Software Configuration Market Heats Up

Software configuration management (SCM) systems have long been the Rodney Dangerfields (the American comedian “who gets no respect’) of the tools market. Although not at the top of most checklists, virtually every development team with ongoing projects usually has some version control tool in place to keep developers from tripping over old code.

In most cases, the systems have been limited to workgroups numbering at most 20 – 30 developers. The tools are either primitive homegrown applications or databases, off-the-shelf products limited to 20-30 person workgroups, although a couple repository-based, enterprise-scale offerings, including of Merant’s PVCS Dimensions or Rational’s ClearCASE, have emerged. But in most cases, the tools have been taken for granted.

With today’s release of Rational Suite 2001, the latest in a round of semi-annual rollouts by Rational, competition in the entry-level SCM (software configuration management) market has ratcheted up. In additional to other tools covering the AD life cycle, the new Rational Suite includes ClearCASE LT, a new low-end version of the company’s existing SCM offering.

Offered as part of the suite or a la carte at $1500/seat, ClearCASE LT is roughly at price parity with PCVS Professional, the best-known workgroup-level tool—and is roughly half the cost of enterprise-level offerings. Rational’s pitch is that, unlike other workgroup offerings, which also include the free, open-source CVS; Starbase, the web-oriented tool often embedded with Java frameworks; and Microsoft’s Visual SourceSafe; ClearCASE LT is actually a miniature version of the full enterprise product. The implication is that migration paths should be easier. By comparison, to go from PCVS Professional to PVCS Enterprise requires an automated wizard that parses out data from the workgroup product’s flat files into the federated database and source code repository structure of its enterprise equivalent.

For AD teams, the choice is not just around which tool provides upgrade paths, but what other goodies may come alongside it. For instance, while Rational offers unified change management, a component of Rational’s unified process, Merant has begun offering standalone companion tools that track changes in packaged applications, beginning with Oracle Financials (it might eventually integrate them). Other common features high on AD team checklists are defect tracking, issue management, change management, and requirements management.

Thanks to e-business, AD teams are having to cope with more complex, highly intertwined applications that must be developed on increasingly short fuses. That’s placed a premium on buying suites or best-of-breed solutions, rather than point tools. However, due to workflow variability and the shortcomings of today’s repository technologies, no vendor yet offers a completely open, integrated solution spanning the entire AD life cycle, from designer to developer and tester. For that, we will probably have to wait for XML frameworks.

Nonetheless, the renewed attention to SCM points out that this is becoming one of the hottest contested portions of the AD tools space. That’s ironic given that Rational’s 1997 acquisition of PureAtria (the source of ClearCASE) was initially given such poor reviews by Wall Street.