Cast software, the maker of software quality tools, released their second annual CRASH (Cast Report on Application Software Health) report in December. The report examined the “health” of world-wide software applications by examining the source code of 745 applications (~365 million lines of code), from 160 different companies, spanning 10 industry sectors, and 8 programming languages. The code examination flagged 1800 different types of development and architecture violations that compromise application “health” in 5 major categories. The categories were:

  • Robustness – The stability of an application and the likelihood of introducing defects when modifying it.
  • Performance – The efficiency of the software’s application layers.
  • Security – An application’s ability to prevent unauthorized intrusions.
  • Transferability – The ease with which an application can be transferred to a new maintenance team.
  • Changeability – An application’s ability to be easily and quickly modified.

Cast has drawn some interesting conclusions in their report. Here are a few I found notable.

  • The most secure applications seem to be large COBOL applications in the financial and insurance industry (that should be reassuring to everyone). The least secure applications were written in .Net.  Yikes!
  • J2EE applications scored worst in performance, primarily because of misunderstood technologies and frameworks.  Another contributing reason could be the high degree of modularity inherent in J2EE applications.
  • Transferability scores for applications in the government sector scored lower than in any other industry sector. Being a government contractor, this one strikes close to home. What conclusions or insights can be gleaned from this finding? One insight the report draws is that government agencies are spending ~73% (on average) of their IT budgets to maintain existing applications — more than any other industry sector. I ask you, where is the money in government IT contracting?
  • Transferability and Changeability scores were highest for applications developed using a classic waterfall style methodology, as opposed to an Agile methodology. Whoa! I didn’t see that one coming. (Cast found that the other three categories, Robustness, Performance and Security, were about equal between waterfall and Agile methodologies.) Perhaps because Agile projects are in a continual state of refactoring that they are never in an ideal state to be transferred.

All of the deficiencies identified in this report are termed “technical debt” and have an average cost (according to Cast) of $3.61 per line of code to repair — except for Java, which rings in at $5.42 per line of code. That’s a lot of money and consumes an enormous amount of IT budgets.  For the roughly 365 million lines of code used in the study, that’s $1.3 billion of technical debt.

In conclusion, let me quote from Cast’s own conclusion, who I think said it quite well: “The observations from these data suggest that development organizations are focused most heavily on Performance and Security in certain critical applications. Less attention appears to be focused on removing the Transferability and Changeability problems that increase the cost of ownership and reduce responsiveness to business needs. These results suggest that application developers are still mostly in reaction mode to the business rather than being proactive in addressing the long term causes of IT costs and geriatric applications.”

The 22 page executive summary can be downloaded from Cast here.


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