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Software engineers usually find coding to be the most satisfying aspect of their job. This is easy to understand because programming is a challenging, creative activity requiring extensive technical skills. It can mean getting to “play” with state-of-the-art tools, and it provides almost instant gratification in the form of immediate feedback. Programming is the development task that most readily comes to mind when the profession of software engineering is mentioned.
That said, seasoned engineers and project managers realize that programmers are part of a larger team. All of the integral tasks, such as quality assurance and verification and validation, are behind-the-scenes activities necessary to turn standalone software into a useful and usable commodity. Software configuration management (SCM) falls into this category—it can’t achieve star status, like the latest “killer app,” but it is essential to project success. The smart software project manager highly values the individuals and tools that provide this service.
This chapter will answer the following questions about software configuration management.
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Identification, control, audit, and status accounting are the four basic requirements for a software configuration management system. These requirements must be satisfied regardless of the amount of automation within the SCM process. All four may be satisfied by an SCM tool, a tool set, or a combination of automated and manual procedures.
- Identification—Each software part is labeled so that it can be identified. Furthermore, there will be different versions of the software parts as they evolve over time, so a version or revision number will be associated with the part. The key is to be able to identify any and all artifacts that compose a released configuration item. Think of this as a bill of materials for all the components in your automobile. When the manufacturer realizes that there has been a problem with parking brakes purchased from a subcontractor, it needs to know all the automobile models using that version of the parking brake. It is the same with software. If we are building a multimedia system that has audio MPEG3 drivers for Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows CE, Linux, and FreeBSD operating systems, how do we find out which releases are impacted when we find an error in the Linux product? You must go back to your SCM system to identify all the common components in all operating system releases that are impacted.
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Software development has traditionally suffered from producing end products with a definite lack of inherent quality. The symptoms of this quality lack are listed here:
- Software development projects are often delivered late and over budget.
- Often the delivered product does not meet customer requirements and is never used.
- Software products simply do not work right.
As we look into the symptoms of our software development malaise, five principal issues related to software development arise.
Lack of Visibility
Software is conceptual in nature. Unlike a bridge, a building, or another physical structure, it is not easy to look at software and assess how close it is to completion. Without strong project management, “software is 90% complete 90% of the time.” Through the adoption of SCM policy and the definition of the configuration management model of the software under development, all CIs, components, and subcomponents are immediately visible for versions, releases, and product families.
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The minimum features for SCM tools are closely related to the task of handling the different product deliverables produced within the project software engineering process. Tool requirements and selection criteria are based on a series of features that provide a consistent look and feel with state-of-the-art software development environments. An SCM tool must have multiuser support, an intuitive graphical user interface, conformity to the organization’s development environment, scalability, flexibility in integrating other software development tools, ease of setup, modifiable models, process management, extensive support for the development phase, and management of nondevelopment objects.
Basic selection criteria includes the following:
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SCM benefits an organization in four areas: control, management, cost savings, and quality. These four benefits are mapped to an organization’s overall goals and objectives when the decisions are made to bring a SCM tool in-house. The features of a SCM tool further support these benefits.
SCM Benefits the Organization in Four Major Ways
Control in SCM provides the ability to review, approve, and incorporate changes into a configuration item. There must be one controlling SCM tool so that there is only one set of training, license management, installation, and user procedures. All project personnel use the tool. Inherent in the tool is a standardized, measurable process for change. Integrity maintenance of CIs is enforced throughout the product life cycle. The tool permits only controlled change to the baseline CIs, and all changes are tracked.
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When planning for SCM in your product development organization, you must first understand the classes of potential problems that can exist. Once the classes are understood, the inherent problems that are causing configuration management issues may be easily identified.
Potential SCM Problem Classes
- Multiple developer syndrome—When you have a project that requires more than one developer, there is the problem with multiple people working on one product base. This could be a test plan, requirements specification, or code. Effort is wasted when two or more people work on the same file and then save it. Without SCM control, the last person to save the file has those changes saved. All the other changes are lost. The simplistic method of locking a file while one person reads it prevents others from simultaneously working on the file.
- Multiple releases—Enhancements to the base product should result in additional releases of the product containing the latest changes. Once the second release is available, some users are on an earlier release. Having an SCM makes managing those releases possible. When bugs are reported, changes must be made across all impacted releases. As new features become available in the product, they must be made available to all current users, no matter what the release date.
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5 Keys to Automating Configuration Management for Application Infrastructure
One of the trends being discussed in business, among vendors and in the analyst community is the importance of automating the functions performed by IT. Growing demands by the business, tight budgets and compliance pressures together accentuate the need for IT to be more agile, efficient and responsive to business stakeholders.
Naturally, vendors rush into this environment, each touting the unique benefits of its solution set and the urgency to move forward immediately. A key area targeted for IT automation is the area of ‘configuration management.’ As it relates to automating day to day IT functions, configuration management can mean many different things: patch management, server and network management or others.Read more »
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