Calling on ALF to drive integration

A group of software vendors have created an Application Lifecycle Framework (ALF) to solve integration challenges and enable applications to interoperate seamlessly.
Written by Jeanne Lim, Contributor

For years, organizations have been grappling with integration problems, simply because applications very often do not work as they should after being installed or upgraded. To counter this, a motley group of software companies are touting what they have coined as the Application Lifecycle Framework (ALF), as the panacea.

Last April, Serena Software approached the Eclipse committee to create a standard infrastructure for ensuring interoperability between application lifecycle management (ALM) development tools. The result: the ALF.

The ALF's chief evangelist, Kevin Parker, who is also the vice president of Serena's research and development group, said the initiative was triggered by the rampant lack of interoperability between applications--a situation that often leads to outages and lower productivity in the enterprise.

"Whenever you need to upgrade [software], for example, you [often] end up calling support [for help]. That's no way to run a business," Parker told ZDNet Asia.

He pointed out that many applications come with auto-upgrades "whether you want it or not", and sometimes that process ends up crashing the computer. "The computer is useless until somebody fixes it… Imagine that [happening] on an enterprise scale."

Today, pieces of ALM tools such as task management, build management, configuration management, automated test and scanning, are not integrated, he said.

Serena Software's goal is to make the ALF the de facto standard for ALM tools, and make it as ubiquitous as the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port standard for PCs, Parker said.

Once the standard has been established, the ALF will help address the root cause of the problem, which is to get software vendors to ensure they adhere to a common infrastructure using standard Web services in order to integrate with application partners, as well as competitive products, he explained.

This takes away the burden of integration from enterprise customers who often have to employ full-time staff for that sole purpose--work which should be done by the software vendors in the first place, he said.

Parker noted: "Customers are saying, 'We shouldn't be the ones fixing your integration. Why should we have these blind spots in making all the products work?'"

When Serena Software mooted the idea of the ALF, the Eclipse committee suggested that the company gather a consortium of partners--including competitors--to drive the project, he said.

Taking baby steps
In February, the ALF group released a proof-of-concept code that demonstrates a common phase in the application development process and release-and-build scenarios, according to Parker.

Right now, the consortium is in the final phase of implementation scheduled to be completed in October this year, after which, it intends to deliver the first version of the ALF, he said.

"We can demonstrate now that this technology works," he added. "To ALF-enable their tools, all software vendors have to do is to expose the Web services and APIs (application programming interfaces) [inside their software] to the framework."

In addition, the ALF can be applied beyond the realms of the ALM world. Parker explained: "Other [software] sectors will see it as a generic framework, and repurpose it for systems management, or even [for deployment in] healthcare."

He clarified that the group mooting the ALF, however, does not intend to be the standards police. "We don't want to be a standards body," he said. "We want to build a practical solution, and make sure it works before we codify the standard."

The ALF group today includes companies such as Compuware, and a sprinkling of German and Israeli software vendors.

Parker acknowledged, however, that in order for the ALF to take off, the group will need endorsements from the 900-pound gorillas in the application development world, such as IBM's Rational and Microsoft's Visual Studio divisions.

IBM has said it will participate as soon as customers start asking for products to be ALF-enabled, he said.

"The whole purpose of the ALF is to level the playing field so that the IBMs and Microsofts of the world, will integrate with [smaller] boutique vendors," he said.

To underscore the commitment of Serena Software to the project, Parker said the company has assigned five engineers including Serena Fellows, a senior architect, as well as himself, to drive the project.

"We're not cheap resume. We're committed to donating this to the Eclipse community," he said.

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