Combat Increasing IT Complexity
Achieve success in your architecture initiatives through the appropriate mix of people, process, and technology.
by Firdaus Bhathena
February 14, 2006
Over the last decade, the role of an enterprise architect (EA) has evolved from a focus on consolidation of technologies, to application and data integration, and most recently, to business alignment and support of business strategy. The latest iteration of the EA role calls for an increased focus on architecture planning to ensure that IT is in a position to effectively respond to ever-changing business needs.
As most of us have learned, the best architecture planning efforts are tied to the baseline of what you have in your environment today. Further, the foundation of any successful re-architecture initiative is a fully accurate picture of the systems, applications, and other infrastructure components in your environment, and how they collectively function to deliver IT services to the enterprise. When these enterprise linkages and interactions are documented and widely understood, the EA performs a powerful role in business enablement.
This sounds relatively straightforward, but several factors can make it difficult to get an accurate view of this information when it's needed and leverage it to support important business decisions.
The first factor is increased complexity. As IT organizations continue to move from monolithic, legacy applications toward distributed business applications, strategic and operational teams alike are struggling with infrastructure that is increasing in scope, scale, and complexity (see Figure 1). Nothing runs on "a box" anymore; distributed application infrastructures are characterized by an integrated and customized collection of many smaller software components, with dependencies on common "building blocks" such as databases, Web servers, and application servers. Complexity is further compounded by mergers and acquisitions and decades of layered technology purchases.
IT complexity has a major impact on availability, manageability, and operations costs. Complex IT environments are inherently expensive to operate, more difficult to manage, and can be unpredictable when change is introduced. However, complexity cannot be eliminated in a dynamic and innovative environment, so the goal needs to be to manage it through making appropriate investments in architecture, internal culture, organization, and technology.
The good news is that investment in enterprise architecture has emerged as a core strategy for leading organizations seeking to rein in complexity within their IT environments and create a common language across management disciplines.
Beware the Rate of Change
The second factor that can make it difficult to get an accurate view of your environment is the rate of change. Operational changes to infrastructurenew application rollouts and upgrades, configuration changes, hardware changes, hot fixes, security patches, and so onoccur continuously. Larger change projects such as data center migrations, server consolidations, and infrastructure assimilation of acquired companies are also routine activities for leading companies today. Change is a well-known complexity multiplier, and as you're all aware, the pace is on the increase, with no signs of decrease in sight. Without an understanding of what's in the environment and how elements are interdependent upon one another, any change to the architecture is fraught with risk.
Scattered information is a third factor complicating a clear view of your environment. IT architecture and management information tends to be scattered throughout a company and to reside on whiteboards, in notebooks, and in the heads of enterprise architects, system and network administrators, and other critical IT personnel. On the positive front, EA tools are emerging to combat this challenge by storing relevant information in a repository and providing capabilities to assemble and present the data in a variety of ways.
A fourth and final factor to account for: technology advancements such as virtualization and provisioning. As every aspect of enterprise architecture and computing has grown more complex, the flexibility and intelligence that virtualization and provisioning add to the management mix has made these technologies increasingly attractive. Virtualization reduces technology limitations and provisioning reduces capacity constraints. Both virtualization and provisioning increase the rate of change, which contributes to increased complexity.
Given these challenges, how can you get a fully accurate picture of the systems, applications, and other infrastructure components in the environment? You also need to know how they support the delivery of IT services to the enterpriseknowledge that is central to nearly every EA initiative. Here are some suggestions.
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