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The Impact of Scale

Dr Linda Northrop ( Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University )

Many systems of the future will be of ultra-large size on one or many dimensions – number of lines of code; number of people employing the system for different purposes; amount of data stored, accessed, manipulated, and refined; number of connections and interdependencies among software components; number of hardware elements to which they interface.  They will be ultra-large-scale (ULS) systems.   They will be socio-technical ecosystems.  Is the software community ready to tackle ULS systems?  Will incremental changes in our current software development and management practices be sufficient? 

In fact, the characteristics of ULS systems, already evident in some of today’s largest systems, imply changes in the fundamental assumptions that underlie today’s software engineering approaches.  The gaps are strategic, not tactical.  Issues that are not significant at smaller scales become significant at ultra-large scales.  Our current practices are undermined by the characteristics of ULS systems.  A new multi-disciplinary perspective and research are needed. 

This talk shares the results of a year-long study on ULS systems, documented in Ultra-Large-Scale Systems: The Software Challenge of the Future (ISBN 0-9786956-0-7), as well as recent work motivated by the study. 

Speaker bio

Linda Northrop is director of the Research, Technology, and Systems Solution Program at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) where she leads the work in architecture-centric engineering, software product lines, cyber-physical systems, systems of systems, and ultra-large-scale systems. The SEI is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) at Carnegie Mellon University whose mission is to improve the practice of software engineering worldwide. Linda is coauthor of the book Software Product Lines: Practices and Patterns and led the research group on ultra-large-scale systems that resulted in the book, Ultra-Large-Scale Systems: The Software Challenge of the Future. Before joining the SEI, she was associated with both the United States Air Force Academy and the State University of New York as professor of computer science, and with both Eastman Kodak and IBM as a software engineer. She is an SEI Fellow and an ACM Distinguished Member. She is a recipient of the Carnegie Science Award of Excellence for Information Technology, the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the ACM SIGPLAN Distinguished Service Award.

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