IBM's Booch cites big future for parallel apps development

IBM Fellow and UML co-creator also talks about blogs, LAMP, and Microsoft

Grady Booch, now an IBM Fellow, came to IBM through its merger with Rational Software in 2003. Booch is perhaps best known as a co-developer of the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Rational Rose. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill interviewed Booch at the IBM Rational Software Development Conference in Las Vegas this week, asking him about application lifecycle management, blogging, Microsoft, and where software development is headed.

InfoWorld: This question has been kind of beaten to death, but are there any issues remaining as far as the IBM/Rational integration? 

Booch: [I've had] somewhat of a hard time ordering business cards, but that's been about the worst thing that's happened to me. I'm having too much fun inside.

InfoWorld: You don't resent being an IBM employee?

Booch: No, it's great. In fact, I love being an IBM employee. I'm an IBM Fellow, which means I'm one of 57 people in the company, and where else can I have a chance to interact with the guy that developed copper on silicon or the guy who's the architect for the PowerPC and Nobel prize winners working on quantum physics?  This is way cool stuff, and the amazing thing that IBM offers, for me, is just being able to tap into this talent of some incredibly brilliant people. One of the projects I'm on deals with what should IBM do when Moore's Law dies. We know it's going to die.

InfoWorld: What do you do then?

Booch: Well, it all becomes software.  We're going to hit the physical limits of what Moore's Law can tell us we can do at the chip level. And what that means is, for the average developer, you're going to be dealing with more massive parallelism than you have in the past.

InfoWorld: Which means your job is going to be harder then, correct?

Booch: Yes.  By definition, software gets harder every year.

InfoWorld: What does a developer do when he has to deal with dual-core sort of development, which he didn't have to do it before? What is Rational going to do to make that transition easier?

Booch: Well, we can't say what we're going to do there, but I can say what's inevitable is that one has to provide some tooling and middleware that makes most of that parallelism transparent to the average developer.

InfoWorld: Would you say application lifecycle management is the latest trend in the industry these days? Why has it become so important?

Booch: I'm not certain I'd characterize it as a latest trend because it's certainly been a trend that I've seen among some of our more successful customers for the past several years. There's [this] notion of treating software itself as a business product in the sense [that] there's something that you have a capital investment in and you have to control its lifecycle. That's a common investment practice we've seen many of our customers use.

InfoWorld: In the press conference that was just held, there was a lot of talk about integrating with other platforms and being heterogeneous. But it seemed like the keynote presentation this morning was focused on WebSphere or Tivoli and IBM products. So what is Rational doing to reach out to non-IBM systems?

Booch: Tivoli products in particular are directed toward multiplatform things, and with regards to WebSphere, one of the realities of us being part of the larger IBM is our modeling tools and such have been able to take advantage of that close association to allow us to do more direct WebSphere kinds of things. The reality of the marketplace is it is a heterogeneous marketplace.

InfoWorld: Tell me about your keynote presentation for tomorrow.

Booch: The fundamental focus of my keynote is about innovation. My focus inside Rational, and now IBM, has always been as the designated free radical, so I worry about not this quarter or the next quarter or the current release, but I worry about the next three to five years.  And to that end, I help direct where I can [the] things that will enable us to keep the pipeline in innovation full. In the keynote we'll talk about ways we do that. One is through adaptation, and in particular I'm going to talk about how we've been adapting things like the Rational Unified Process, to both expand beyond where it has been as well as to drive it inside IBM. I'll [also] be talking about the several billion dollars of research monies that Rational spends with IBM Research and some of the particular projects we're funding, such as a thing called Activity Spaces. Our belief is we can do some cool things in terms of IDEs. This is what we're doing with Eclipse and the like, but as organizations move toward geographically and temporally dispersed development, there's need for tooling to support collaboration among those teams, and so we have directed research in that space.

InfoWorld: What is your perspective on Microsoft Whidbey and the LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP/Perl/Python) stack and where they stand as far as software development for enterprises?

Booch: Let me take those two issues separately and talk about the Microsoft side for once. I certainly respect where Microsoft is headed here. [But] they don't have a lot of customer examples where you can say that Microsoft dominates the enterprise from top to bottom. And indeed, if you look at Microsoft's moves, they're increasingly more and more proprietary. The work they're doing in their Software Factories, for example, does not embrace the open standards of things like the UML, and so it's another example of Microsoft saying, "We're going to do it our way." Which is fine -- that’s their business strategy and that's great. But as we spoke about earlier, the fact of having a heterogeneous environment means that IBM's strategy has been and will continue to be support for open standards so you can have this kind of mix and match.

InfoWorld: Borland is providing Microsoft's UML support.

Booch: Yes, they are. And that’s an interesting thing going on there. If you look at just the marketplace for tooling, because I thought for the longest time Borland was going to be an independent kind of [vendor]. But clearly they're making closer connections to Microsoft.

InfoWorld: Why do you think they are doing that?

Booch: I can't speak for Borland, but just looking at it as an outsider, there are clear economic pressures on Borland to move in this direction. Eclipse fundamentally changed the business market for these guys, because now, how do you make money off of an IDE?  And the answer is, well, it's a commodity and so you don't. And that changed their business equation greatly.

InfoWorld: What do you think of LAMP?

Booch: There's no doubt that that stack is great for certain kinds of domains and IBM will never replace that with WebSphere, because there's a threshold below [for] which just those open source [offerings] are quite sufficient. The threshold [is in] terms of performance and complexity. Many organizations that [use] the LAMP stack realize as they grow their architecture doesn't necessarily grow with them. In fact, it's curious to look at many of the dot-com survivors and just map out the number of seismic architectural changes they have done.  They've gone from just PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) scripts and MySQL in the background to [moving to] WebSphere for performance and complexity reasons.

InfoWorld: How do you know when you have to move to something that's larger than LAMP?

Booch: Great question. LAMP's kind of the gateway drug. That’s probably a bad sound bite, but you know what I mean by it.  And you realize you're into problems at the point in time where the resilience to change becomes so difficult. So, and in other words, you built up something that you're spending so much more time just patching and just sort of appending onto it to try to make it faster or do whatever you need to do. If it's unable to absorb change rapidly enough to meet the rapid changes of the marketplace, then you know you're running into problems. And generally it requires that one do somewhat of a seismic re-architecting.

InfoWorld: How does Eclipse not get included in the LAMP stack?

Booch: I think it's because it's an orthogonal thing; the LAMP stuff is the run time and the Eclipse side of it is currently the development timepieces of it.

InfoWorld: Did Rational have anything that competed with Eclipse?

Booch: No.  In fact, in the days prior to the acquisition, we were actually members of, we had a board position. We had to deal with Visual Studio, we had to deal with the other IDEs, and we viewed Eclipse as a great way to reduce or eliminate the fragmentation in the marketplace. So we really bought into the Eclipse notion because it simplified life for us, in terms of IDE platforms.  Eclipse is cool, I use it. It's wickedly cool.

InfoWorld: Is Rational concerned that somebody is going to do free, open source versions of what you’re doing? 

Booch: Actually we know they are, and we welcome it. There are open source versions of [some of our] tools, of our modeling tools, it's happening and it's inevitable. There will be a day that you’ll see open source middleware, and what that means for Rational in particular, IBM at large, is the inevitable commoditization of the software stack. We've seen things like Argo/UML. CVS is a good example as well, on the configuration management side. These things exist and they're inevitable for us and we see them, but that's actually a good thing for our customers because it forces us to keep innovating and add value to that stack.

InfoWorld: When do you get to a point where everyone gets all the software they need through open source?

Booch: I don't think that will ever happen. The IDE has been commoditized, we have Eclipse. The basic drawing of UML -- that will be commoditized over time. But the ability to tie those things to particular stacks, to tie them to WebSphere, to tie them to Tivoli, to tie them to the rest of the LAMP stuff, to move into particular verticals and deal with reasonable patterns that we can then drive automation to, the open source community doesn't necessarily have the right business model to pursue some of those things. Now, that being said, you can see things like RosettaNet. In the automotive marketplace, there's Autosar, and we welcome those. Autosar is a good example of an open source framework, an architectural framework for the automotive industry. And we think those things are great, because they represent the players in that marketplace getting together and saying, "We're not going to wage war anymore, we're going to choose some architectural standards so we can simplify the market and now we'll do plug-and-play kinds of things." Because innovation doesn't happen on the architectural side, it happens on how you put those pieces together. Where can IBM and Rational continue to innovate?  We can continue to drive our tooling so we support those open frameworks, and we'll let the open source community deal with the domain-specific things. We'll deal with the automation along the way. 

InfoWorld: What is your take on unifying business processes and software development?

Booch: [There] are some companies where I can go in and I just smell the difference, where I talk to the developers and to the CIO and the CEO, and there's this utter disconnect. The CEO view of software is it's that crappy stuff here that just costs me money. Whereas there are other organizations, notably in the telcos [where] we saw it first and the defense organizations where we probably saw it next, where they really get the notion that software is a competitive advantage for them. In those organizations that really get it, that means that their business processes both drive and are driven by their software developers and that's created this need for automation of getting those two groups to talk together with one another, which was the basis of many of the tools you saw there. [The issue is] how do you get an organization that really gets the notion of software so that we can provide better automation to its senior executives.

InfoWorld: What is your take on blogging and where that's going?

Booch: Ninety percent of everything is crap, so there are several million bloggers in this world and there's a lot of really interesting stuff that social scientists years from now will look at it and say, "Wow, we had a mixed-up generation."  But on the other hand, there are some real gems, and I follow a few blogs, because in these places it's a great way to see what's happening. I follow James Gosling's blog, I follow Wil Wheaton's blog. Alan Brown has a good blog. I was one of the first bloggers for IBM, and I'll be honest in saying it just utterly amazes me that I'm publishing direct to the IBM site and there are no lawyers between my fingers and the public world.

InfoWorld: Does that make the lawyers nervous?

Booch: Oh, I hope so. But I think it's great because it indicates that IBM recognizes that if they were to [impede] us it would totally destroy the value proposition of blogs.

InfoWorld: What do you see happening with blog technology?

Booch: To be honest, I hated the blogging tools out there, so I wrote my own. So for me, it hasn’t quite stabilized to the point where I like it yet.

InfoWorld: Is Rational going to do any blogging tools?

Booch: No. It's not really a development issue for us.  There’s no value added for Rational. There are a lot of people out there doing blogging things more so than us.  Now, that being said, it is an element that we view relevant to collaborative development. Wikis, blogs, discussion groups, Web meetings -- these are all part of the ecosystem of collaboration.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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