Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly roundup of the need-to-know news, stories, and events of interest surrounding software analytics, cloud computing, application monitoring, development methodologies, programming languages, and the myriad of other issues that influence modern software.
This week, our top story concerns software bugs that grounded United Airlines and halted trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
TWiMS Top Story:
A Software Glitch Grounded Every United Flight in the U.S.—Popular Mechanics
What it’s about: Software had a very rough Wednesday: United Airlines grounded its entire U.S. fleet for nearly 90 minutes after a wonky network router disrupted connectivity for several critical applications, canceling nearly 60 flights and delaying hundreds more. Later that day, the New York Stock Exchange halted trading for more than three-and-a-half hours after gateway communication problems in a new software release.
Why you should care: At New Relic, we like to say that “Life’s too short for bad software,” and this week’s issues were humbling reminders that we depend on software for much more than our laptops and phones. Software errors and instability in the underlying infrastructure—not hacking or terrorism—were to blame for significant disruptions to financial markets and travel infrastructure. United’s planes were soon airborne again—and the buy and sell orders soon resumed flying on the NYSE trading floor—but these aren’t isolated issues. United grounded its planes on June 2 after an issue with its flight-dispatching system. And NYSE President Thomas Farley told CNBC: “Do we need to change our protocols? Absolutely. This can’t happen again. We can’t put ourselves in this position again. Exactly what those changes are, I’m not yet prepared to say.” Here’s a suggestion for the NYSE and everyone else who depends on software: pay close attention to tracking and monitoring your systems to catch problems fast so you can begin fixing them right away.
- United Airlines Blames Grounding of Hundreds of Flights on Computer Glitch—Los Angeles Times
- NYSE Explains Why It Went Down Wednesday—Time
- It’s Just a Glitch—U.S. News & World Report
- United Airlines Hit by 2nd Massive Grounding in 2 Months as the Carrier Integrates Continental—Associated Press (via StarTribune.com)
- Why the Great Glitch of July 8th Should Scare You—The Message
What it’s about: A new report from analyst firm Technology Business Research says the mainstreaming of cloud computing in the enterprise will require traditional lines of business to take more active roles in technology strategy, and especially in cloud decision-making. Ironically, this is actually elevating developers to more important, business-critical roles, where leadership and vision are as critical as Ruby or Java.
Why you should care: Coming soon to a job listing near you: WANTED: “‘Developer visionaries’ who understand the implications cloud computing brings to businesses as well as keeping the whole thing from becoming a tangled, hairy, and expensive mess.” As marketing managers make their own cloud technology decisions, it’s actually creating a massive opportunity for developers to play an even bigger role in their company’s business. As ZDNet’s Joe McKendrick writes: “Business managers are becoming more involved in cloud decisions, but they still need to rely heavily on developers who can make it all work. As a result, developers will be assuming new and more visible types of roles.”
Microservice Trade-Offs—Martin Fowler
What it’s about: ThoughtWorks chief scientist and self-described “loud-mouthed pundit on the topic of software development” Martin Fowler lists what he sees as the pros and cons of the microservices approach to software architecture. In the pro column, Fowler counts upsides like technology diversity: Microservices let you mix and match programming languages, dev frameworks, and storage platforms.
Why you should care: Take notice of Fowler’s first con—or “cost,” to use his term—of the microservices approach: “Distributed systems are harder to program, since remote calls are slow and are always at risk of failure.” Addressing that challenge is a necessary step toward unlocking the potential power that microservices can bring to bear on growing software complexity. We’re certainly partial to that opinion here at New Relic, as we recently rolled out Service Maps in New Relic APM to address this very issue.
What it’s about: Plenty of ink and sweat have been spilled over the now notorious launch of Healthcare.gov (see this FastCompany piece), but the stories just keep coming. This week, The Atlantic serves up an inside look at the Marketplace Lite team tasked with rewriting much of the code behind the site’s initial disastrous launch and turning it into a well-functioning app (or set of apps, really) used by millions of people to get healthcare coverage—all at a tiny fraction of the original site’s price.
Why you should care: Who knew government work could be so cool? Technology innovation hasn’t exactly been a tradition inside the Beltway. But the federal government is now adopting startup approaches—and luring private-sector tech talent that probably never considered government work in the past—to remake public-sector technology. This particular chapter has all the hallmarks of a startup story, except instead of being set in a rented house or one-car garage in Palo Alto, it goes down in a McMansion in suburban Maryland. Essential reading on how modern software techniques like agile development, cloud computing, and even chat clients can be used to more efficiently address large-scale problems that truly matter.
What it’s about: FBI Director James Comey told Congress that end-to-end (or “strong”) encryption of data on mobile devices hinders law enforcement agencies’ efforts to thwart terrorism and other threats to public safety. Comey and other federal government stakeholders are asking companies like Google and Apple to enable law enforcement to monitor mobile data and communications under court order, something those and other firms have publicly opposed in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding domestic spying.
Why you should care: According to the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Technical Report, a new paper from a group of leading cryptographers and computer scientists (recommended reading for data junkies), fulfilling the government’s request for “exceptional access to private communications and data” could create far more problems that it would solve. The report’s authors conclude that it “will open doors through which criminals and malicious nation-states can attack the very individuals law enforcement seeks to defend.” There’s no actual law on the table that would require this “exceptional access”—for now, the government is hoping to convince tech companies to work directly together without such a mandate. But how this debate plays out could affect the very structure of the Internet.
- Security Experts Oppose Government Access to Encrypted Communication—The New York Times
- FBI, DOJ Want Companies to Back Off End-to-End Encryption—PCWorld
- This Is the Most Outrageous Government Tirade Against iOS 8 Encryption—Ars Technica
- Justice Department Won’t Seek Bill (for now) to Gain Access to Encrypted Data—USA TODAY
What it’s about: The far-reaching economic, social, and political effects of Greece’s financial crisis now include the flight of hundreds of thousands of young, educated professionals. The brain drain is hitting the country’s software sector hard, as developers relocate for jobs elsewhere in Europe or overseas—leaving their homeland in the lurch.
Why you should care: In a time of robust demand for software talent, ZDNet’s piece offers a humbling twist on the phrase “skills shortage.” The good news for Greek developers: Many are being welcomed with open arms by employers abroad, often at much higher salaries. The bad news for Greece and its software industry: Much of the country’s departing software talent doesn’t plan to return. The article notes a C++ programmer can earn triple their pay in Greece simply by moving elsewhere in Western Europe. Many young engineers are getting the message: One developer who took a job in Vancouver, Canada, estimated that 80% of his friends, most of them fellow devs, have also emigrated from Greece.
This article was written by Kevin Casey: Kevin Casey is a freelance technology writer and business writer for InformationWeek and other publications, with an increasing focus on IT careers and big data. Kevin won a 2014 Azbee Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for his feature story "Are You Too Old For IT?" and was a 2013 Community Choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.