If you are familiar with DSP standing for digital signal processing, chances are you'll be a little confused by the world of hosted services. Here another DSP, the development service provider model, plays a key role in the outsourcing of the tools and processes required to support software development.
The DSP market is in its early stages, but already companies such as Borland and Oracle have outlined DSP offerings, and Butler Group believes this approach has benefits to offer to development teams.
Several factors have highlighted the need for this type of service. Software development, as with many other business activities, is becoming increasingly distributed as companies spread across geographical boundaries, and the Internet enables collaboration between remote locations.
Development cycle times have become highly compressed, with the need to bring e-business applications to market quickly, and to seize an opportunity before your competitors move in ahead of you.
In response to these changes, software development teams are a more fluid entity: there are more pronounced peaks and troughs in development needs, greater use is made of contractors, and particular projects may bring together smaller groups from around the world.
Given this environment, project control becomes progressively more complex, with the need to maintain source and version control, track project status and tasks, and co-ordinate testing and documentation, magnified beyond its expected level.
Added to this is the growing trend for "off-shoring", or outsourcing development work to companies located overseas, where skills are more plentiful and employment costs are cheaper.
India is the market leader in this field, having invested enormous sums of money in producing
computer graduates with the latest skillsets. Even though off-shoring devolves much of the development responsibility outside the company, it is still necessary to co-ordinate this development effort with the in-house project manager, and to pass the code back to the customer, or to an application service provider (ASP) for deployment.
The DSP offering generally consists of three components: First, there is an online development workbench, providing a shared workspace where code can be created, stored and updated. This will include repository facilities such as check-in/check-out, version control and secure storage.
In some cases, the workbench includes the development tools themselves, particularly where the DSP is a division of a tools vendor. In other cases, developers will use their in-house Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for actually creating code.
The second component is a series of collaboration tools that facilitate geographically dispersed teams working together on a project. These may include instant messaging, discussion groups and notice boards, so that developers can exchange ideas on the project, share source code snippets, and provide mutual technical support. This enables a virtual community to exist, centred on the development project.
The third component is a project management capability, so that project-related tasks can be initiated and tracked by an administrator. This can include items such as a feature list, a database of bugs and an audit trail of code changes. With the necessary authentication, participants in any location can view the status of either their own part of the project, or of the project as a whole.
All these facilities are made available to the developer through a standard Web browser, so that they can be accessed from practically any location. This allows more flexible working practices, including teleworking, which may offer a cost-reduction opportunity for some projects.
Some DSPs have extended the front-end to their service into a development portal, adding a number of useful development resources such as code libraries and testing services to their core set of tools.
The first benefit of a DSP service is that it provides access to the latest development technology on a transparent cost basis. When developers in different locations are collaborating on a project, it is commonplace to find that there are various versions of tools in use, causing additional headaches for project administration.
It also has the potential for substantial cost savings, because the company can pay just for the development tools it uses, rather than having to buy additional developer seats that may not be used once the project is completed.
Second, a shared development platform makes it considerably easier to create a virtual development team, which may consist of local staff working alongside employees from other business units, and also with contractors.
The team for a particular project can quickly be assembled for the duration of a particular assignment, with the latest tools and a collaborative environment made almost instantly available.
Third, organisations may have excellent developer skills but be lacking in project management and administration skills. The DSP can offer this expertise as a service to a project team, allowing the company to focus on its core competencies. It also saves the company the cost of having to buy the project management tools and development infrastructure.
Concerns over security are perceived as the biggest potential drawback of the DSP model. Companies are understandably protective of their code - they have, after all, invested a significant amount of time and money to create something that often represents a vital competitive asset.
DSPs have addressed these concerns in two ways: By ensuring that the development services themselves are secure, and by offering a variant of the service that locates the code behind the customer's own firewall.
Access to the DSP's services from the browser will typically be secured by password-based sign-on and encrypted using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and can optionally be bolstered by stronger authentication methods.
Some DSPs also offer a service where either the whole development suite, or just the source code repository, is located with the customer itself, protected by the company's own firewall and security infrastructure.
In this scenario, the customer pays for use of the development tools as if they were provided as a service, but with the reassurance that no physical assets are being stored outside the organisation.
The DSP market is at an early stage, but several significant players are offering this type of service. An early entrant was Merant, whose so-called AsaP solution includes use of development tools, administrative services, upgrades, online training and documentation, maintenance and support, and implementation, all covered by a service level agreement (SLA).
Intel's online services division physically hosts the solution, and guarantees 99% availability.
Borland is a new entrant to the market with its TeamSource service, hoping to leverage its traditional base of loyal developers. The company's DSP offering includes TeamSource Core Service, which provides the hardware, software, network bandwidth, technical support and management services; TeamSource Collab Service for instant messaging, discussion groups and file exchange; and TeamSource Code Service, which provides storage, sharing and version control.
Borland has created a sophisticated infrastructure for its service, which will allow additional development tools provided by its partners to be added into these core services.
Oracle offers hosted development services in two specific horizontal markets: OracleMobile Online Studio is an online service for building, testing and deploying wireless applications. It lets any developer, systems integrator or independent software vendor quickly develop a mobile application that can be accessed from any device.
Oracle Portal Studio is a service for developing Web portlets for use with the Oracle 9i Application Server Portal. Both services require nothing other than a Web browser for access, and are likely to herald more extensive DSP offerings from the Oracle stable.
A number of smaller companies have also entered the DSP market, often building on expertise gained from the open source movement. While these companies have technically sound solutions, Butler Group believes they will find it difficult to attract the larger enterprises, which will not be prepared to entrust their development to an unknown quantity.
Butler Group believes the DSP model has the potential for rapid growth during the next two to three years. As the development lifecycle comes under greater time pressure, and involves participants in widely dispersed locations, the effort involved in creating and supporting a development infrastructure is increased.
The DSP model offers the latest development environment, available anywhere and in any location, with the tools to create a virtual project team almost instantly.
Where there is a stable development team in place, and a predictable demand for development work, the DSP offering is unlikely to be cost effective, but this scenario is less common than it used to be.
In a less constant environment, where demand is variable and development teams must be quickly assembled from different sources, Butler Group considers that a hosted development environment offers significant benefits.
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