The repository returns

Years ago, repository technology promised to change the way corporate IT units build mission-critical software. Development teams could store meta data in a single warehouse and access that meta data using a variety of tools from multiple vendors.

The idea of a repository brought us IBM's AD/Cycle strategy, whose promise prompted Microsoft to sign up Texas Instruments Inc. to build the Microsoft Repository. This led the former Platinum Technologies Inc. to buy the BrownStone and Reltech repositories, each based on much touted technologies that promised to radically change the corporate development process.

Unfortunately, for more reasons than we can recount here, repository-based development failed to deliver the goods to IT development shops. The proprietary AD/Cycle went the way of the Edsel and IBM's partners, including such CASE pioneers as Bachman Information Systems, Index Technology, KnowledgeWare and Easel, also crashed. Microsoft first shifted its repository development effort to Platinum, which was later acquired by Computer Associates. At that point, the proprietary Microsoft effort faded away as well.

In this month's Cover Story, regular contributor Lana Gates and ADT Editor-at-Large Jack Vaughan examine how some newer, lighter-weight technologies and emerging industry standards are leading to the creation of distributed repositories that observers see as more modest and cost-effective than the centralized model, but promising support for a slew of tools and technologies. As IDC analyst Steve Hendrick points out, the definition of a development repository has evolved from a centralized storage facility for general information to a specialized store for specific development and deployment activities based on open industry standards. An embrace of emerging standards like XML, XMI, RDF and others could create a distributed repository to support multiple tools, programming languages and methods—a far more advanced solution than AD/Cycle or the Microsoft Repository.

But the new architecture is totally dependent on standards. Throughout the history of this business, standards have promised to provide a level playing field for providers of development solutions, and a far easier decision-making process for the buyers of those products. For example, vendor tweaks of the open Unix standard left users with the somewhat dissimilar Solaris, HP-UX, AIX and other implementations that are just proprietary enough to support only applications written specifically for each version.

IT firms can guard against a similar bastardization of repository standards by demanding that suppliers support the standards as written by the Object Management Group and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). New repository technologies can bring IT organizations some significant benefits. But you must keep the pressure on vendors to follow the standards.

About the Author

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.