WWISA contemplates software architecture

Analogies - the techniques of seeing some similarity between two phenomena in different disciplines and considering if the likeness extends any further - are useful tools for thought, but as a philosopher said, they all confuse.

Analogies — the techniques of seeing some similarity between two phenomena in different disciplines and considering if the likeness extends any further — are useful tools for thought, but as a philosopher said, they all confuse.

At last week’s meeting in Wellington of the New Zealand chapter of the Worldwide Institute of Software Architects (WWISA), Bill Ross of software architects Equinox made a courageous effort to push the analogy between the architecture of a building and that of a computer system “to the edge”.

The analogy has been criticised at previous WWISA meetings, notably by Computerworld columnist Bryan Dollery, who suggested last year that computing architectures were far more fluid and adaptable than the rigid plan for a building (see XP advocate declares love of architecture).

There are, however, some parallels, says Ross, in that an architect of either kind has to be able to “see the big picture” and solve problems creatively.

“Architects can save you money by maximising your investment,” he says, quoting from the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (building variety) website.

“Architects can manage your project from site selection to completion.

“Architects can save you time — by managing and co-ordinating key project elements, allowing you to focus on your organisation’s activities.

“Architects can help your business — they create total environments, interior and exterior, which are pleasing and functional for the people who work and do business within them.”

Questions of scope are crucial to architecture of both kinds, determining the fields in which an architect is competent in exercising his or her skills and knowledge, and where he/she should seek help from another architect in a different specialisation.

Enterprise-wide IT architecture, including infrastructure and business questions might be comparable with designing a town, he says, while applications might be compared to buildings and communications to a transport system. Ross refrains from making an IT parallel with the sewage system — a set of procedures for disposing of outdated information, perhaps.

He points out, though, that the basic idea of an architect has “undergone inflation in IT”.

A search of the hotjobs.com website on the keyword “architect” in the job category “construction/facilities” brings up only three job titles: architect, chief architect and architectural project engineer. Searching the same term in the “technology” category yields scores of titles, from software architect, data architect and business architect to narrow specialisations like “XML architect” and “GUI architect”.

Ross lists some of the many schemes of IT architecture promoted by various figures of the discipline, endeavouring to reduce them all to a fairly simple diagram of four linked boxes inside a couple of larger boxes showing the extent of the IT and business architectures.

With this in view, he suggests:

  • Enterprise architect
  • Business architect
  • Application/software architect
  • Information/data architect
  • Infrastructure architect
Are the only valid separate disciplines.

Or perhaps, he further suggests, not too seriously, “architect” is simply “something to promote technical staff to once they have got to the end of their technical career stream”.

  • Auckland software architects have the opportunity to get involved in the institute’s activities following the formation of a chapter in the city late last year. Spokesperson Mike Larmer says it will next meet on February 27. Further information can be found here.

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