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18 November 2008

SYSOA and infrastructure

By Andrew Clifford

System-oriented architecture could help organisations build effective IT infrastructure by clarifying business requirements and making infrastructure easier to justify.

IT infrastructure is a catch-all term for the IT on which business systems are run. It includes hardware and operating systems. It includes specialised software such as monitoring and backup.

Many organisations save costs by standardising and consolidating infrastructure. This can be difficult because nobody outside the IT organisation really understands the issues and so it is difficult to make a business case. Standardisation is hampered by applications that insist on doing things in a non-standard way.

System-oriented architecture (SYSOA) splits IT into strictly independent systems. SYSOA deals with infrastructure in one of two ways. The infrastructure for each system can be managed as part of the system - each system owns its own slice of infrastructure. Alternatively, the infrastructure can be provided as a generic IT capability, in the form of appliances. Either way, SYSOA maintains a clear relationship between infrastructure and the systems it supports. This helps show the impact of infrastructure on the cost and risks of business systems, and helps justify the infrastructure.

The distinction between infrastructure that is part of a system and infrastructure that is a standard appliance helps clarify responsibilities.

Organisations with standard infrastructure can consider the infrastructure as an appliance. Because it is a standard capability that is the same for all systems, no single system can set requirements. The IT organisation can, and should, design the infrastructure to meet the general case, not unique requirements from unusual systems.

SYSOA allows for systems that need non-standard infrastructure, but clarifies that the full responsibility for defining requirements, justification and cost falls on the system owner and their IT representatives. (It can not just be dumped on the infrastructure specialists.) Showing the difficulties and full costs of non-standard infrastructure is the best way of showing the value of standardisation.

Many organisations are adopting server and storage virtualization as a way of reducing infrastructure costs. SYSOA encourages smaller, more independent servers that have few interdependencies, which are good candidates for virtualization.

In SYSOA, infrastructure services such as monitoring and backup, are either systems in their own right, or part of the standard appliances. (Often they are both - a core system, and then components on each appliance.) Making them systems in their own right raises their visibility, as they can then be considered alongside all the business systems.

SYSOA is not the major driving force for infrastructure, but in many ways it makes a positive contribution:

  • The system view of SYSOA helps justify infrastructure because it makes a clear connection between the characteristics of infrastructure and the costs and risks of business systems.
  • SYSOA provides a framework for the standardisation and consolidation of infrastructure.
  • SYSOA allows for exceptions to the standards, but clarifies where the responsibility and full costs of these lie.
  • SYSOA works well with virtualization.
  • SYSOA helps raise the profile of infrastructure systems such as monitoring and backup.

Next week I will bring together SYSOA's impact on many different parts of IT, to weigh up whether it is something we should pursue.

Next: Is SYSOA worthwhile?


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