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What is software architecture and what types of software architects are there?

Good software architectures are important components of your IT ecosystem because they help you define performance, quality, scalability, maintainability, manageability, and usability. An excellent and well-designed software architecture helps organizations maintain their software’s quality attributes throughout its lifetime.

In this article we will take a closer look at software architecture. What is it, what are the guiding principles and why does it matter? We’re also going to put the spotlights on the creators of and heroes behind software architectures: the software architects. What types of software architects are there? What do they do? And what are the main differences between the various kinds of software architects? Read on and find out!

What is software architecture?

You can see software architecture as the blueprint of a software system. It is the high-level design and organization of software in which we make important decisions regarding its overall structure. Examples are the relationships between components, data flow patterns, and the mechanism for communication between the different parts of the software system. Software architecture is the foundation of a system or an application that solidifies the performance, scalability and flexibility of software in the long run.

Creating software architecture means defining the software’s fundamental abstractions, modules and interfaces, as well as establishing guidelines and principles to ensure that the system is designed to meet its functional and non-functional requirements.

What are the different software architecture patterns

There are several software architecture patterns to choose from. The most important and popular ones are:

  • The layered architecture pattern. This variant uses a tiered approach where a layer offers services to a higher layer.
  • An event-driven architecture pattern revolves around event data. This means that the application acts on defined events when they occur.
  • A microservices architecture pattern follows the development of small independent apps that communicate with each other, so the entire system works in a seamless fashion.
  • A space-based architecture pattern is based on the concept of tuple space. It deploys smaller apps in a single unit and separates larger and more complex applications into multiple processing units.

Why is software architecture important?

Designing and building a good, solid and future proof software architecture is important for a number of reasons. For example, an organized software architecture helps ensure the longevity of your software’s internal quality. It also helps you analyze your current IT landscape and identify areas where changes could lead to performance improvements, efficiency gains, and cost savings.

Better code maintainability, faster platforms, more effective complexity management, a higher adaptability to future tech innovations, superior risk management, and a reduced time-to-market are other (potential) benefits of a robust, reliable, technologically advanced, and secure software architecture.

What types of software architects are there?

Software architects are the key experts behind the design and implementation of software architectures. Just like in every field of expertise, there are various specializations in the wondrous world of software architecture. Let us take a closer look at the different types of software architects and their specific fields of knowledge and roles.

Solution architect

A solution architect evaluates business requirements and subsequently comes up with solutions in the form of products and services that build a bridge between business and technology. Solution architects play a vital role in successfully implementing and introducing new technology. They look at how the different elements of business, information, and technology can be applied to solve a specific problem. Next, they propose a combination of building blocks that provides the best possible fix. Solution architects also manage the tasks and activities surrounding a successful software implementation.

The solution architect is also a connector and communicator. He creates and designs connections between different systems, provides and streamlines communication between teams, and participates in discussions about business aspects and requirements of the software. He is the spider in both the business and technical web.

Enterprise architect

Although there is some overlap in terms of tasks and expertise, the enterprise architect is a whole different beast. In contrast to the solution architect, who creates and engineers solutions for specific business requirements, the enterprise architect makes sure that the IT strategy of an organization is aligned with its (broader) mission. This means that enterprise architects have an overarching (bird’s view) of the organization and its needs, ambitions, capabilities, and state of technological maturity.

The enterprise architect operates on a more abstract level than the solutions architect, has a broad technological horizon, knows everything about current IT and software trends, and influences all the software development efforts within an organization.

Technical architect/domain architect

The technical architect or domain architect is predominantly responsible for realizing particular technical implementation processes that often require a high level of in-depth expertise. Technical architects regularly specialize in one or two particular technologies (domains), such as Java, .NET or cloud.

They also provide recommendations and inform stakeholders about potential threats that a certain software technology or project approach poses. Their scope of operation is a lot more specialized and narrower than that of the enterprise architect. Out of all the different types of software architects, the domain architect works the closest to an organization’s end-user.

Successfully leveraging IT technology with software architecture and architects

Software architecture and architects drive standardization, reliability, maintainability, security, testability, and modularity. The enterprise architect guides a company’s business decisions by introducing effective IT strategies, while the solution architect then takes a specific problem and proposes a solution, creating a link between the technological vision and its actual implementation. Technical architects translate the solution into an integrated system by providing in-depth technical insight about matters like hardware and software specifics.

Whether you need every type of architect depends on your organization (size, reliance on IT, the complexity of the IT-infrastructure) and the project at hand. A follow-up article will shed more light on this topic and show you when you need which type of software architect.