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Case Study: Goldilocks Governance at PenultimateWidgets

For years, architects at PenultimateWidgets tried to standardize all development on Java and Oracle. However, as they built more granular services, they realized that this stack imposed a great deal of complexity on small services. But they didn’t want to fully embrace the “every project chooses their own technology stack” approach of microservices because they still wanted some portability of knowledge and skills across projects. In the end, they chose the Goldilocks Governance route with three technology stacks:

Small

For very simple projects without stringent scalability or performance requirements, they chose Ruby on Rails and MySQL.

Medium

For medium projects, they chose GoLang and one of Cassandra, MongoDB, or MySQL as the backend, depending on the data requirements.

Large

For large projects, they stayed with Java and Oracle, as they work well with variable architecture concerns.

Pitfall: Lack of Speed to Release

The engineering practices in continuous delivery address the factors that slow down software releases, and those practices should be considered axiomatic for evolutionary architecture to be successful. While the extreme version of Continuous Delivery, continuous deployment, isn’t required for an evolutionary architecture, a strong correlation exists between the ability to release software and the ability to evolve that software design.

If companies build an engineering culture around continuous deployment, expecting that all changes will make their way to production only if they pass the gauntlet laid out by the deployment pipeline, developers become accustomed to constant change. On the other hand, if releases are a formal process that require a lot of specialized work, the chances of being able to leverage evolutionary architecture diminishes.

Continuous Delivery strives for data-driven results, employing metrics to learn how to optimize projects. Developers must be able to measure things to understand how to make them better. One of the key metrics Continuous Delivery tracks is cycle time, a metric related to lead time: the time between the initiation of an idea and that idea manifesting in working software. However, lead time includes many subjective activities, such as estimation, prioritization, and others, making it a poor engineering metric. Instead, Continuous Delivery tracks cycle time: the elapsed time between the initiation and completion of a unit of work, which in this case is software development. The cycle time clock starts when a developer starts working on a new feature and expires when that feature is running in a production environment. The goal of cycle time is to measure engineering efficiency; the reduction of cycle time is one of the key goals of Continuous Delivery.

Cycle time is critical for evolutionary architecture as well. In biology, fruit flies are commonly used in experiments to illustrate genetic characteristics partially because they have a rapid life cycle — new generations appear fast enough to see tangible results. The same is true in evolutionary architecture — faster cycle time means the architecture can evolve more quickly. Thus, a project’s cycle time determines how fast the architecture can evolve. In other words, evolution speed is proportional to cycle time, as expressed by

where v represents velocity of change and c is cycle time. Developers cannot evolve the system faster than the project’s cycle time. In other words, the faster teams can release software, the faster they can evolve parts of their system.

Cycle time is therefore a critical metric in evolutionary architecture projects — faster cycle time implies a faster ability to evolve. In fact, cycle time is an excellent candidate for an atomic, process-based fitness function. For example, developers set up a project with a deployment pipeline with automation, achieving a cycle time of three hours. Over time, the cycle time gradually increases as developers add more verifications and integration points to the deployment pipeline. Because time to market is an important metric on this project, they establish a fitness function to raise an alarm if the cycle time creeps beyond four hours. Once it has hit the threshold, developers may decide to restructure how their deployment pipeline works or decide that a four hour cycle time is acceptable. Fitness functions can map to any behavior developers want to monitor on projects, including project metrics. Unifying project concerns as fitness functions allows developers to set up future decision points, also known as the last responsible moment, to reevaluate decisions. In the previous example, developers now must decide which is more important: three hour cycle time or the set of tests they have in place. On most projects, developers make this decision implicitly by never noticing a gradually rising cycle time and thus never prioritizing conflicting goals. With fitness functions, they can install thresholds around anticipated future decision points.

TIP

Speed of evolution is a function of cycle time; faster cycle time allows faster evolution.

Good engineering, deployment, and release practices are critical to success with an evolutionary architecture, which in turn allows new capabilities for the business via hypothesis-driven development.

 
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