The Need for Architecture

by David Buechner, CTO

A lot has changed since I started in Information Technology almost 35 years ago. Some of those changes are obvious. The underlying technology powering IT has gotten immensely more capable in almost any metric imaginable. The pervasiveness of IT has grown so that there isn't any part of most business which isn't impacted by IT. There are a lot more choices available. IT people and vendors have become a lot more specialized and, in some cases, siloed.

I started during the "mainframe" era. My employer, like most businesses, chose from a handful of vendors to pick a system. A single purchase order got you the hardware for compute, storage, printing and communication along with the Operating System, business, operations and security applications, bookshelves of manuals, floor templates, power and heat requirements and a hardware support engineer. My job as the "systems guy" was to configure the system for our environment and requirements, apply vendor supplied updates, monitor capacity and help users. I didn't need to worry if the parts worked with each other as the vendor took care of that.

Building IT infrastructure today can seem a bit more complicated. Now we choose from dozens of vendors for compute, storage, network and security. Each vendor has products which cover one or more of these areas, but few vendors cover all of them. Building IT infrastructure includes procuring computers, operating systems, hypervisors, containers, applications, network gear, storage arrays, storage networks, security hardware, security applications. Six to 10 vendors later (even with standardization) you end up with a collection of hardware and software to piece together.

Each of these vendors provide solutions which address a core area of IT. Most of them also address, or at least impact, related areas outside of that core area. Sometimes this is a requirement for the core area being addressed and sometimes these extra features are ways for vendors to supply additional value and differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace.

Take server virtualization as an example. The core focus of server virtualization originally was enhancing the utilization of increasingly powerful server hardware. Solving this by creating a logical container such as virtual machines also led to additional capabilities in redundancy, reliability, disaster recovery and more. For these products to be effective, the virtualization products also needed to virtualize certain aspects of the network and storage. The result is that design choices within the server virtualization infrastructure have impacts in related technical areas.

The increased power of these vendor solutions has come at the cost of additional complexity within each of the components within our IT Infrastructure. Individual IT practitioners have had to become more specialized as a result. So how do you create the right, comprehensive solution for your business out of all these options?

IT Architecture is the discipline that ties all these components together. The IT Architect must have a breadth of expertise across multiple technical disciplines as well as visibility into the current and developing requirements that the business needs the IT Infrastructure to fulfill, must understand the capabilities of each vendor solution and must be able to create an architectural framework which ensures that design decisions in each solution's deployment work together as a whole infrastructure.

The IT Architecture function can be a single person or a team of people depending on the size of the organization. This function can be built internally or supplied through a trusted adviser relationship with a capable IT Architecture firm. Hybrid approaches are also available which use a trusted adviser to help build your internal IT Architecture capabilities.

For more information on BTA's resources in IT Architecture please e-mail me at djb@gobta.com.

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