Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Need for an Effective IT Architecture

Last week I moderated two tracks at Network World’s IT Roadmap conference in Atlanta. One of the speakers at the conference was Kevin Fuller who is a global network architect at Coca-Cola. Kevin gave a great presentation and caused me to muse about effective IT architecture – how important it is and how rare it is to find one.  

To put my musings into context, about two years ago, I was hired by the IT organization of a Fortune 200 company. The goal of the project was to have me review their network architecture. I requested the IT organization send me a copy of their architecture documents and I was only somewhat surprised to find out that they did not have any. After spending a day with the organization it became quite clear that not only did they not have any network architecture documents, they did not have a well-understood architecture for any part of their network.  

More recently I was hired by a Fortune 100 company for a project to help make their architecture more impactful. As it turns out, the company had developed a very sophisticated IT architecture. There was little that I could do to add to the architecture. The problem, however, had little to do with the architecture itself. The basic problem was that nobody in the IT organization had to follow the architecture, and as a result, few did. If that sounds a bit odd to you, it did not sound that odd to me. I had experienced that phenomenon before. A number of years ago I was responsible for transmission, switching and routing for Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC’s) network. Every year, DEC’s global IT organization would create an architecture that focused on many aspects of DEC’s IT Infrastructure. Unfortunately, there was no pressure on any of the various IT groups within DEC to follow the architecture.  

Whether you think about virtualization or cloud computing, IT organizations are making some major changes and these changes cut across technology domains. To be successful, IT organizations need an effective architecture. By effective I mean that the architecture drives decision around technologies, designs, and vendors.

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