Change Management Software Gets Boost from Mighty Ant
November 13, 2007 Dan Burger
ARCAD Software has rolled the multi-platform software management stone closer to its final destination by releasing Version 8.06.06 of its IBM System i-based application lifecycle management suite. For companies doing application development that spans more than one platform or programming language, this software deserves your attention. The significance lies in the ever-increasing integration, and ultimately control, over multiple development environments–a frequent occurrence for companies building composite applications and undertaking service oriented architecture initiatives.
“When modernizing System i applications or extending them to other environments, we bring developers with many different tools together under one change management system,” says Philippe Magne, CEO and Chairman of ARCAD. “Better yet, we can deploy all the changes to heterogeneous systems in a single package, with all the traceability and safety you expect.”
ARCAD introduced its cross-platform capabilities when it released Version 8.06 in May 2007. That software was able to “see” other platforms, but the integration needed some refinement in order to bring the benefit level up to what System i users expect in a change management environment. Prior to this release, ARCAD’s cross-platform change management was accomplished by allowing application components to be developed and tested Microsoft Windows, Unix, or Linux servers, but the developers worked independently on those servers. The change that has taken place with the debut of ARCAD’s newest software involves transferring items to any of those other servers and keeping closer tabs on what’s happening. You might say it’s a closer degree of management.
For instance, a script can be executed, results can be obtained, and they can be trapped within the macro log on the System i. Keep in mind the ARCAD software runs on the System i. One of the advancements in Version 8.06.06 is that a script running on a Windows box, for instance, is incorporated directly into the transfer process. If that script fails on the Windows box, the ARCAD software recognizes it and rolls back the transfer on both platforms.
The key feature is the capability to trap the results of the script running on the other server. When it runs independently, there was no automatic accounting for processes on those platforms. Without that type of accountability, software management is much more labor intensive and far more prone to mistakes.
To incorporate a build process into a transfer is still a dream for many developers involved in building composite applications. Seeing the result in one place, regardless of IDE, is most helpful.
ARCAD’s software provides a more detailed audit trail, says Ray Bernardi, solutions architect at the company. Change management software for RPG development on the System i has always allowed administrators to see the results of that script in the archive. The traceability and manageability that has been available for years on the iSeries is now being made available to other platforms. This type of tool set functionality is what the System i user has come to expect, he notes. “Now there is one process that is being used across platforms that can do a promotion or a transfer of objects, and there is one place to look to manage it all compared to looking in multiple places to determine whether a piece of code functions correctly and the process can move on to the next step,” he says.
The technology that has allowed ARCAD to advance its cross-platform change management software by providing tighter integration is called Ant.
Ant is a Java-based, open source build tool that automates the construction and deployment of Web applications. ARCAD’s Magne calls it “a modern evolution of the ‘make files’ concept created in C development tools.” Because it is based on XML syntax, it offers platform independence–meaning it is useful to users of i5/OS as well as Unix, Linux, and Windows users. The current version, V 1.7, was released in December 2006.
Most people in the Java community know Ant and are using it.
ARCAD software uses Ant so it can provide automation for all code testing and subsequent moving of code to production in a multi-platform context. In other words, it’s all about integration. Ant provides the functionality for such things as copy/archiving, construction/compilation, and documentation generation to the point where Web applications are packaged for deployment.
When managing software components, the basic functions of copy and delete are essential. Because Ant did not offer traceability (Who did what? When did they do it? And, where did they do it?), ARCAD developers applied their skills to add that functionality. In addition, ARCAD built in an element of security that allows changes to be reversed or rolled back. This is another software management essential.
Because Java has such a love it or hate it reputation, you might have already decided this is right or wrong for your development plans.
“If you look at this from the aspect of a .NET developer,” says Bernardi, “ARCAD provides a plug-in to Visual Studio so that developers work in the same IDE as before. They would use a client to look at project tasks, but the check-out and check-in processes, the synchronization and refactoring processes are done within the plug-in.”
A developer using Visual Studio can access the ARCAD repository, and his or her workspace will be loaded with the most current versions of all the files. The developer performs work as usual and the software ensures the right process is followed and all changed files are promoted to production correctly.
From my perspective, as long as the .NET developer gets to use the same tools he’s used to, this Java-based software might pass inspection. Ask him to switch tools though and you might as well be asking him to sell his favorite dog. There’s no chance of that.
For WebSphere Development Studio fans, ARCAD’s Version 8.06.06 is compatible with WDSc 7, the most current release of the WebSphere development tools and IDE. And, by the way, ARCAD offers a free 5250 emulation utility that allows developers working under Eclipse to open a 5250 session in the WDSc environment. The ARCAD freeware is available for download at www.arcadsoftware.com.
Getting back to the topic of Ant, this off-shoot of the Apache Software Foundation has built up considerable momentum. “Since its inception in 2000, Ant has become the most prevalent scripting language in the world,” Magne says. He calls it the “de facto standard in the Java community” and goes on to draw the analogy that Ant is to Windows, Unix and Linux, as CL is to System i. This can be explained by understanding that many large-scale operations on the System i–those that include clearing many files, running many queries, produce many reports–are enclosed in a CL program. Ant can be used to do this same type of thing involving other platforms by developing a script that, for instance, goes to a repository, pulls files with a certain tag, compiles them and puts them in a certain location, then transfer them to various other locations.
As I see it, the process of building composite applications, testing, and going into production has always been a bit clunky. This looks like an important advancement for ARCAD in terms of added functionality in its current product lineup and for its potential when considering the future ARCAD product roadmap. As multi-platform capabilities continue to mature, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine the application lifecycle management software will become operating system independent. No one at ARCAD will confirm or deny that its System i-based suite of products will become platform agnostic, but my guess is that the application lifecycle management software vendors are in a race to get there.