Information & Communication

Large-Scale Information Systems

Technical Applications


Large-scale information systems contain millions of lines of code, usually distributed over many computers and geographic sites. Price tags for such systems in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars are not uncommon.


They are needed for a variety of complex tasks upon which the U.S. economy is based, such as airline ticket reservations systems; the Federal Aviation Agency's (FAA) flight control systems; national and international banking networks exchanging billions of dollars of transactions per day; control software for nuclear power plants, and thousands of other such applications. These systems tend to be produced in small quantities, ranging from only one to tens of copies. In each case, the system is customized. Their development is routinely plagued by cost and schedule overruns, and not infrequently the abandonment of entire multi-million-dollar development projects (e.g., the recent California Department of Motor Vehicles attempt at integrating driver's license records with vehicle registrations). Such systems are vital to the U.S. economy, since they are the basis of critical systems upon which many of our transactions depend. These large-scale systems are also needed to operate and control U.S. defense logistics, command and control, intelligence gathering and dissemination, and a variety of other military operations. The ability to create these systems effectively, and to meet schedule and cost goals, is critical to their future development. Large-scale systems tend to have a strong dual-use potential. For example, a system for Olympics-level sporting competition management would require the integration of high-speed, redundant, computers, local area networks, large-scale graphics displays, communications protocols, database management techniques, and so on. The same capabilities would be required in a system used for military logistics.


Both Japan and Europe lag the United States in the underlying software technology needed to design and build large-scale information systems. In database software, Japanese dependency on custom software has retarded development of Japanese database software because such development has proven to be too expensive for single-client products that comprise the bulk of Japanese software development. The larger Japanese computer firms have traditionally concentrated their development activities on mainframe platforms and have poor programming skills for PC and distributed computing platforms that comprise the basis for distributed information applications.