Process view of infrastructure


Sven Vermeulen Wed 01 September 2021

In my previous post, I started with the five different views that would support a good view of what infrastructure would be. I believe these views (component, location, process, service, and zoning) cover the breadth of the domain. The post also described the component view a bit more and linked to previous posts I made (one for services, another for zoning).

The one I want to tackle here is the most elaborate one, also the most enterprise-ish, and one that always is a balance on how much time and effort to put into it (as an architect), as well as hoping that the processes are sufficiently standardized in a flexible manner so that you don't need to cover everything again and again in each project.

So, let's talk about processes...

Six process groups

There are plenty of process frameworks out there. I've covered many of these in a previous article (What is the infrastructure domain?), with ITIL and CObIT being my main resources.

Companies often select a mature framework to align their IT on. After all, why invent everything over and over again if a popular framework with all its resources exists. But just like how companies like to use commercially available resources, they also like to adjust and nudge it left and right to fit the organization better. And that's fine.

I'm going to give a spin to it and combine processes with non-functionals, as infrastructure is often about non-functionals. That doesn't mean that frameworks like ITIL or CObIT are not good, but explaining them easily is sometimes a challenge, and I'm not versed enough in the intricacies of these frameworks to use them as a starting point, rather as a reference.

The six groups that I feel cover the infrastructure domain sufficiently are:

  • Governance & Organization, which is about the company and the organization used within the company.
  • Consumers & Suppliers, which is about the interaction (and supporting needs) with the consumers of our services, as well as with the providers.
  • Research & Development, which is about preparing updates on the services and architecture
  • Risk & Security, which enables risk reduction strategies and facilitates secure integrations of services
  • Custodianship, which is about facilitating maintenance and support improvements that are more environment-wide
  • Engineering & Operations, which focuses on the operational control and support of the services.

In some ugly visualization, these groups (and the processes or non-functionals that are within) can be represented as follows:

Six process groups for infrastructure

Let's go through each of the groups in a bit more detail.

Governance and Organization

The first group is titled Governance & Organization and covers the company specifics. It has five processes or non-functionals in it:

  • Strategy and Innovation
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Organizational Efficiency
  • Separation of Concerns
  • Formalization

The strategy of a company is an important starting point for larger changes, as architects need to make sure that the changes they want to guide, coach, or support are aligned with the company strategy. Most companies will have a hierarchy of strategies, with the main strategy being translated to specific strategies or strategic objectives, which are then further formalized down.

Alongside supporting the company strategy in general, domain architects might need to plan the strategy for their domain as well (as I had to do for the infrastructure domain). This, again, is a translation of the overall strategy, showing how infrastructure will support the strategic objectives.

For the innovation part, the infrastructure domain needs to make clear how to support innovative ideas and suggestions in the organization. Often, the infrastructure and operations field is considered to be protective, and might be perceived as obstructing innovative ideas. That's not a correct view - while the operations field often has a more conservative view of the infrastructure to make sure the production environment is available and secure, it also has a viewpoint on how to deal with innovation. For instance, the delivery of sandbox environments in which innovations can play a role, or prototype environments that have limited, secured integration possibilities toward the rest of the environment.

Innovation is not only limited to technological innovation. Innovative ideas on governance and organization (such as when agile development practices were being formulated) are also important to track, as they influence many other processes and non-functional attributes.

The enterprise architecture part covers abstracting and guiding the organization, the business, the product development, etc. in a coherent and well-documented manner. It lays the foundations for an effective and efficient, collaborative, large organization. Domain architects ensure that their domain architecture is related to the enterprise architecture (and contributes to the enterprise architecture directly).

Organizational efficiency focuses more on how the organization functions. Does the organization use DevOps teams, for instance, or is it more traditional in the development versus operations part? Does the organization have vertical technology-oriented teams, or more horizontal, solution-driven teams, or a mixture? Knowing how the company organizes its IT is important to properly structure and present changes. Domain architects also provide input towards reorganizations, as they can easily define how such shifts in responsibilities will affect the organization and its efficiency.

With the segregation of duties, I focus on which roles can be shared and which ones can't. Knowing which segregation applies in the organization (such as the different security officer focus, the segregation between risk officers and audit officers, the exclusivity between domain administrators (in Active Directory terms) and regular server administrators) is an important driver for architecting. Architects can suggest introducing additional segregations or suggest methods for removing the need to segregate these duties (as often those are inspired by historical events and assessed on older capabilities). I've mentioned DevOps before, and those who supported a DevOps transition will know about the historical segregation between development and operations.

Finally, formalization is about how to have formal evidence of decisions. While this is often just part of a company's 'governance', I focus on it specifically, as it is always balancing efficiency and effectiveness. When formal evidence is expected by the organization, it is wise to keep track of why this is. Often, formalization can be optimized further without reducing the benefits or impacting the requirements.

Consumers and Suppliers

Whereas the first group focused on the company itself, the group on consumers and suppliers focuses on the users of the infrastructure services that are offered (which often, but not always, are internal customers) and the suppliers for the various services the organization consumes.

It covers the following four processes and non-functionals:

  • Cost & Licensing
  • Portfolio
  • Agreements & Support
  • Incidents & Problems

The cost and licensing part is often a large time-consumer. I include chargeback and showback here as well, although I must be very clear that actual costs and chargeback-reported costs are not the same. For the services infrastructure offers internally, knowing the costs (showback) and charging the costs through to the internal customers (chargeback) are hard processes to tackle, requiring intensive thoughts on what is and isn't allowed, how the company looks at the services, etc.

While looking at the suppliers, an important part is to understand and optimize the licensing. Each product and service that you consume costs money one way or another. I've had the "pleasure" of being an Oracle license manager (as in, responsible within my company for tracking, reporting, and optimizing the costs associated with all Oracle products we consumed) for a while, and being part of the Microsoft license management team (with responsibility for data center oriented products). Knowing the license requirements, the terms and conditions, the contractual obligations (and deviations that a company negotiated), etc. is very useful.

The portfolio is about knowing what you consume (from vendors) and offer internally, and how you intend to track and evolve it. For infrastructure services, for instance, you want to make sure you have a decent catalog (which is part of the portfolio) that your internal customers can consume. Designing the catalog is an important first step in assessing and deriving the domain architecture if it isn't available yet.

With agreements and support I look not just at the contractual agreements related to service consumption (as in, the terms and conditions related to the licensing), but also towards agreements on areas such as support (Can we call the vendor any time of the day? How much time does the vendor contractually have before they 'pick up the phone'? Is the service agreement conforming to market expectations?). The same is true for the service agreements offered internally - something that is best aligned with the portfolio.

Deriving decent service level agreements (SLA), and ensuring they can be tracked and asserted, can be important if the vendor isn't all that trustworthy, as well as to show your internal customers that you care about reaching and keeping the SLAs.

Support is also about how to reach and interact with the support organization. From an infrastructure point of view, that isn't always as easy as it sounds. Some vendors require specific applications to interact with their support organization, and your company might not allow those applications. Or, certain metrics need to be sent out to a cloud service, but that cloud service isn't easily identified as being secure and compliant enough with the regulations you have to cover.

The incidents and problems item covers the standard incident and problem resolution processes, and how these are handled in the organization. It is about standardizing what incidents are, how to react to them, how to derive problems from the observations, prioritizing work related to incidents and problems, and more. A decent incident and problem tracking solution is a must, but the solution itself is just part of the setup. A good tool does not give you an efficient and effective organization.

Research & Development

The next group is about evolving the service offerings. I consider the following four processes and non-functionals as part of this group:

  • Architecture
  • Design
  • Product Lifecycle
  • Quality Control

With architecture, I focus on the solution architecture, and how the solutions interact with the domain architecture. The domain architecture is generally part of the enterprise architecture, whereas the solution architecture is something that regularly needs updates based on the changes that are being planned. Most of this architecture is done by the system architects with the support or coaching of the domain architect.

The design is the next phase of a development cycle and is more detailed than the solution architecture. Designs are often handled by the engineering teams themselves, with the support of the system architects. For domain architects, knowing where the designs are and to read them/understand them is vital for a good collaboration between architects and engineering teams.

The product life-cycle focuses on the entire life-cycle of a product, starting with innovative ideas and research, prototypes, towards supporting the development of the product, and even after deployment towards end-of-life support/tracking, or in case of bought products the end-of-sale, end-of-premier-support, extended support, custom support, and whatnot.

Balancing the product life-cycles against each other is a common occurrence for architects and product owners, as it is always a puzzle about when to make which changes, release what versions, etc. If you don't track the life-cycle of a product continuously, you might face situations where you need to purchase older products because your reinvestment wasn't planned yet, but capacity limits require an increase anyway.

Finally, quality control is about ensuring the quality of the products is according to expectations. This includes support for different environments (pre-production), specific quality testing (which I'll discuss later as well), supporting QA teams (if you have those), and the processes for reporting defects, etc. It also includes quality assurance on products purchased from third parties.

Risk & Security

A major part of my work is to assess the risk exposure and ensuring a secure and reliable infrastructure. Hence, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it is an entire group by itself.

While security is a large domain (with lots of focus on processes and assurance), the following processes and non-functionals are strongly represented in the infrastructure domain:

  • Crypto
  • Authentication
  • Authorization
  • Privacy
  • Access Control
  • Audit & Compliance

For crypto, a major challenge is not only to ensure cryptographic services or protocols are used where it makes sense (or better said, not used where it makes sense) but also to understand the intricate details of the cryptographic services, knowing what service is used for which purpose, etc. I could make an entire article purely to discuss the sense and nonsense of transparent encryption on file systems or databases...

The authentication processes (and the closely related identity processes) are to support assurance on the identity of a user, process, system, device, or any other type of subject. Knowing how the authentication is handled, which authentication protocols are used, the landscape in case of federated authentication, etc. can take up several days to know. Authentication is no longer based on user IDs and passwords. We have OpenID Connect, SAML, Kerberos, TACACS, RADIUS, NTLM, and more, which all have their quirks. And those are just the protocols to handle authentication: they don't talk about user management, the processes you will need to support in case of account abuse, etc.

Authorization, while often combined with the authentication phase, is about knowing what a (freshly authenticated) identity may do (authorized). Here, we have the challenges of coarse-grained authorization versus fine-grained authorizations, dynamic authorizations, transient authorizations, or authorizations that are inherited from others. Often, architects will need to design the authorization granularity and approach based on the organizational and security requirements.

The privacy controls are about ensuring confidential or strictly confidential data (if those are the terms used by the organization) are properly protected. Data can be anonymized, pseudonymized, redacted, tokenized, encrypted, and/or de-identified. Architects should know which control is possible where, which services can be used, what the impact is of the controls, as well as what the organizational data requirements are.

The access control part is closely related to the authorization part. In effect, it should be what enforces the authorizations. Access control is a wide domain with many, many products and services working with (or against apparently) each other. Especially in more modern architectures where zero trust plays a role, you'll notice that access control is a challenging beast, with dynamic and contextual controls becoming primary services rather than the standard, relatively static (role-based) access controls.

The last part is the audit and compliance, where audit focuses on obtaining traceability of all events (what has happened where, when, by whom), whereas compliance looks at assuring current state and processes are according to expectations. Compliance can be about assuring adherence to the organizational processes and standards, but also that a system's configuration is accurate and still in effect. So, yes, it is more than what a "compliance" department would focus on.


In custodianship, I group processes and non-functionals that often play a more active role after having a successful deployment, or after a project is finished. While these do not imply that they are to be implemented by different teams (that's the organizational efficiency which has to decide on this), I notice that they are challenging to keep up properly for a large organization.

In it, I cover the following processes and non-functionals:

  • Data Governance
  • Rationalization
  • Reporting & Insights

Data governance is about defining and tracking data, data flows, data definitions, as well as their purpose. You need proper data governance to know which privacy measures to apply, as one of its measures is the retention of the data.

Rationalization is the effort to rationalize existing infrastructure usage and services. While major rationalization exercises are company-wide initiatives, there are many benefits to achieve with small, incremental rationalization exercises. Most of the time, rationalization exercises are about cost reduction, but that doesn't always need to be the case. Of course, eventually, everything is about finances nowadays.

With reporting and insights, I consider the means to report on various areas (such as capacity, cost, performance, and SLA breaches), as well as gain insights from the data at hand.

Engineering & Operations

The final group covers the disciplines that I see on the engineering and operations side:

  • Configuration
  • Orchestration
  • Testing
  • Change Management
  • Operational Control
  • Monitoring

The configuration part is to ensure that the systems and services are properly configured and that the life-cycle of the configuration items is guaranteed as well.

With orchestration, the focus is on ensuring larger environments are optimally used and the appropriate abstractions are in place. Kubernetes is a good example of an orchestration that requires close attention and support. But others exist as well, such as those in the Hadoop ecosystem.

Testing focuses on the various testing strategies that enable us to trust the final product and services and help in ensuring no regressions are creeping in. Testing on the infrastructure side is about load and performance testing, smoke testing, regression testing, destructive testing, etc.

The change management process is about properly staging the changes, communicating the changes, following up on the changes, etc. It is not just about preparing a deployment and then hitting a button: you want to validate that the change is successful, track the performance to ensure nothing is acting strangely, etc.

With operational control, I consider the systems that drive the operational systems autonomously. Self-driving and self-healing are the two non-functionals I embed under this. Many cluster management systems are part of this, and designing for self-driving and self-healing infrastructure comes up more and more with modern systems.

Finally, monitoring covers tracking the telemetry of the systems, the logs that are generated, and derive the right insights from it. I initially wanted to call it "Observation" as that seems to be the term that comes up more and more (monitoring too much resembles watching telemetry for thresholds, whereas observation goes much beyond that) but monitoring seems to resound most amongst users.

A huge list that covers most of the requirements

This list of processes and non-functional attributes covers most, if not all, requirements that are related to the infrastructure domain. The component view that I mentioned in a previous post, for instance, is part of the architecture and design processes in the Research & Development group.

However, because they are still processes and non-functionals, they can often seem to be less tangible. Sure, you have to manage the costs, but how do you do that? What processes do you have in place to manage cost insights? How do you deliver these insights? What tooling is used to support the organization? What tooling is mandatory to use (like license management tools from larger vendors)? Detailing this and making the right choices is part of being an architect.

In the next post, I will look at the location view. Unlike the process view, which is often shared with other IT domains, the location view is something that is often more exclusive for the infrastructure domain.

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