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Visualizing the Discipline of Cloud Architecture

by Richard Watson  |  February 9, 2015  |  Comments Off on Visualizing the Discipline of Cloud Architecture

Cloud architecture is a hot topic in my Gartner client discussions. Experienced architects understand that cloud represents a discontinuity in established patterns and we need new architecture models and practices to maximise our cloud adoption.

Lots of client discussions I’m having cover questions like:

  • What techniques should I use to migrate an application to a cloud?
  • How to I manage a hybrid deployment with components distributed between public clouds and my own infrastructure?
  • How do my application deployment practices change for cloud delivery?
  • How do I monitor an application deployed in a public cloud?
  • How can I create a portable cloud solution?
  • How can I still use a PaaS but have an exit strategy?

Notice that the discussion around cloud has advanced beyond what-is or why-would-I to how-do-I questions (with a little when-shouldn’t-I, of course). Answering those ‘how do I cloud’ questions is where architects come into the picture.

Our job at Gartner is to be trusted advisors to our clients, not to promote technology vendors.

But, I do want to call out three cloud vendors here for genuinely useful contributions to the architecture discipline. Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft all have architecture centres on their websites [Refs 1,2].

All three of these cloud providers’ architecture sites have detailed visual architecture diagrams representing use cases for their cloud services.  These scenario-based architectures are a handhold for architects climbing the cloud complexity mountain. I often call out these same three providers for spraying customers with a firehose of diverse cloud services and little or no context for using them (let alone using them together).

I’ve worked as an architect and with architects for decades, and there’s really nothing like a diagram for getting people engaged with a solution. The thing you want to happen in an architecture conversation is people jumping up, pointing at the screen or whiteboard, discussing possibilities, seeing problems.

These sites can be viewed as sophisticated content marketing, but I believe they are also important contributions to the emerging discipline of cloud  architecture. So, well done to AWS, Google and Microsoft for bringing visual architecture to the forefront.  All of us in the industry, vendors, professional architects, and advisors like me need to work together to harness this awesome cloud opportunity. I would urge cloud architects and would-be cloud architects to spend some time on these vendors’ sites, and with Gartner’s cloud architecture advice.

I’d also like to point to some of my Gartner for Technical Professionals colleagues work, too. We publish actionable architecture advice (“how to” advice)  in various ways, one of which we call a “Blueprint”. Blueprints are narrowly scoped, technically detailed guidance for implementing a specific architecture instance. To pick just a small sample of our many blueprints (all paywall – clients only), from Kyle Hilgendorf we have “Blueprint for Architecting Application Availability at Microsoft Azure”, and “Blueprint for Architecting Web Application Availability at Amazon Web Services”. From Simon Richard “Blueprint for Architecting a Hybrid Cloud Network”, and from Werner Zurcher “Blueprint for Implementing Server Backup to the Cloud”.

The Gartner for Technical Professionals Blueprints are also valuable because they are written from a vendor-independent viewpoint, have in-depth research to dive into behind each step, and of course clients have access to the analysts that authored them to discuss applying those blueprints to their own organizations. My own most recent contribution to the cloud architecture discipline is (paywall – clients only) in “Cloud Characteristics, Principles and Design Patterns“.

Alan Kay was not the first to use this phrase, but he’s one of my heroes, so I’ll leave it to him to say[3]:

Most human beings, no matter how familiar they are with abstract symbols, respond to voice and images better than written language. In other words, A picture paints a thousand words.



[1] AWS:

[2] Further hat-tip to AWS, who realised this need a couple of years ago and were first with their reference architectures.

[3] 1989, Alan Kay, quoted in Kʻo-tung Huang, Timothy D. Huang,Introduction to Chinese, Japanese and Korean Computing, World Scientific, ISBN 9971506645, p. 9



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Category: architecture  cloud  paas  

Tags: architecture  aws  azure  cloud  google  

Richard Watson
Research VP
5 years at Gartner
21 years IT industry

Richard Watson is an analyst in Gartner's Technical Professionals Research Service. He advises clients on cloud computing, application architecture, and application platforms. ...Read Full Bio

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