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2014 Developer Challenges and Opportunities, Part III: Extreme Automation, Service Virtualization, Don't Be Afraid of SOAP, More

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There's a lot on the horizon for developers in 2014, and I just couldn't let the "predictions" thing go without passing on the observations of two more top industry watchers.

Theresa Lanowitz, founder of industry analyst firm Voke, for example, points out that catastrophic software failures in 2013 could make 2014 the year enterprises begin dialing back the pressure on app dev teams to get to market at warp speed. Why? Because businesses are being held accountable for these software failures. The shutdowns and glitches that plagued U.S. financial exchanges last year resulted in a credit rating downgrade (Goldman Sacks), a major contract termination (CGI Federal for healthcare.gov), and IT people being put on administrative leave.

"I believe that's the first time we've seen repercussions for the technology side," Lanowitz said. "The constant relentless push to get things to market faster is coming back to haunt us. Software is now such an integral part of the enterprise that failures have a serious impact. Businesses can't afford to absorb these big failures. Customers will give you only so many passes. And when Standard & Poor's says they are going to downgrade your credit rating and that you have to have a liquid capital reserves on hand to pay out for damages your faulty software causes…  Well, the C suite is suddenly interested in software."

Time-to-market still matters, Lanowitz said, but more than ever, so does software quality. Those conflicting demands are likely to lead to enterprise developers to embrace what she calls "extreme automation."

"Developers are going to have to say, all right, what can I do to make sure that we are delivering on time, but also with a high degree of quality, while understanding my cost and knowing what's going to happen when we have a defect in production when there's a catastrophic event," she said. "I think we're going to see developers answering that question more often in the coming year with extreme automation across the entire application lifecycle."

Essential for this level of automation, she said, is service virtualization, which she believes, though currently underutilized, could become the hub of the modern application lifecycle.

"The app lifecycle needs to be built using things like service virtualization, virtual lab management, and dev/test cloud," she said. "You want to give developers and testers environments as close to production as possible, so that the testers can test and immediately give developers the defects to remediate. This approach also reduces the provisioning time; developers and testers don't have to wait for lab environments. And you want to be able spin up a platform very quickly, and then replicate that platform throughout your software supply chain."

According to Voke's research, organizations that employ service virtualization in this way see significant benefits, Lanowitz said, including fewer defects going into production, shorter wait times, and an increase in the availability of services for end-to-end integrated testing.

"I think the term 'virtualization' has become too closely associated with the data center, and people don't think of it in this context," Lanowitz said. "But this is a technology that spans the entire application lifecycle. Now it's just a matter of education."

Forrester Research analyst Randy Heffner says 2014 should be the year developers begin to focus seriously on what he calls "digital business design," which is an integration strategy that sees the trends that will likely dominate the coming year -- big data and predictive analytics, mobility, and API management -- as pieces of a larger picture.

"There are no stand-alone applications anymore," Heffner said. "So don't design your application as though it is one. Your app will be integrated across a multi-organization ecosystem of business activity. So design the business activity first. Design the transaction, and then figure out how to embody it within the delivered solution. This business-first approach is going to be the key to bringing these trends together in a coherent way that enables sustainable business flexibility going forward."

Heffner also advised developers not to let their enthusiasm for REST architectural style cause them to miss the continuing value of SOAP.

"There are a lot of what I call quarter truths out there about SOAP," he said. "Of course, REST is very important, but don't fear SOAP. Understand when and how to use them. On the open Web, you'd better be using REST, because that's what developers demand. For BtoB situations, companies are often willing to invest a bit more, and often they're using toolkits where SOAP is easier to use; they're not scripting-language-based, but Java- or C++-based. The truth is, there's a lot of expansion still happening with SOAP."

"Just be wary of those who get very religious about REST -- you've got to have these particular models and you have to use verbs in this way and that way, etc.," Heffner added. "What will rule the day is pragmatic REST, designing to fill the right kind of model based on what you need to do."

Posted on February 5, 2014