Simplicity is a form of art...

An IT services overview
by Sven Vermeulen, post on Mon 14 June 2021

My current role within the company I work for is “domain architect”, part of the enterprise architects teams. The domain I am accountable for is “infrastructure”, which can be seen as a very broad one. Now, I’ve been maintaining an overview of our IT services before I reached that role, mainly from an elaborate interest in the subject, as well as to optimize my efficiency further.

Becoming a domain architect allows me to use the insights I’ve since gathered to try and give appropriate advice, but also now requires me to maintain a domain architecture. This structure is going to be the starting point of it, although it is not the true all and end all of what I would consider a domain architecture.

A single picture doesn’t say it all

To start off with my overview, I had a need to structure the hundreds of technology services that I want to keep an eye on in a way that I can quickly find it back, as well as present to other stakeholders what infrastructure services are about. This structure, while not perfect, currently looks like in the figure below. Occasionally, I move one or more service groups left or right, but the main intention is just to have a structure available.

Overview of the IT services

Figures like these often come about in mapping exercises, or capability models. A capability model that I recently skimmed through is the IF4IT Enterprise Capability Model. I stumbled upon this model after searching for some reference architectures on approaching IT services, including a paper titled IT Services Reference Catalog by Nelson Gama, Maria do Mar Rosa, and Miguel Mira da Silva.

Capability models, or service overviews like the one I presented, do not fit each and every organization well. When comparing the view I maintain with others (or the different capability and service references out there), I notice two main distinctions: grouping, and granularity.

  • Certain capabilities might be grouped one way in one reference, and use a totally different grouping in another. A database system might be part of a “Databases” group in one, a “Data Management” group in another, or even “Information Management” in a third. Often, this grouping also reveals the granularity that the author wants to pursue.
    Grouping allows for keeping things organized and easier to explain, but has no structural importance. Of course, a well-chosen grouping also allows you to tie principles and other architectural concerts to the groups themselves, and not services in particular. But that still falls under the explainability part.

  • The granularity is more about how specific a grouping is. In the example above, “Information Management” is the most coarse-grained grouping, whereas “Databases” might be a very specific one. Granularity can convey more insights in the importance of services, although it can also be due to historical reasons, or because an overview started from one specific service and expanded later. In that case, it is very likely that the specific service and its dependencies are more elaborately documented.

In the figure I maintain, the grouping is often based both on the extensiveness of a group (if a group contains far too many services, I might want to see if I can split up the group) as well as historical and organizational choices. For instance, if the organization has a clear split between network oriented teams and server oriented teams, then the overview will most likely convey the same message, as we want to have the overview interpretable by many stakeholders - and those stakeholders are often aware of the organizational distinctions.

Services versus solutions

I try to keep track of the evolutions of services and solutions within this overview. Now, the definition of a “service” versus “solution” does warrant a bit more explanation, as it can have multiple meanings. I even use “service” for different purposes depending on the context.

For domain architecture, I consider an “infrastructure service” as a product that realizes or supports an IT capability. It is strongly product oriented (even when it is internally developed, or a cloud service, or an appliance) and makes a distinction between products that are often very closely related. For instance, Oracle DB is an infrastructure service, as is the Oracle Enterprise Manager. The Oracle DB is a product that realizes a “relational database” capability, whereas OEM is a “central infrastructure management” capability.

The reason I create distinct notes for these is because they have different life cycles, might have different organizational responsible teams, different setups, etc. Hence, components (parts of products) I generally do not consider as separate, although there are definitely examples where it makes sense to consider certain components separate from the products in which they are provided.

The several hundred infrastructure services that the company is rich in are all documented under this overview.

Alongside these infrastructure services I also maintain a solution overview. The grouping is exactly the same as the infrastructure services, but the intention of solutions is more from a full internal offering point of view.

Within solution architectures, I tend to focus on the choices that the company made and the design that follows it. Many solutions are considered ‘platforms’ on top of which internal development, third party hosting or other capabilities are provided. Within the solution, I describe how the various infrastructure services interact and work together to make the solution reality.

A good example here is the mainframe platform. Whereas the mainframe itself is definitely an infrastructure service, how we internally organize the workload and the runtimes (such as the LPARs), how it integrates with the security services, database services, enterprise job scheduling, etc. is documented in the solution.

Not all my domain though

Not all services and solutions that I track are part of ‘my’ domain though. For instance, at my company, we make a distinction between the infrastructure-that-is-mostly-hosting, and infrastructure-that-is-mostly-workplace. My focus is on the ‘mostly hosting’ orientation, whereas I have a colleague domain architect responsible for the ‘mostly workplace’ side of things.

But that’s just about accountability. Not knowing how the other solutions and services function, how they are set up, etc. would make my job harder, so tracking their progress and architecture is effort that pays off.

In a later post I’ll explain what I document about services and solutions and how I do it when I have some time to spend.

Virtualization vs abstraction
by Sven Vermeulen, post on Thu 03 June 2021

When an organization has an extensively large, and heterogeneous infrastructure, infrastructure architects will attempt to make itless complex and chaotic by introducing and maintaining a certain degree of standardization. While many might consider standardization as a rationalization (standardizing on a single database technology, single vendor for hardware, etc.), rationalization is only one of the many ways in which standards can simplify such a degree of complexity.

In this post, I'd like to point out two other, very common ways to standardize the IT environment, without really considering a rationalization: abstraction and virtualization.