July 14, 2016

In principle, it's all architecture, unless it's not... or something like that.

Welcome to the wonderful world of architecture principles. A world where everything is a has to unless you've got a good justification not to.
This is an introductory for a multi-piece on a variety of Architecture Principles that I've come across in the last 5 years while working on Cloud, SOA and POA architectures.
Architecture principles are ground rules by which we develop our software. This ranges from ways of working to styles of coding, from software decomposition to business compliance, from infrastructure choices to security implementations. As you can see, it covers pretty much everything related to the development of business services, online, offline and internal.
Architecture principles are setup such that you just comply with them, unless there's a very good reason not to, and then you don't. A good example might be that everything is hosted in the public cloud, unless for compliance reasons we need to host on-premise.
All principles should lead back to our strategic goals, business goals preferably.
As a refresher, the way architecture within many companies works is as follows: As a company we have a mission, and a vision on how to accomplish the mission we've set out. There's a strategy on how to implement that vision, which consists of strategic goals that when met, we know we've implemented our vision. Turning the whole thing into a road-map from where we are to where we want to be with milestones to be reached, and steps to be taken in order to get to the next milestone. Our strategic architecture shows us the shape we're in at the various milestones, the tactical architecture shows us where we are after each step we have to take. Architecture is therefore a journey. It's not a noun but a verb instead.
Architecture is just like a satnav, you get your bearings and determine where you are, you set the location of where you want to go and the satnav calculates the best route depending on your settings regarding toll-roads, ferries and time our distance settings. And with every turn to be taken, the satnav recalculates the best route based on the most current information regarding traffic, road works, etc.
Architecture principles tell us the rules by which we live while on our journey, there's a justification for these rules explaining why obeying that rule takes us closer to our goal(s). Traffic law if you will. There's a speed limit on the road we're traveling. Obeying the law and sticking with the speed limit will ensure a save trip to our destination, but sometimes we have a passenger that's bleeding out, if we don't hurry and get to an ER, forgetting about the speed limit, caring for the passenger only. When we attest the traffic fine associated with the ticket for speeding the judge will waive the fine as a person's life is deemed invaluable. But if we just go speeding because it's so much more fun to go 200 km/h instead of the allowed 130 km/h there's no lenience from the judge as 'fun' is not considered a proper justification. Taking into account, and taking stock off the fact that every violation, even when justified, increases our architectural debt.
Architecture principles are therefore to be considered the default action to be taken, the default direction to head for. It's a matter of "This is how we do it, unless...". There are sometimes obvious 'unlesses', as in "We use Linux, unless Linux is not an option". But in that same vain, the principle could be: "We use Linux, unless Linux is not an option, then we use Windows". In which case there is no unless, there's no excuse to not use Linux or Windows. Every principle of this kind is clearly formulated as such. When there's no room to maneuver, there's just no room to maneuver.
Lastly, regarding architecture principles, we have to understand that principles will change, they will be revisited over time. As our mission, vision, strategy or goals change, our principles may have to change as well. As our world changes, our principles will change as well. They're not carved into stone, they're written using Permanent Markers. And we all now that permanent markers on a whiteboard can be erased with whiteboard markers.
Changing our principles or violating them, results in architectural debt. And as with financial debt, there is an interest to be paid. The more debt we have, the more our software costs. This is very much like technical debt that accumulates during software development, but where the interest paid on technical debt is typically analog to the interest on a mortgage or even a personal loan with a bank, architectural debt is close to the interest a loan-shark issues. And not paying of those debts, well the analogy continues there as well.

Without any further ado, let's start our journey...

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