Thursday, June 16, 2016

Role and responsibility of IT Infrastructure Technical Architect

In this article, I would like to describe the infrastructure architect role and his responsibility.

Any architect generally leads the design process with the goal to build the product.  The product can be anything the investor would like to build and use. The architect is responsible to gather all investor's goals, requirements, constraints and try to understand all use cases of the final product.

The product of IT technical infrastructure architect is an IT infrastructure system, also known as a computer system, running an IT applications supporting business services. That's very important statement. Designed IT infrastructure system is usually not built just in sake of infrastructure itself but to support business services.

There is no doubt that the technical architect must be a subject matter expert in several technical areas including computing, storage, networking, operating systems and applications but that's just a technical foundation required to fulfill all technical requirements. However, systems are not impacted just by technology but also by other external non-technical factors like business requirements, operational requirements and human factors. It is obvious that the architect's main responsibility is to fulfill all these requirements of the final product, IT infrastructure system in this particular case, although the last mentioned factor, a human factor, usually has the biggest impact on any systems design because we usually build systems for human usage and these systems has to be also maintained and operated by other humans as well.

Now, when we know what the IT Infrastructure Technical Architect does, let's describe what are his typical tasks and activities.

The Architect has to communicate with investor's stakeholders to gather all design factors including requirements, constraints and use cases. Unfortunately, there are usually also some design factors nobody have a specific requirement. These factors has to be documented as assumptions. When all relevant design factors are collected and revalidated with requestors and investor authorities, the architect starts design analysis and prepare conceptual design. The conceptual design is a high level design which helps to understand the overall concept of proposed product. Such conceptual design has to be reviewed by all design stakeholders and when everybody feels comfortable with the concept the architect can start low level design.

Low level design is usually prepared as decomposition of conceptual design. Low level design should be decomposed into several design areas because it is almost always beneficial to divide complex system into sub-systems until these become simple enough to be solved directly. This decomposition approach is also known as "Divide and conquer" method. The main purpose of low level design is to document all details important for successful implementation and operation of the product. Therefore it must be reviewed and validated by particular subject matter experts - other architects, operators, and implementers - for particular area. The low level design is usually divided into logical and physical design. Logical design is detailed technical design but general logical components are used without using a particular suppliers physical product models. materials, configuration details or other physical specifications. The purpose of logical design is to document general principles principles of overall design or particular decomposed, thus simplified, design area. Logical design is also used for proper product sizing and capacity planning. Physical design, on the other hand, is detailed technical design with specific products, materials and implementation details. Physical design is primarily intended to product builders and implementors because the product is build or implemented based on the physical design.

It is good to mention that there is no product or system without a risk. That's another responsibility of the architect. He should identify and document all risks and design limitations associated with proposed product. The biggest threats are not risks in general but unknown risks. Therefore, potential risks documentation and risk mitigation options is very important architect's responsibility. Risk mitigation plan or at least contingency plan should be the part of product design.

At the end of the day, the design should be implemented therefore the implementation plan is just another activity and document the architect must prepare to make the product real even the implementation is usually out of the architect scope.

It is worth to mention, that here is no proven design without design tests. Therefore the Architect should also prepare and perform the test plan. Test plan have to include validation and verification part. Validation part validates design requirements after product build or implementation. Only after validation, the architect can honestly proof that the product really fulfill all requirements holistically. Verification part verifies that everything was implemented as designed and operational personnel knows how to operate and maintain the system.

There is no perfect design nor product, therefore the architect should continually improve even already built product by communication with end users, operators and other investor stakeholders and take their feedback in to account for future improvements. After some period of time, the architect should initiate design review and incorporate all gathered feedback in to the next design version.

Now, when we know what the architect is responsible for let's summarize what skills are important for any good architect. The architect must have following decent skills and expertise:

  • communication skills
  • presentation skills
  • consulting skills
  • cross check validation skills
  • documentation skills
  • systematic, analytical, logical and critical thinking
  • technical expertise
  • ability to think and work in different levels of detail
  • ability to see a big picture but also have attention for detail because the devil is in the details
Even you have read this article to this point, you can ask what is the architect main responsibility. That's a faire question. Here is short answer.

The architect main responsibility is the happiness of all users and actors using designed product during the whole lifecycle of the product.

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