More Efficient Software Modernization through MDE
Nantes-based AtlanMod research team and Mia-Software company team up on MoDisco, an open source project bound to improve the development of model-driven tools for the reverse engineering of legacy systems. As researchers Jordi Cabot and Hugo Brunelière explain, the experience has also reshaped part of their partner's business model.
“Mia Software [a subsidiary of Sodifrance] specializes in software modernization,
sums up AtlanMod's leader and MDE specialist Jordi Cabot. Working at the code level, they take legacy systems —say in COBOL for instance— and they re-engineer them towards some new technology. That's their core activy. At some point, they entered in contact with us. They thought that maybe they could use a better approach for modernization. Indeed, more efficient refactoring of legacy software means more money as one can reduce the number of people working on a given modernization project. They soon realized that modelling technologies could bring them such productivity gain.”
Why? “Because models provide a better view of the system that you are working with. Everything gets simplified as you abstract all the tedious details that you don't care about. You end up with models that prove far easier to understand and manipulate. Then you can change the model to meet the new requirement of the system. From this model, you can automatically generate the new code in a new technology. Like I said, the abstraction makes the system more understandable. It helps focussing on what is important. Not the details.”
“The collaboration between Mia Software and our research team goes way back, adds R&D engineer Hugo Brunelière. We used to work on different topics together, but not specifically on modelling and refactoring. This particular partnership was initiated through Modelplex” , a European project aiming at developping an open solution that would suit the industry's MDE requirements. AtlanMod's major contribution to Modelplex was the creation of MoDisco, a reverse engineering-oriented tool. “What we provide here is an intermediate layer, Cabot explains. In essence, MoDisco stays independent from the legacy technology. You can plug any technology, get the model out of it and start from this representation. In contrast, all other tools go from one specific legacy technology to a specific kind of model on a specific kind of modeling language. They provide a point-to-point solution. They are made for one task only. You just can't use them for anything else.”
Refactoring the business model
Noteworthingly, MoDisco is an official project for reverse engineering within the Eclipse Foundation, the famous open source software development environment and community. “For a couple of years now, the MoDisco distribution has been made available through the Eclipse simultaneous release, Brunelière explains. The idea is that several Eclipse projects try to synchronize in order to release several compatibles versions at the same time. You could call that a bundle. Mia Software mostly worked with its own set of proprietary tools. But, at some point, they decided it was good for them to join this open source community and help by investing the time of several of its employees. Indeed, they contributed a great lot to MoDisco, committing no less than four persons to this effort. They even released as open source part of their own technology like their Java support for instance. They thought that the visibility they would gain by contributing to the project could bring them more clients. They could not sell the tool, but on the other hand, they would provide the service that goes with it. Obviously it was quite a change from their usual fully proprietary business model.”
“It was decidedly a complex issue for them, Cabot confirms. MoDisco is purely open source. There is no money involved in all of this. Nonetheless there really is a benefit to be shared. As a research group, we usually can't put the final touch to a software. More than often, a researcher is lucky when he ends up with enough of a prototype to butress his publications. After reaching such point, usually, he just forgets about it. He has neither time nor staff to put a nice interface or publish an exhaustive documentation to the software. A company is far better suited for that task of putting a nice finish on the code. So, in the end of the day, we both benefit from this partnership. Mia Software becomes the official service provider for MoDisco while AtlanMod becomes the official research team in model reverse engineering.”
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AtlanMod is a research team common to Inria, EMN (Ecole des Mines de Nantes) and LINA (Laboratoire d'Informatique de Nantes Atlantique). Under the direction of previous team leader Jean Bézivin , it became a key actor in advanced MDE, bringing to the world the ATL transformation language and the AmmA management architecture.