Unless I am convinced about the need, the importance, and the value of something, it is very difficult for me to motivate myself to put in my 100 percent. If you are like me and would like to believe in the value of software architecture, read on!
This section illustrates some of the reasons that convinced me of the importance of this discipline and led me to passionately and completely dedicate myself to practicing it.
A Communication Vehicle
Software architecture is the blueprint on which an IT System is designed, built, deployed, maintained, and managed. Many stakeholders expect and hence rely on a good understanding of the system architecture. However, one size does not fit all: a single view of the architecture would not suffice to satisfy the needs and expectations of the stakeholder community; multiple architecture viewpoints are needed.
Different views of the architecture are required to communicate its essence adequately to the stakeholders. For example, it is important to communicate with business sponsors in their own language (for example, a clear articulation of how the architecture addresses business needs). It should also communicate and assure the business stakeholders that it does not look like something that has been tried before and that has failed. The architecture representation should also illustrate how some of the high-level business use cases are realized by combining the capabilities of one or more ABBs. The representation (a.k.a., a viewpoint, which this chapter elaborates on later) and the illustrations should also focus on driving the value of the architecture blueprint as the foundation on which the entire system will be designed and built. The value drivers, in business terms, will ultimately need to ensure that there is adequate funding to maintain the vitality of the architecture until, at least, the system is deployed, operational, and in a steady state.
For the technical team, there should be multiple and different architecture representations depending on the technology domain. Following are a few examples:
- An application architect needs to understand the application architecture of the system that focuses on the functional components, their interfaces, and their dependencies—the functional architecture viewpoint.
- An infrastructure architect may be interested in (but not limited to) understanding the topology of the servers, the network connectivity between the servers, and the placement of functional components on servers—the operational architecture viewpoint.
- A business process owner would certainly be interested in understanding the various business processes that are enabled or automated by orchestrating the features and functions supported by the system. A business process is typically realized by orchestrating the capabilities of one or more business components. A static business component view, along with a dynamic business process view, would illustrate what business process owners may be interested in—the business architecture viewpoint.
Effective communication of the architecture drives healthy debates about the correct solution and approach; various alternatives and trade-offs may be analyzed and decisions made in concert. This not only ensures that the stakeholders are heard but also increases the quality of the architecture itself.
Communicating the architecture in ways that ensure various stakeholders’ understanding of its value and what is in it for them, while also having their active participation in its evolution, is key to ensuring that the vitality of the architecture is appropriately maintained.
Recall the fact that any software architecture can be defined, at a high level, by a set of ABBs along with their interrelationships and dependencies. Recall also that an ABB can be deconstructed into a set of components that also exhibit interrelationships and dependencies. In a typical software development process, the functionalities of the system are usually prioritized based on quite a few parameters: urgency of feature availability and rollout, need to tackle the tough problems first (in software architecture parlance, these problems often are called architecturally significant use cases), quarterly capital expenditure budget, and so on. Whatever the reason may be, some element of feature prioritization is quite common.
Dependencies between the ABBs provide prescriptive guidance on how software components may be planned for implementation (see Figure 2.2).
Figure 2.2 Illustrative example of intercomponent dependencies.
Consider a scenario (as in Figure 2.2) in which components C2 and C3 depend on the availability of C1’s functionality, while C2 and C3 themselves are independent of each other. The architect can leverage this knowledge to influence the project planning process. For example, the architect may perform the design of C1, C2 and C3 in parallel if sufficient resources (designers) are available; however, he may implement C1 first and subsequently parallelize the implementation of C2 and C3 (assuming sufficient resources are available). Proper knowledge of the architecture and its constituents is critical to proper project planning; the architect is often the project manager’s best friend, especially during the project planning process.
Seeing the value the architect brings to the planning process, the planning team has often been found to be greedy for more involvement of the architect. The complexity of the architecture components influences how time and resources (their skill sets and expertise levels) are apportioned and allocated.
If the stakeholders do not have a thorough understanding of the architecture, subsequent phases—design, implementation, test planning, and deployment—will have significant challenges in any nontrivial system development.
Addresses Nonfunctional Capabilities
Addressing the nonfunctional capabilities of a software system is a key responsibility of its architecture. It is often said, and rightfully so, that lack of commensurate focus on architecting any system to support its nonfunctional requirements (NFR) often brings about the system’s failure and breakdown.
Extensibility, scalability, maintainability, performance, and security are some of the key constituents of a system’s nonfunctional requirements. NFRs are unique in that they may not always be component entities in their own right; rather, they require special attention of one or more functional components of the architecture. As such, the architecture may influence and augment the properties of such functional components. Consider a use case that is expected to have a response time of no more than one second. The system’s architecture determines that three ABBs—C1, C2, and C3—collectively implement the use case. In such a scenario, the nature and complexity of the supported features of the components dictate how much time each component may get to implement its portion of the responsibility: C1 may get 300 milliseconds, C2 may get 500 milliseconds, and C3 may get 200 milliseconds. You may start finding some clues from here how ABBs get decorated with additional properties that they need to exhibit, support, and adhere to.
A well-designed and thought-out architecture assigns appropriate focus to address the key nonfunctional requirements of the system, not as an afterthought but during the architecture definition phase of a software development life cycle.
The risks of failure, from a technical standpoint, are significantly mitigated if the nonfunctional requirements are appropriately addressed and accounted for in the system architecture.
Contracts for Design and Implementation
One crucial aspect of software architecture is the establishment of best practices, guidelines, standards, and architecture patterns that are documented and communicated by the architect to the design and implementation teams.
Above and beyond communicating the ABBs, along with their interfaces and dependencies, the combination of best practices, guidelines, standards, and architecture patterns provides a set of constraints and boundary conditions within which the system design and implementation are expected to be defined and developed. Such constraints restrict the design and implementation team from being unnecessarily creative and channel their focus on adhering to the constraints rather than violating them.
As a part of the communication process, the architect ensures that the design and implementation teams recognize that any violation of the constraints breaks the architecture principles and contract of the system. In some special cases, violations may be treated and accepted as exceptions if a compelling rationale exists.
Supports Impact Analysis
Consider a situation, which presumably should not be too foreign to you, in which there is scope creep in the form of new requirements. The project manager needs to understand and assess the impact to the existing project timeline that may result from the new requirements.
In this situation, an experienced project manager almost inevitably reverts first and foremost to her lead architect and solicits help in exercising the required impact analysis.
Recall that any software architecture defines the ABBs and their relationships, dependencies, and interactions. The architect would perform some analysis of the new use case and determine the set of software components that would require modifications to collectively realize the new use case or cases. Changes to intercomponent dependencies (based on additional information or data exchange) are also identified. The impact to the project timeline thus becomes directly related to the number of components that require change, the extent of their changes, and also additional data or data sources required for implementation. The analyses can be further extended to influence or determine the cost of the changes and any risks that may be associated with them. Component characteristics are a key metric to attribute the cost of its design, implementation, and subsequent maintenance and enhancements.
I cited five reasons to substantiate the importance of software architecture. However, I am certain that you can come up with more reasons to drive home the importance of architecture. I decided to stop here because I felt that the reasons cited here are good enough to assure me of its importance. And, staying true to the theme of this book, when I know that it is just enough, it is time to move on to the next important aspect. My objective, in this book, is to share my experiences on what is just enough, in various disciplines of software architecture, so that you have a baseline and frame of reference from which you can calibrate it to your needs.