The Software Technology Review


This article was originally published in News at SEI on: March 1, 2002

When Dan Ialenti’s new job took him from the familiar realm of hardware to the uncharted regions of reusable software components, he needed a quick reference to get him up to speed on the latest software tools and practices.

Ialenti looked up the Software Technology Review (STR), a Web-based resource that features concise and informative summaries on emerging software technologies. Ialenti found descriptions on middleware and remote procedure call—two areas that he needed to evaluate to develop a technical reference model for a client. “The STR gave me the direct information that I needed to get a grasp on the various technologies occurring at the integration layer,” said Ialenti, who is a systems engineer for an information resource center.

Engineers such as Ialenti are part of a growing number of software professionals who regularly access the STR for up-to-date information on current software technologies. While project managers might use it to evaluate software risk, maturity, and cost when selecting a new software system, other software professionals, including students, can use it to research new and related technologies. Originally targeted for a particular Department of Defense (DoD) audience, the STR has evolved to serve the diverse needs of both the DoD and commercial software engineering communities.

A Variety of Uses

The STR was first prototyped in 1997 when the Air Force acquisition community asked the SEI to create a reference document that would provide the Air Force with a clearer picture of software technologies. Contributors from the SEI and outside experts from organizations such as Lockheed Martin helped to populate the Web site and a paper version of the reference was released.

Today the STR serves the entire DoD acquisition community and is one of the most highly visited areas of the SEI Web site. An STR board was recently formed to revitalize and expand the site after some temporary funding shortages. During fiscal year 2001 it experienced nearly 2 million page hits, was viewed by more than 166,000 users in 139 countries, and had more than 18,000 documents downloaded from its Web pages.

While the STR’s mission is to provide the DoD with a better understanding of software technologies that will enable it to systematically plan for the upgrade and evolution of current systems, as well as the development of new systems, it also serves commercial project managers and engineers looking for informative data on software for building or maintaining systems. Ialenti, for example, spends roughly four hours a week on the STR site, retrieving data on software capabilities, storage, planning, and other issues for his team’s projects. In addition, software professionals can contribute to the STR by adding descriptions of new technologies that they have investigated. In most cases, a software professional’s existing documents can be easily reworked into the STR template. Thorough instructions and guidelines are available on the STR site for those interesting in submitting new technical descriptions and the STR board can help authors to fine-tune descriptions for proper placement.

Technical Descriptions

The STR currently features about 70 technology descriptions on a variety of topics, ranging from virus detection to network management to architecture description languages. STR descriptions are structured on a template that features a high-level summary of a software technology, an assessment of its maturity, usage considerations, costs and limitations, links to further information sources, and other valuable data. Technical descriptions also contain bibliographies so that users can access source data and further literature on their own.

In addition to a search feature, the STR also includes a taxonomy for navigation. This method is an effective way to lead users to a set of possible technologies that address their software problem area without having to read through every description. Using the taxonomies, users can search by a specific software quality measure (such as reliability), by a particular software use (such as design or testing), or by the ACM Computing Reviews Classification System, which categorizes subdisciplines within computer science.

The STR Board

John Goodenough, leader of the SEI’s Performance Critical Systems Initiative, chairs the STR Board. He describes the STR as an authoritative source for evaluating a software technology’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. While Goodenough says most online technology guides tend to focus on a technology’s strengths, the STR provides a more balanced description of a technology’s overall value. “It’s not just where the technology is now but where it’s going, how it’s evolving,” he said. “This difference provides an added benefit to managers who need to evaluate several technologies for their acquisition needs.”

Goodenough and the ten-member STR board meet monthly to discuss new topics for the site and to review and update existing descriptions. The board is currently addressing ways to increase contributions and is considering implementation of a new navigation system.

Future Plans

Goodenough and the STR Board are working to build participation in the STR over the next several months in order to create a fuller, and more frequently updated resource. He encourages more software professionals from outside the SEI to contribute to the STR site by authoring, updating, or reviewing technology descriptions. If you would like to contribute a technical description to the STR, contact us.

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