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Modelling From the Belly of the Whale

IBM has announced that, subject to the usual legal caveats, it is buying Telelogic, the Swedish-based system development tools company. IBM’s Rational Software operation, where Telelogic’s products will find a home, was itself acquired by IBM only four years ago. And it was only just over a year ago that Telelogic bought I-Logix, whose Rhapsody model-based development tool is one of the leaders in the embedded space. So, rather like one of those drawings of a little fish being swallowed by a bigger one and that being swallowed by one yet bigger again, Rhapsody is now in the belly of the IBM whale.

Rational was itself assembled from a number of companies, including the Swedish Objectory AB, a pioneer of Object Oriented development, and was a major player in developing the Unified Modelling Language (UML 1.0) as part of the UML Partners consortium. UML, which was donated to the Object Management Group (OMG) in 1997, was seen mainly as a tool for developing systems at the enterprise level. Rational, like much of IBM, is focused on large organisations, providing the tools for the design, implementation and maintenance of systems that keep companies functioning and carrying out their core missions.

Telelogic, like Rational, also has an enterprise level focus, but mainly for technical companies. When we looked at the company in Embedded Sweden late last year, we explained that it concentrates on its original business of telecommunications, on aerospace and defence, and it is also active in the automotive field. It is Telelogic’s success in these areas that seems to have been one of the attractions for IBM; the other being the tools they have developed or bought that complement those in the Rational portfolio, although there are also some significant product overlaps.

When Telelogic acquired US-based I-Logix, they were extending their depth of coverage and acquiring a technology customer base, again working from UML (I-Logix was also part of the UML Partners consortium), but this time focused on developing embedded systems, particularly large and complex systems. This gave them a spectrum from the embedded to the enterprise, which they were steadily integrating.

If you are already using a tool from either IBM/Rational or Telelogic, what is the new regime going to mean to you?

There are clear synergies, where tools from one company complement those from the other, but there are also those overlaps: Clearcase, from Rhapsody, and Synergy, from Telelogic, both address pretty much the same issues of change management and configuration management during application development, for example. The press conference made it clear that where there are competitive products, there are no immediate plans to discontinue either, emphasising that the intention is “… to protect and preserve clients’ existing investments…” and “… to continue developments in accordance with clients’ needs.” But of course the reason for the acquisition is to gain added revenue from the products that Rational doesn’t already have, and, in time, the cost of maintaining two competitive products will mean that there will have to be changes. The implication seemed to be that, where possible, the intention would be to converge the tools rather than just drop one.

When Telelogic took over I-Logix, both companies had model-driven development environments, with a perceived overlap between I-Logix’s Rhapsody and Telelogic’s Tau. So far these have been targeted fairly clearly on different areas, with Rhapsody aimed at embedded projects and Tau more at the enterprise and at very large or complex systems. In January 2007, Telelogic launched Telelogic Modeller, a free, entry level UML 2.1 modelling tool, with a migration path to both Tau and Rhapsody. This might be an indication of how tool integration could take place in the new environment.

Looked at all these things rationally (sorry – British punning humour), the deal seems to be a positioning move for IBM: Big Blue is aiming to be well placed to provide the tools that developers will need if the trends that are appearing in the market become mainstream. For example, enterprise systems, dealing with the large scale data-crunching applications, such as billing systems for utilities, are even more increasingly needing to interface with embedded systems gathering data from machine to machine (M2M) communication. For these applications to work well, tools for designing an overall system will be required, including the M2M embedded segments.

Equally, today’s embedded systems are becoming increasingly complex – just look at your mobile phone. And an increasingly litigious society will require that a full record of traceability and compliance with agreed standards will no longer just be a requirement of aerospace and defence systems, but will spread to systems designed for consumers. To provide this and to manage the complexities of large projects will make the use of sophisticated application development tools, like those being deployed at the level of the enterprise system, essential.

So, back to what does it mean for the embedded engineer? In the short term – probably not a great deal will change, apart from the name on the invoices. In the medium term, if it works well, expect a greater convergence of tools from the enterprise and the embedded sphere, which will reflect the increased importance of embedded activities to the enterprise. (These tools will also come from other companies cooperating or merging.) And in the long run? Well – to quote the economist John Maynard Keynes – “in the long run, we are all dead.”

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