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Many excellent books have been written on software architecture. These books, which, among other things, define, classify, and describe software architectures, define notations for representing and communicating architectural choices, and provide guidance on making good architectural decisions, have enduring value. Unfortunately, while these books may help you build a successful architecture, they fall short of the goal of helping you create a winning solution. To create a winning solution, you need to move beyond subsystems and interfaces, beyond architectural patterns such as Front Controller or Pipes and Filters, and beyond creating third-normal-form relational databases. You need to move beyond software architecture and move toward understanding and embracing the business issues that must be resolved in order to create a winning solution.
An example of one such business issue concerns technical support. It is inevitable that some of your customers are going to have a problem with your software. The choices you've made long ago in such areas as log file design, how the system is integrated with other systems, how the system is configured, or how the system is upgraded will determine how well you can solve their problems. Beyond Software Architecture helps you move beyond software architecture and toward creating winning solutions by discussing a wide range of business issues and their interrelationship with architectural choices.
This book presents a unique perspective that is motivated and informed by my experiences in creating single-user programs costing less than $50; software systems used in academic research; utilities to diagnose and fix problems associated with internally developed systems; and distributed, enterprise-class platforms costing millions of dollars. Along the way, I've played a variety of roles. I've been an individual contributor, a direct manager, and a senior member of the corporate executive staff. At various times I've either worked in or led engineering, product marketing and management, quality assurance, technical publications, and first- and second-line support organizations. I've managed teams and projects across multiple cities and continents.
The common thread tying all of this software together is that it was created to provide value to some person. Research software, for example, serves the needs of the researchers who are trying to understand some phenomena. Enterprise application software, dealing with everything from customers to supply-chain management, is designed to serve the needs of a well-defined set of users and the businesses that license it in a sustainably profitable manner. Similar comments apply to every other kind of software, from games to personal contact managers, inventory management systems to graphic design tools.
The issues identified and discussed in this book affect every kind of software. Their presentation and discussion occur most often in the context of enterprise application software, where I have spent most of my professional career. While they have no universally accepted definition, enterprise applications typically meet one or more of the following characteristics:
- They are designed to support the needs of a business, at either a departmental or larger organizational unit.
- They are relatively expensive to build or license ($50,000-$5,000,000 and up).
- They have complex deployment and operational requirements.
- They can be operated independently, but the needs of the business are often best served when they are integrated with other enterprise applications.
Even if you're not creating an enterprise application, you will find this book useful. Creating sustainable software solutionsmeeting customer needs over a long period of time through multiple releasesis a challenging, enjoyable, and rewarding endeavor, certainly not limited to the domain of enterprise applications!
Although I will often refer to software architecture and discuss technical matters, my discussions won't focus on such things as the best ways to diagram or document your architecture or the deeper design principles associated with creating robust, distributed Web-based component systems. As I said earlier, there are plenty of books that address these topicsin fact, almost too many, with the unfortunate side-effect that many people become so focused on technical details that they lose sight of the business value they're trying to provide.
Instead of concentrating on purely technical choices, Beyond Software Architecture helps you create and sustain truly winning solutions by focusing on the practical, nuts-and-bolts choices that must be made by the development team in a wide variety of areas. I have found that focusing on practical matters, such as how you should identify a release or integrate branding elements into your solution, reduces the often artificial barriers that can exist between developers and the business and marketing people with whom they work.
These barriers prevent both groups from creating winning solutions. I cringe when engineers take only a technology view without due consideration of business issues, or when marketing people make "get-me-this-feature" demands without due consideration of their underlying technical ramifications. When either side takes a position without due consideration of its impact, the likelihood of creating and sustaining a winning solution drops dramatically.
What is especially troubling is that these arguments seem to be made in support of the idea that technical issues can somehow be separated from business issues, or that business issues can somehow be separated from technical issues. At best this is simply wrong; at worst it can be a recipe for disaster. Developers are routinely asked to endure the hardships of design extremes, such as a low-memory footprint, in order to reduce total system cost. Entire companies are started to compete in existing markets because investors are convinced that one or more technological breakthroughs will provide the competitive advantage necessary for success. Not surprisingly, investors are even more eager to invest when the technological breakthrough is accompanied by a similar breakthrough in the business model being offered to customers.
Managing the interrelationship between technology and business will be a recurring theme throughout this book. Handle only the former and you might have an interesting technology or, perhaps, an elegant system,but one that ultimately withers because no one is using it. Handle only the latter and you'll have a paper solution that excites lots of people and may even get you fundingbut one that doesn't deliver any sustainable value. Handle both and you'll have a winning solution. While creating new technologies or elegant systems can be fun, and designing sophisticated new software applications or business models can be exciting, both pale in comparison to the deep satisfaction that comes from creating winning solutions and sustaining them.