Monday, October 12, 2009

Example of a solution not fit for purpose

Five years ago I architected and (with a small team) implemented a COTS centric solution (Microsoft and ProSight technologies). The design process was supported by clients and all phases of SDLC were executed well. Architecturally significant decisions were made based on factual findings. For example, after an evaluation of enterprise environment we concluded that the necessary bandwidth required by COTS software wasn't available and a decision was made to allow select user groups to access software directly on a server via a remote desktop connection. Other user groups would use web interface for simpler tasks. We estimated the number of users, application load cycles, data call spikes, etc.

In the end we crafted a seven sever solution with load balanced web front ends, separate logic server for data crunching, and a set of very powerful database servers (in 2005 fully loaded HP ProLiant 570 were the best of breed).

At UAT the solution surpassed technical and usability expectations and was well suited to handle over 3,000 users. So why is this solution (still actively used) not fit for purpose? Because the number of actual users is in the hundreds and not thousands. The client over estimated the adoption rate of the solution. The next year the business processes changed and the organization chose not to invest into reconfiguring the solution to enable the full 3,000 users to use it.

On a surface it appears that the architect is not at fault. But should the architect thought about user adoption? Should the solution have been designed with fewer servers from the start? In this case the risk of building for max size was the right choice, because this organization is large and slow moving. Procurement takes months and budgets are often unpredictable. Without knowing the history of this solution it's clear that this is an overkill and the solution is not fit for purpose (waste of computational resources). A potential way out is to scale down through virtualization, but of that's a story for another day.

Constantin K.
Firebrand Architect®

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