ATP Helps to Simplify and Reduce Software Maintenance and Upgrade Costs
Semantic Designs, Inc., Austin, TX
Duration and Cost:
funding amount: $2.0 M
- Industry cost-share amount: $0.2 M
Report of the Completed Project:
Software maintenance, which involves migrating and upgrading software applications, is a major cost for businesses. In the mid-1990s, maintenance accounted for over 50% of the $160 billion spent annually on software development, because software engineers had to spend an enormous amount of time and money to understand how a software system worked by studying the details of its implementation in each line of code (LOC) before deciding what changes were needed and how to implement them. Automating this process by using a software engineering tool would cut development time, save valuable labor resources, and improve the quality of the software system.
Semantic Designs, a small start-up company in Texas, proposed to create a software design maintenance system (DMS) as the first step in developing that engineering tool. Semantic Designs projected that using DMS would reduce software maintenance costs by a factor of two or more and would save approximately $2 billion annually. The company’s vision for DMS involved considerable technical risk, because, in 1995, no software tool existed to capture and modify a formal software design. Furthermore, no software reengineering system processed more than a few thousand LOCs; DMS would target both of these goals. Most significantly, company researchers planned to analyze software code in the same way that the human brain processes the meaning of a sentence through a process called semantic analysis. However, Semantic Designs was unable to procure private sector investment to pursue this project because of the high degree of technical risk that they proposed, so they applied for, and received a merit-based, scientifically peer-reviewed ATP award.
and Economic Impacts
Semantic Designs was successful in meeting its technical goals. Through the ATP project, it:
- Built a design maintenance system (DMS) to automate the capture of legacy software system architecture and to manage design changes for its migration into another system, and successfully tested and validated it.
- Created PARLANSE, a new parallel programming language that could handle the computation of large-scale software systems.
- Disseminated the knowledge gained in the project through 14 journal papers and numerous conference presentations.
Further, the results of the ATP project triggered further development after the ATP funding was completed. Semantic Design added two additional tools to the DMS toolkit:
- The Clone Detector Tool
- Clones are redundant lines of code, whose detection, grouping, and ultimate removal is critical for successful software upgrades. The Clone Detector Tool very neatly detects and removes this from the legacy system.
- The Source Code Obfuscator
- Obfuscation, or changing the appearance of the software architecture to hide the real code, is critical to protect the exclusivity of a software technology. This tool analyzes the software source code and generates a “cover” to prevent piracy and hackers. (Instead of pursuing patent protection, Semantic Designs protects its own software using this tool.)
Using the DMS toolkit, Semantic Design has calculated significant savings for companies that need to re-engineer software. A software industry rule of thumb is that on average, it costs $1/line of code per year to maintain. Since most large scale legacy systems have one million (or more) lines of code, and clones can be up to 25% of the source code, the clone detector can save a company hundreds of thousands and dollars.
Since the end of the 2005, Semantic Design has won and implemented their technology in contracts worth over $5 million. However, the economic impact is magnified if the benefits to the consumers are taken into account. Semantic Design has sold the toolkit to many defense contractors, such as Rockwell, Boeing, and Northrup Grumman.
- In one example, Semantic Design converted a mission-critical software package belonging to Northrup Grumman used in B2 bombers. The software was coded in a legacy language and had to be migrated to the C language. The new software was converted automatically by DMS and passed the extremely rigorous in-house systems tests before being released for integration in the B2 bomber system. As CEO Dr. Ira Baxter comments, “The savings to the government in improvement to aircraft through our product to Northrup Grumman more than pays for Semantic Design’s ATP award.”
The outlook for DMS technology is very strong. Many organizations have legacy systems that urgently need migrations, and the DMS toolkit is the only one of its kind on the market today. Again, Dr. Baxter comments: “The DMS system tool set is the principal driver of the value proposition by providing highly automated mass analysis or change on large-scale software systems. It isn’t a three or five year head start. Frankly, without the ATP funding, DMS tools would simply not exist.”
Date created: October 27, 2006
December 7, 2006