Damarillo is that a software application assembler/marketer would probably rely on the innovation and R&D that occurs within the communities and foundations (Apache, Linux, and so forth). As with Dell, they would take the finished products and run with them.
  • Not Pertinent for 80% of Companies

    Constructing applications from building blocks may make sense for some big companies who have talented IT departments, but this approach will never make sense for small- and mid-sized companies, which make up the vast majority of organizations who need information technology in their business.

    I believe that a "Dell" type company may arise, but software is a very different animal from hardware. Hardware components can only work with their related counterparts. In other words, you would not directly connect a video card to the CD-ROM drive.

    But with software, you can make so many connections. After all, it is really just data that software deals with. The software we write determines how we push/pull/mash the data and like writing musical scores, the possibilites are almost infinite.

    But some type of company who can easily consolidate all of the functions has to happen because most small companies will not take the time to research, build and manage this type of system. They will look for help.
    Paul C.