Thematic Group 6: Software-Intensive Systems

by Martin Wirsing

Software has become a central part of a rapidly growing range of applications, products and services from all sectors of economic activity. Systems in which software interacts with other software, systems, devices, sensors and with people are called software-intensive systems. Examples include large-scale heterogeneous systems, embedded systems for automotive and avionics applications, telecommunications, wireless ad hoc systems, business applications with an emphasis on web services etc.

Our daily activities increasingly depend on complex software-intensive systems that are becoming ever more distributed, heterogeneous, decentralized and inter-dependent, and that are operating more and more in dynamic and often unpredictable environments. These trends will continue to amplify in the future, while requirements for quality of service, security, and trust will dramatically increase. Current engineering methods and tools are not powerful enough to design, build, deploy, and maintain such systems. Moreover, to continue to work dependably with them, such systems would have to exhibit adaptive and even anticipatory behaviour. Today's grand challenge is to develop practically useful and theoretically well-founded principles, methods, algorithms and tools for programming and engineering such future software intensive systems throughout their whole life-cycle.

Proposed Research Themes
Among the many promising areas for future research, the participants in this Thematic Group have identified three crucial areas: Engineering adaptive software-intensive systems; managing diversity in knowledge; and eternal software-intensive systems.

1. Engineering Adaptive Software-Intensive Systems
The current approach, where systems are mainly assembled at design time does not scale to pervasive, highly dynamic systems. The emergent behaviour of systems is an unavoidable fact that must be exploited during the system's life time, in order to scale to the level of complexity we are witnessing. Systems will no longer be produced ab initio, but more and more as compositions and/or adaptations of other, existing systems, often performed at runtime as a result of a process of evolution. The challenge is to develop algorithms, methods, tools and theoretical foundations that enable effective design by harnessing, controlling and using the effects of emergent system properties.

2. Managing Diversity in Knowledge
We are facing an unforeseen growth of the volume and complexity of the data, content and knowledge being produced. In knowledge management and engineering, the 'usual' approach is to take into account, at design time, the possible future dynamics, most commonly by designing a global reference representation schema and by codifying into it all the possible diverse knowledge components. As applications become more and more open and complex, this top-down approach shows its limits. We need a new, bottom-up, approach for managing knowledge where the different knowledge parts are designed and kept 'locally' and independently and where new knowledge is obtained by the design- or run-time adaptation of such different knowledge parts. This calls for developing adaptive or even self-adaptive knowledge systems that are able to manage diversity in knowledge by harnessing, controlling and using the effects of emergent knowledge properties.

3. Eternal Software-Intensive Systems Information, and the tools to work with it, represent one of society's most important assets. From a cultural as well as an economic point of view, it is essential to enable continuous and up-to-date access to long-lived and trustworthy information systems, as well as to guarantee that the corresponding information systems do not age and break but are able to preserve and update their original functionality and properties in a machine independent way by re-programming themselves to take into account new contexts. In other terms, the challenge is to organize software-intensive systems so that they can survive and evolve in a constantly changing world..

Participate in the online consultation of this report from 1 February to 31 March 2006 at

TG6 Coordinator:
Martin Wirsing, Universitat Munchen, Germany