Misconceptions About Software Architecture

posted 5 Jul 2010, 13:01 by Sanjeev Kumar   [ updated 30 Nov 2011, 09:20 by Sanjeev Kumar ]
References to architecture are everywhere: in every article, in every ad. And we take this word for granted. We all seem to understand what it means. But there isn't any wellaccepted definition of software architecture. Are we all understanding the same thing? We gladly accept that software architecture is the design, the structure, or the infrastructure. Many ideas are floating around concerning why and how you design or acquire an architecture and who does it. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about Software Architecture. 

Architecture and design are the same thing

Architecture is design, but is not all of the design. Architecture is about making decisions on how the system will be built, it stops at the major abstractions, the major elements - the elements that are structurally important, but also those that have a more lasting impact on the performance, reliability, cost, and adaptability of the system. In constrast, design involves a lot more in order to take the design to implementation. In a word, architecture is the fundamental, architecturally-significant aspects of the design.

Architecture and infrastructure are the same thing

The infrastructure is an integral and important part of the architecture: It is the foundation. Choices of platform, operating systems, middleware, database, and so on, are major architectural choices. Architecture must include the application architecture plus the infrastructure architecture. There is far more to architecture than just the infrastructure. The architects have to consider the whole system, including all applications otherwise an overly narrow view of what architecture is may lead to a very nice infrastructure, but the wrong infrastructure for the problem at hand.

Architecture is just a structure

Architecture is more than just the structural organization of design elements, it also includes the description of how these elements collaborate, as well as why things are the way they are (the rationale). The architecture must describer how the architecture fits into the current business context and must address how it can be developed within the current development context.

Architecture is flat and one blueprint is enough

Architecture is a complex beast; it is many things to many different stakeholders. Using a single blueprint to represent architecture results in an unintelligible semantic mess. Like building architects who have floor plans, elevations, electrical cabling diagrams, and so on, we need multiple blueprints to address different concerns, and to express the separate but interdependent structures that exist in an architecture.

Architecture cannot be measured or validated

Architecture is not just a whiteboard exercise that results in a few interconnected boxes and is then labeled a high-level design. The development of the architecture involves design, implmentation, testing, etc. There are many aspects you can validate by inspection, systematic analysis, simulation, or modelization.

Architecture is Science

If there is a spectrum between art (creative) and science (prescriptive), architecture is somewhere in-between. The architecture problem space is quite large. One of the reasons that architecture cannot yet be considered a science is that there are no good guidelines on how to traverse the solution space, "prune it", and then apply the selected solutions. Architecture is becoming an engineering discipline (it is steadily moving toward the science end of the spectrum). Nevertheless, it is not a strict science because if you put two architect in seperate rooms, give them just the requirements, each will (most probably) come up with a different architecture. However, if you constrain them with a set of architectural patterns, their results will be more similar.

Architecture is an art

Let's not fool ourselves. The artistic, creative part of software architecture is usually very small. Most of what architects do is copy solutions that they know worked in other similar circumstances, and assemble them in different forms and combinations, with modest incremental improvements. It is possible to describe an architectural process that has precise steps and prescribed artifacts, and that takes advantage of heuristics and patterns that are starting to be better understood.
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