Have you ever tried to make a sand castle survive against the waves? I’ll admit, it can be fun for a while. The kids and I will build sand castles with extravagant moats and then create barriers between the lake and the castle. We’ll use driftwood, boards, more-sand, and… more sand. As fun as it is, eventually you give up and the sand gives way to the waves and eventually washes the sand castle away. Even if the sand castle somehow survives the day, it eventually is baked away by the sun and crumbles bit by bit until it is unrecognizable. The reason why? Architecture. Sometimes even the best effort, engagement, and fun attitude can’t withstand a poor architecture. An understanding, appreciation, and focus on architecture is a key habit of the best tech leaders. The correct architecture beats effort every time. It mitigates threats, tech debt, and stands the test of time (at least in digital terms).
Most want their IT platforms to last longer than a sandcastle
Architecture Example 1: Zero Trust
A key example of architecture we’re talking about now is in Zero Trust. We’ve discussed at length the Zero Trust paradigm and how it is different than traditional architectures. The key item to appreciate is that it is precisely because of the architectural change that Zero Trust is effective at mitigating key threats like ransomware. Zero Trust is predicated on the idea of changing the architectural model to make the spread of current ransomware techniques very difficult, if not impossible (because workloads are isolated to a degree where they don’t share contiguous networks). The mitigation wasn’t due to the effort of the security department, the tools implemented by IT, or the training… it is due to the fact that every device and server lives in its own independent world. This is an architectural victory, not a tool victory (although cloud-based tools might facilitate it).
Example of Zero Trust architecture in cloud ecosystem… notice the network security groups between each application
Architecture Example 2: Serverless
Another key example of architecture is the move to serverless architecture models. The move to serverless models, such as App Service, Functions, or Containers (yes, neither is truly serverless), changes the operational model, mitigates tech debt, and operationalizes around the dev team vs. an infrastructure team. The move to serverless is combined with a native cloud understanding of operations, scalability, and ability to execute without traditional effort. Every application built on serverless vs. “Windows VMs” is a win.
If you want scale… think in serverless or containers. Can you imagine 100 individual ships to move this amount of cargo?
Architecture is Meaningful
The best tech leaders think of architecture as a meaningful decision at every step, building governance, and empowering other leaders who will create in the most future forward thinking. The best tech leaders also know when compromises are necessary (such as avoiding something too bleeding edge that would actually slow velocity), but pressing their teams to advance the status quo. They care about picking an architecture that will avoid significant forward tech debt and also about solving problems at scale. If something needs to be done more than once, an agent of architecture will build a platform that facilitates scale vs. one that requires human execution. The best architectures are “lazy” to a degree and don’t tolerate mindless work.
Most of the time this isn’t intentional… the leaning tower is an interesting oddity, but usually you don’t want this kind of mistake in practice
The types of choices an agent of architecture might make are:
- Building a serverless architecture vs. VMs
- Implementing Zero Trust vs. just plugging in tools to the 20 year old network
- Automating the deployment of scaled infrastructure
- Building LowCode/NoCode architectures scaled across the company
- Moving to Power BI over legacy reporting platform
- IoT architecture that supports end-to-end deploy/patch/update cycle vs. custom
In the examples the difference could not be more stark… the Agent of Architecture cares about picking the right platform (not just a single tool) to mitigate tech debt and accomplishing a larger goal. A single tool might be right for one situation, but might not work for the whole picture. Think about driving a sports car on gravel…. not good for the car, bad experience, etc. Form and function need to meet. They do so in a meaningful and business impacting way. If you intend to be a an inspiring leader, you need to stand for something and take your teams toward the future, not just maintain the past.