Sterling expands application toolset with Synon

Sterling Software Inc.'s acquisition of Synon Corp., finalized earlier this month, has expanded the scope of Sterling's Applications Development Division to include support for new platforms and new development technology.

While Dallas-based Sterling has concentrated on mainframe and Unix tools, Synon, in Larkspur, Calif., has developed tools for Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT and IBM Corp.'s AS/400. Sterling also plans to incorporate Synon's "pattern" technology, which is designed to shorten the application development process.

"[Windows] NT is becoming so important now," said Steve Rixse, Sterling's regional vice president for federal business in Herndon, Va. "It's gaining tremendous market share" in the federal arena.

Sterling was "doing an excellent job at the enterprise level" before the acquisition with large servers or mainframes and some Windows NT, Rixse said, but the company now has a tool for "the next tier down" from the middle level to the desktop. Rixse predicted the tool will have a significant impact in the federal area.

Sterling already has a large presence in the federal sector, with customers in the departments of Agriculture, Treasury, Defense, Justice and Energy as well as in the U.S. Postal Service, the Patent and Trademark Office and other agencies, Rixse said.

Synon's tools are based on object technology, in which applications can be built using pre-written bits of code, or object components, that perform particular functions. Such objects are stored in a library or repository.

Sterling is bringing on board two new application development tools: COOL:2E, formerly known as Synon/2E, is a model-based development tool for AS/400 applications, while COOL:Plex, formerly known as Obsydian, is a pattern-driven development tool for Windows NT and the AS/400. In model-based development, developers first create data models that capture their organization's business logic and then generate multiple applications based on those models. Pattern technology is designed to help developers create common design structures that can be applied across a number of applications.

Synon's pattern technology is a key piece of the deal for Sterling, said Michael Barnes, a senior analyst with the Hurwitz Group, Framingham, Mass. Pattern technology is analogous to an architectural blueprint, he said. The blueprint can be reused so that builders need only fill in the details rather than start each project with a blank sheet of paper.

COOL:2E is an important addition as well, giving Sterling a "complete development tool" for AS/400, said Michael Blechar, vice president for application development with Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn. But "all of their tools will be important to the federal market," he said.

Synon's toolset also includes COOL:Gen, a model-based development environment for building client/server and Web applications, and COOL:Jex, a visual modeling environment for implementing components.

To Come...

With the acquisition complete, Sterling also intends to provide interoperability between applications created with its different tools, the company said.

The company already has demonstrated data exchange between COOL:Plex and COOL:Gen applications running under Windows NT and Unix respectively through proxies built with Microsoft's Component Object Model interoperability standard, said Bruce Flory, division director of product management. Thus, Sterling will be able to assure users that their new Windows NT applications "can interoperate with all their existing applications so [that] they don't have a lot of version problems."

The company also expects new product introductions in October "expanding on the integration of products" such as COOL:Plex into the product suite and adding more business modeling and information exchange functionality, Flory said. In 1999 the company expects to be applying pattern technology to the high-level business modeling environment, providing users with "patterns on best practices" in different business areas.

Sterling's move brings with it major challenges, Gartner's Blechar said. "The good news is they've got more to sell people. The bad news is they've got to integrate it long term."

Sterling now has at least three related but different generative products: COOL:Gen, a traditional development tool for C and Cobol code generation; COOL:Jex, an object-oriented analysis and design tool that generates C++ headers; and COOL:Plex, a pattern- based tool that generates Java code, Blechar said. Sterling needs to figure out how to "marry" pattern technology from COOL:Plex with Unified Modeling Language models from COOL:Jex, he said.

The company also will have "to articulate the value of pattern technology and to make component-based development as abstract and as productive as the federal government would need to make it work," Barnes said. In the past, he said, distributed application development efforts have often failed because the technology has been too complex. Pattern technology offers a "starting point" to help make life simpler for application developers.

-- Adams is a free-lance writer based in Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at cbadams@erols.com.

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