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This chapter is from the book

4.5. Achieving Quality Attributes through Tactics

The quality attribute requirements specify the responses of the system that, with a bit of luck and a dose of good planning, realize the goals of the business. We now turn to the techniques an architect can use to achieve the required quality attributes. We call these techniques architectural tactics. A tactic is a design decision that influences the achievement of a quality attribute response—tactics directly affect the system’s response to some stimulus. Tactics impart portability to one design, high performance to another, and integrability to a third.

The focus of a tactic is on a single quality attribute response. Within a tactic, there is no consideration of tradeoffs. Tradeoffs must be explicitly considered and controlled by the designer. In this respect, tactics differ from architectural patterns, where tradeoffs are built into the pattern. (We visit the relation between tactics and patterns in Chapter 14. Chapter 13 explains how sets of tactics for a quality attribute can be constructed, which are the steps we used to produce the set in this book.)

A system design consists of a collection of decisions. Some of these decisions help control the quality attribute responses; others ensure achievement of system functionality. We represent the relationship between stimulus, tactics, and response in Figure 4.3. The tactics, like design patterns, are design techniques that architects have been using for years. Our contribution is to isolate, catalog, and describe them. We are not inventing tactics here, we are just capturing what architects do in practice.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3. Tactics are intended to control responses to stimuli.

Why do we do this? There are three reasons:

  1. Design patterns are complex; they typically consist of a bundle of design decisions. But patterns are often difficult to apply as is; architects need to modify and adapt them. By understanding the role of tactics, an architect can more easily assess the options for augmenting an existing pattern to achieve a quality attribute goal.
  2. If no pattern exists to realize the architect’s design goal, tactics allow the architect to construct a design fragment from “first principles.” Tactics give the architect insight into the properties of the resulting design fragment.
  3. By cataloging tactics, we provide a way of making design more systematic within some limitations. Our list of tactics does not provide a taxonomy. We only provide a categorization. The tactics will overlap, and you frequently will have a choice among multiple tactics to improve a particular quality attribute. The choice of which tactic to use depends on factors such as tradeoffs among other quality attributes and the cost to implement. These considerations transcend the discussion of tactics for particular quality attributes. Chapter 17 provides some techniques for choosing among competing tactics.

The tactics that we present can and should be refined. Consider performance: Schedule resources is a common performance tactic. But this tactic needs to be refined into a specific scheduling strategy, such as shortest-job-first, round-robin, and so forth, for specific purposes. Use an intermediary is a modifiability tactic. But there are multiple types of intermediaries (layers, brokers, and proxies, to name just a few). Thus there are refinements that a designer will employ to make each tactic concrete.

In addition, the application of a tactic depends on the context. Again considering performance: Manage sampling rate is relevant in some real-time systems but not in all real-time systems and certainly not in database systems.

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