Based on significant experience with previous management of third party software installations, the SWTools creators had several distinct goals in mind when they approached the task of designing the NCCS’ new software management system SWTools. The main goal of the new design was to have a system that was strongly hierarchical, with rules for naming, installing, and documenting that could be enforced in automated way. In addition, the authors sought to automate as much of the software maintenance process as possible.
Foremost, the authors wished to be able to build, link, or test any installed application on any system at any time. One problem that all software installers and maintainers face is the problem of upgrades, whether those happen to be compiler upgrades, operating system upgrades or application upgrades. Any time one of those events occurs, a huge amount of work has to be done. At the very least, after the upgrade is installed, all applications that depend on it must be retested. In the case of OS upgrades, the maintainer may have to relink a significant number of the applications on the system in order to fix problems relating to new system libraries. Compiler upgrades are somewhat simpler in that they usually do not break any of the existing system applications, but nonetheless, any third party libraries that are provided on that system should be compiled with the new compiler, which can be viewed as a simple regression test of the compiler.
The authors also sought to automate the collection of as much reporting data as possible. In the new system, all provided documentation will be written by the application installers. This theoretically will keep the documentation as up to date as possible. Also, inventory and user documentation will be kept up to date dynamically. That is, the same documentation that the installer writes for local users of the system will be made available online, and all web based inventory information will be dynamically updated. Locally, a site can institute a workflow to include a review process [by the core software administration team] for the documentation if deemed necessary. The core software administration team will ultimately be responsible for making sure all applications and packages conform to the rules that have been set out, and that all information presented is high quality in nature.
Highlights of SWTools are:
- helps manage installations of third-party software
- provides testing infrastructure
- uses a structured hierarchy
- helps ensure consistency of installations across packages
- checks for conformance to established rules
- creates web pages
These benefits make managing third-party software more efficient. The consistency alone is a huge payoff for organizations that have many people contributing to software maintenance.
1/1/2011 – First release of SWTools, version 1.0. See the Download and Installation page to download SWTools 1.0 and get the user’s manual.
Nick Jones and Mark R. Fahey, “Design, Implementation, and Experiences of Third-Party Software Administration at the ORNL NCCS,” Proceedings of the 50th Cray User Group (CUG08), Helsinki, Finland, May 2008.