SMART Ultra-Large-Scale Systems Forum: “Scale Changes Everything”



Bill Pollak

This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:

Ultra-Large-Scale Systems

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: March 1, 2008

On March 6, 2008, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) conducted a forum, “Scale Changes Everything," on ultra-large-scale (ULS) systems in conjunction with Strengthening the Mid-Atlantic Region for Technology (SMART), a non-profit organization dedicated to integrating regional science and technology activities within Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The forum focused on the results of a recent study, Ultra-Large-Scale Systems: The Software Challenge of the Future, that was led by the SEI. Held on the Carnegie Mellon University campus in Pittsburgh, Pa., the event brought experts involved in the ULS systems study together with community leaders interested in the growing trend toward ULS systems.

ULS systems are systems that exceed some critical limit of today’s software engineering technology. The SEI-led research study began when Claude M. Bolton, Jr., former assistant secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology), posed this question to the SEI in 2004: “Given the issues with today's software engineering, how can we build systems of the future that are likely to have billions of lines of code?” Although Mr. Bolton initially defined the challenge of ULS systems in terms of lines of code, size is only one limit. Others include unboundedness, continuous requirements evolution, and continuous operation.

In her opening keynote address, Linda M. Northrop, director of the Product Line Systems Program at the SEI and leader of the SEI ULS systems study, discussed the impact of scale and presented a summary of the key insights from the SEI study. "Software is the least well-understood and the most problematic element of our largest systems today," Northrop said. "Government and industry need to be prepared to build the systems of the future that will be ultra-large scale in many dimensions. We cannot afford to wait or postpone this research."

Later in the morning, John Goodenough of the SEI moderated a panel discussion in which representatives from the community shared their experiences and challenges with increasing scale in their domains.

John Bloomer, CIO of Virtua Health, discussed the challenges of scale in the health-care industry. “U.S. health care remains a specialized compendium of silos and compartments with distinct care processes and protocols,” he said. He envisioned for the audience a future of “unified, preventative, holistic care processes and teams enabled by technology.” However that future, said Bloomer, depends on the availability of solutions to the challenges of scale.

Bob Kent, executive director of the System of Systems Security (SOSSEC) Integration Initiative, discussed the challenge of integrating disparate agencies and organizations charged with defending homeland security. “Unless an integrated system can be fashioned,” said Kent, “we will continue to fail in our prevention and response efforts.”

Patricia Hoffman, principal deputy assistant secretary, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, U.S. Department of Energy, discussed the complexity of the critical electric-power infrastructure.

Daniel J. Paulish, Siemens Corporate Research, Inc., validated the central tenets of the SEI study from the point of view of a large company with more than 30,000 software developers that spends more than 3 billion euros a year on software development. “Our software systems engineering methods and technologies,” said Paulish, “must address the increasing scale and complexity of emerging software systems.”

Mark Uland of the Boeing Company discussed his role as deputy chief architect of the System of Systems Common Operating Environment for the Army’s Future Combat Systems, a system of more than 33 million lines of code whose scale and complexity are already challenging current software engineering capabilities.

Links to these presentations are available in our library.

Thomas J. Killion, chief scientist of the United States Army, delivered the afternoon keynote address about ultra-large-scale systems in the Army. He underscored the importance of the ULS systems study and the need for research in this area.

The afternoon panel discussion, moderated by Northrop, focused on the areas identified in the SEI study as most in need of research breakthroughs: human interaction; computational emergence; design; computational engineering; adaptive system infrastructure; adaptable and predictable system quality; and policy, acquisition, and management. The panel session provided more detail about the research areas proposed by the ULS systems report, described progress that has occurred since the report’s publication, and engaged all attendees in a discussion about ongoing or needed research to meet ULS system challenges. The panelists, all members of the ULS system study team and coauthors of the report, were Richard P. Gabriel of IBM Research, Douglas C. Schmidt of Vanderbilt University, Kevin Sullivan of the University of Virginia, and Mark Klein, Kurt Wallnau, and John B. Goodenough of the SEI.

Links to these presentations are available in our library.

The event, attended by 80 government and industry leaders and researchers, was followed by an exhibit program and reception where Pennsylvania Lt. Governor Catherine Baker Knoll expressed her appreciation to the ULS system study team.

For more information about ULS systems, contact us using the link in the For More Information box at the bottom of this page or visit the SEI ULS website.

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