Defining the ‘A’ in Agile Enterprise Architecture

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    Now that enterprise infrastructure is gravitating toward more modular, white-box configurations, attention has shifted up the stack to find ways to squeeze more performance from virtual and cloud-based data environments.

    The need for advanced software-based architectures has long been apparent, but it is only lately that IT executives are starting to take a serious look at how they are to be designed. How flexible should they be? How much automation is required? What sort of life expectancy is reasonable? And who, or what, should be responsible for management, governance and oversight?

    The answers floating around these days run the gamut from stolid, predictable architectures that can be provisioned and scaled to meet emerging data loads to free-wheeling, application-centric designs capable of building themselves up and tearing themselves down on a whim. The emerging discipline of Enterprise Architecture is dedicated specifically to guiding the enterprise through these seemingly contradictory approaches.

    In the free-wheeling camp is the concept known as “chaotic architecture.” As Jet Propulsion Labs’ Jim Rinaldi and Tom Soderstrom explain it, chaotic architecture consists of changeable modules of tools, services and applications that are intended to exist for short periods of time. As collaboration, file sync and share, sensor-driven workloads and other here-today-gone-tomorrow functions gain prominence in the enterprise, rigid architectures will not be able to keep up with the dynamic nature of business. The key, they say, is to recognize that while apps are temporary, data is permanent, so security, storage, availability and other functions need to reflect that even as the overriding architecture embraces chaos.

    Don’t be frightened by the word “chaos,” cautions Diginomica’s Charlie Bess. A more accurate description would be dynamic or agile architecture, akin to the more flexible side of Gartner’s “bimodal” approach that has traditional applications and services on a more clearly defined stack while emerging functions define their own requirements. In this scenario, the most important element is a single, overriding view of the entire system that allows the enterprise to leverage all resources for the benefit of decision-makers, not IT admins.

    An agile architecture is not to be confused with the Agile movement within the Enterprise Architecture field, says tech blogger Charles Betz on The Data Administration Newsletter. The movement consists of a number of software methodologies that have been devised under the precepts of the Agile Manifesto, which is based on the idea that architecture should stress people over processes and tools, responsiveness over planning, and results over documentation. Like all movements, Agile has its purists and pragmatists, and exactly how it should be incorporated into Enterprise Architecture, or whether it should be at all, are still hotly debated topics.

    Even though Betz and others, like Intellyx CEO Jason Bloomberg, couch their comments within headlines like “Is Agile Killing Enterprise Architecture?” the real story is a bit more nuanced. It starts with the admission that most enterprise architectures don’t agree on what EA is, so whether Agile or anything else can kill it is a matter of perspective. If EA is simply a means for IT to maintain lock-step control over modeling, planning, governing or otherwise controlling architecture, then Agile will, and should, kill it. But if Agile can be used to add new dimensions to EA regarding flexible resource allocation, sharing and other advanced functions, then it won’t be killing EA but causing it to thrive.

    No matter how all this shakes out, the key to success in an architecturally driven enterprise will be to match the application and/or service to the correct architecture, whether it is controlled or dynamic. This will require IT to become intimately familiar with the applications and services themselves and how they should support the business process.

    And this is probably the biggest potential change of all: the need for everyone in the enterprise to lift their attention from their immediate responsibilities as an IT admin or an app developer or a business line manager and to see how all of this is supposed to work together for the greater good.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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