Machine Learning Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Liz McMillan, Roger Strukhoff, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez

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Get off your fat apps!

I saw a report written by the UPI recently that described a program, the Future Combat System (FCS), that will have more lines of code than Windows XP. Here's an excerpt: “The number of lines of software code required by the project has more than doubled in only the past five years. The Army originally reckoned it needed 33.7 million lines of code. Now it reckons it needs 63.8 million. The paper also cited Dennis Muilenberg, Boeing's project manager on the FCS, as maintaining that the original estimate was 55 million lines of software, not 33 million.”

As far as I could tell this was something the project team was proud of. And here’s the part made me laugh out loud: they originally predicted 33.7 million lines of code but in fact will likely end up with 55+ million lines of code. They were only off by 20 million lines of code. How could anyone possibly think to spin this as a good thing?

Certainly the natural tendency is for software developers to add more. As an ex-coder myself I must admit that it’s harder to write less code to solve a problem. If you take a senior developer and a new developer and give them the same problem, the senior developer will write less code most of the time. But more importantly he/she will tend towards creating reusable frameworks and modules for an optimally layered solution. Without layers you get spaghetti. With layers you get something more like lasagna. And in this case it’s lasagna that can make you “thin”.

SOA can be a great start to a nicely layered lasagna-like solution. SOAs efforts can greatly promote reusable, accessible business functionality. But it isn’t a slam dunk. We now know the most successful SOA deployments are those that expose ‘business-granular’ services. You know that you’ve hit the business-granular mark when you can describe the service and the data it exchanges in business terms. Can you say this service processes a Purchase Order and notifies Suppliers when Items are delivered?

Unfortunately, once we’ve gotten the SOA part right, we're falling back on old habits by building big apps right on top of our nicely layered, business-granular services! Some of us are even creating these big apps using fancy new RIA (Rich Internet Apps) tools like Silverlight, Flex or Ajax. But these are still fat apps!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. JackBe has begun delivering to its customers something we call a ‘mashlet’, an enterprise-grade mashup widget that can be shared with others or even embedded in portals. They are easy to create (particularly compared to apps that have 55+ million lines of code!) and make a nice dynamic topping on your elegantly layered services lasagna.

I predict the near future will not be fat. The future of apps is much, much thinner. Do you have enterprise widgets in your architecture strategy yet?

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