The Art And Science Of IT Architecture Design
- June 3, 2002
To assure flexibility and lasting value, information system designs and
product selection must be guided by an architectural plan for infrastructure
and applications systems. The Art of architecture design is in extracting
business requirements; the Science is translating them into technology
This note first appeared in a column by James F. Dowling in Mid-Range
Computing. Look for other previously published Mid-Range
Computing columns by Mr. Dowling at this site or visit Midrange
Showcase at www.midrangecomputing.com/showcase/.
Art of Architecture Design
When an Architect begins an engagement with a client the discussion is
not around materials, colors, and manufacturers of lighting fixtures.
It is around occupants, their activities and habits. An architect wants
to know who will occupy the space, what they will be doing and how they
will interact. By considering the application of the space, an architect
can apply the scientific aspects of space design, light management, materials
and construction code to design a space that meets the customer's needs
occupant activities and habits drive the architecture of space, what drives
the architecture of information technology systems? The same things. The
people who will use the systems, how they work together and what work
they need to perform drive information technology architecture. Architecture
describes how the parts of a system will come together to fulfill and
purpose. Therefore, the art of architecture design is in learning what
the mission of the system will be. Architects employ a trick to reach
shared understanding quickly and in a way that does not limit their individual
creativity when it come time to create a solution.
trick is in the art of conversation for discovery of needs. When exploring
requirements for information technology systems, focus on the infrastructure
first, then the movement of data and then access to data and finally business
transactions. Information technology infrastructure is driven by speed,
distance and volume requirements for data movement and access. In effect,
the dynamics of the business drive the dynamic capabilities of information
technology infrastructure. When the business manager talks about "rapid
expansion," "globalization," "continual cycle-time reduction," or "build-to-order"
the information technology architect hears network, server, application
design and zero-latency data flow requirements.
trick is to get the business manager to talk about the business, what
is causing it to change, how it will change and when. In effect, take
the discussion one or more levels of abstraction above the information
systems that might be involved.
about the Science of architecture design?
Building architects understand space, light, traffic, work optimization
and other environmental factors. Information technology architects must
also understand the environmental aspect of potential systems and subsystems.
Both architects must employ a repeatable process that ensures thorough
consideration of requirements and results is a solution within which the
stakeholders can live and work productively.
technology architects have a more difficult job than do their counterparts
who design buildings, bridges and gardens. Foremost, they must contend
with requirements that change faster than systems can be constructed.
Secondarily, the tools and components that information technology architects
use change almost as rapidly as do solution requirements. In both cases,
time is money and therefore a rapid and repeatable process that bases
detail design choices on facts that relate to the productive use of the
solution is essential.
for Information Technology Architects: One Approach
One process for information technology architecture design that is consistent
with the above, follows.
One - Understand what is causing the enterprise to change the way
that it conducts business. Hold a conversation with business managers
where they describe the forces acting upon them, what they are considering
to do about those forces, and how they will measure successful business
operation. For example, "We will introduce a new multi-national version
of our software and we intend to sell more than two-hundred copies in
Two - Extract the drivers of business change and operation then translate
them into attributes of an appropriate information technology infrastructure
architecture. For example, "Global network, multi-language, multi-currency,
Three - Consider the success criteria and drivers and translate them
into a set of capabilities that must be in place to support the stated
business operations. For example, "Additional legal entities and new Sales
and Financial systems."
Four - Validate the findings of Step Two and Three with business managers.
This yields a shared understanding of what business issues need to be
addressed and does not commit information systems solutions yet.
Five - Design the information technology infrastructure architecture
including networks, servers, data warehouse, application integration,
messaging and other essential services. Pay particular attention to identify
and support interoperability with trading partners. Establish a roadmap
of infrastructure components such as, "XNS network protocol will not be
supported outside the New Haven Campus; TCP/IP will employed for all new
networked applications and will replace XNS in 2005."
Six - Design an application systems portfolio that addresses the business
process automation needs including transaction processing, data access,
reporting and analytical capabilities.
Seven - Create a short list of product/supplier candidates for each
application and assess the impacts of each on the infrastructure design.
Adjust or anticipate exceptions accordingly. For example, "All application
systems will operate on Sybase or Oracle, however, Informix Online offers
the optimal price/performance for Application-Q and therefore it will
be employed as an exception."
It certainly helps to have a number of information technology solution
archetypes available as building blocks. Many consulting firms and information
technology architecture forums can provide access to both archetypes and
the architectural considerations of particular product solutions.
a little coaching and access to information, smaller enterprises can do
as good or better architecture design than much larger firms who lack
either the Artful manner of understanding business needs or the Scientific
approach to matching needs with solutions.
column will continue to explore the change/size paradox-big companies
desiring speed and growing companies desiring stability. The author would
appreciate feedback on material presented as well as suggestions for future
study and reporting. The general theme is IT management and the goal is
to make it easier to get clients what they want and what they need to
Jim Dowling is VP of the Alignment Consulting Practice at TechnologyEvaluation.Com,
Inc. located in Woburn, Massachusetts. TEC researches IT products and
suppliers as well as the ways companies obtain business value from IT.
TEC's consulting services remove time, risk and ultimately cost from IT