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Who’s Got Architecture?

Originally published April 14, 2011

Recently I wrote an article about architecture. And – as with most articles – a few readers offered their feedback. One of the comments was that architecture was fine, but nobody cares about architecture any more. All people care about is getting something up and running as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Beyond that people just don’t care about architecture.

Now I don’t think that is true at all.

Let me share some of my background with you. I grew up in El Paso, Texas. El Paso sits on the Rio Grande river which is, of course, the international boundary with Mexico. There is a place in El Paso just west of the center of town where Interstate 20 runs right next to the Rio Grande. Now at this point, the Rio Grande is only a small river. The farmers have taken the water for the most part out of the Rio Grande long before it gets to El Paso. So we are not talking about much of a river here.

At that point of the Interstate, you can look across to Mexico which is about 200 or 300 yards away. And there you see a slum. Houses are made of cardboard. Houses have walls and roof constructed of every conceivable material.

So what have the inhabitants of that part of Mexico optimized on as they built their slum? They have optimized on building things as cheaply and as quickly as they could. (Does that sound familiar?) And the living conditions are simply awful. Anyone living there does whatever they can to get out as quickly as possible.

So the first point is that when you build something – anything – you have architecture whether you recognize it as such or not. You may choose to ignore architecture or to fool yourself into thinking that you do not have architecture, but if you build something, you have architecture.

Tautology – When You Build Something You Have Architecture

Now let’s see what results from the practice of optimizing construction of cheap and fast. In the case of the slums of Juarez, it leads to an absence of some of what most people consider the necessities of life. There is no planning for water. For basic sanitation. For electricity. For heating. For cooling. For safety of personal property. And so forth. Many of the basic things that are taken for granted elsewhere simply are not accounted for when the builder has chosen to optimize on building cheap and fast.

Now let’s apply that thinking to the world of high tech. When the end user optimizes the architecture on cheap and fast,  the end user ignores such things as data credibility. The end user optimizes on access of data. But does access of data even matter if the data is incorrect? Or out of date? Or incomplete? The end user optimizes on speed of construction, but does it matter whether the system costs huge amounts of money to operate? Or operates in a proprietary environment? When the end user optimizes on building cheaply, does the end user care if the results of the system and its analysis are unbelievable?

For those organizations that optimize on cheap and fast, it is after they have built their ramshackle huts that they then discover what infrastructure means. The hard way. They discover what not having an infrastructure means not having the advantages and conveniences that come with having a properly built infrastructure. Just like someone living in the slums, they discover that taking a bath is really difficult to do. First you need water. Then you need hot water. Then you need a bathtub. All of which are hard to come by in the slums. It is true that the builders of the slums have optimized on building cheap and fast. But so what? Who wants to live there?

Optimizing on building cheap and fast only delays the more mature considerations of infrastructure. You have architecture when you optimize on cheap and fast whether you like it or not and whether you realize it or not.

[NOTE: Obviously, Juarez is not all slums. I have many fond boyhood memories of dining in fine restaurants in Mexico, of playing golf there on one of the best courses I have ever played on, of visiting friends in their lovely homes, and so forth. But there is this one section of Juarez that sits immediately adjacent to I-20 in downtown El Paso that is a slum. Unfortunately, it has been years since I have been to Juarez, and I hear that things have changed there in ways we wouldn’t have understood when I was growing up.]    

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

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