IBM's purchase of Green Hat shows where IT might get the next big wave of cost savings from virtualization. The first wave came from server virtualization, letting IT buy less hardware. The next could come from virtualizing processes--such as using virtualization to make it much cheaper to develop and test new software.
Green Hat produces a complex, virtualized environment capable of mimicking many pieces of enterprise software. Its Virtual Integrated Environment (VIE) can mimic 70 frequently used enterprise technologies. To new software, VIE can look like a long list of SAP or Oracle applications; it can look like Oracle's Java middleware or various messaging systems, such as Tibco's Rendevous, Software AG's WebMethods, Progress Software's Sonic MQ, or IBM's WebSphere MQ. When combined with Green Hat test management software, VIE can offer a full testing lab that can check the ability of a new application to work with other parts of the enterprise infrastructure.
Developers can, of course, configure environments themselves for testing newly written software, and many do. But this requires a license for one of everything--a bonanza for software companies. Or if they want to avoid all the license charges, they can write their own stubs that reflect how the target piece of software would respond to their application's call and have the stub supply a dummy response when activated. But this isn't as reliable as interacting with the real thing.
[ Want to learn more about software development in the cloud? See Electric Cloud Automates Private Environment For Developers. ]
In effect, Green Hat has written stubs for many complicated environments and generated a virtualized test environment around them so they can run on standard Intel or AMD x86 servers. This saves the development team the effort and expense of setting up physical servers and configuring them. By some assessments, testing new software constitutes 50% of the task of producing new business applications, said IBM's Charles Chu, director of product management and strategy, as we discussed the Green Hat acquisition. If virtualization can attack this expense, it will help reduce the cost of new business applications.
The acquisition still isn't done; it will be later this month. Green Hat comes as on-premises software today, but it seems a prime candidate to offer as an online service. More on that in a minute.
Strictly speaking, a new software project is a capital expense, but the line is blurred as the application moves into production. No project is ever finished, and new software periodically goes back to the development team for changes and modifications; also operations wouldn't mind if the code's performance could be improved. In short, new software has a lifecycle. Once launched, it incurs many operational expenses during that lifecycle. Thus, the IBM Green Hat buy marks the start of an era when virtualization contributes to operational savings, not just capital expense reduction.
Virtualization can offer some pretty compelling operating expense savings when applied to the development, test, and operational lifecycle, but that does create some problems--problems IBM thinks Green Hat can help solve. For example, the test environment needs to run on low-cost x86 servers to hold down expenses, but it must be able to run tests with the messaging systems that communicate with Unix-based or mainframe systems. Connections with these systems are mimicked in Green Hat's VIE.
The Green Hat product set runs on x86 servers inside a company's own data center. It uses the word "cloud" in its marketing, but it means "private cloud"--in many cases just a cluster of x86 servers at a company's site. It would seem that such a software and service test bed could be moved into Amazon Web Services or some other public cloud as a set of virtual machines. There it could be accessed by all testers and members of the development team, regardless of location, and collaboration would be easier.
IBM's Chu wouldn't rule that out: "As we move into the future, we can easily imagine that type of environment in a public setting. We believe that would have a lot of appeal." However, with the acquisition still incomplete, Chu wouldn't commit IBM to making Green Hat available as an online service from IBM's DeveloperWorks, SmartCloud, or another IBM hosted service--or from a third-party public cloud.