Tuesday, November 21, 2017

What is a reference architecture?

There are many descriptions of reference architectures available on the web. Here is a list of some I consider do a good job of describing the subject while supporting the description I am working  toward in the digitization of oceans;
  1. Reference Architecture: The best of best practices - given its age (published 2002) it is still relevant and pragmatic. Though I do consider the description too dependent upon RUP, which introduces many weighty practices and misses some of the more agile and emergent approaches. Still the description gives good detail to the importance, breadth, and depth of the reference architecture. The later sections of this description provide information on creating, using, updating, and working with a reference architecture. These sections are particularly useful in developing the digitization of oceans reference architecture. I strongly believe the oceans reference architecture will be emergent as many new technologies and stakeholders contribute and become a part of developing the architecture.
    Emergent architecture is when organizational structures such as business processes and technologies are designed incrementally by many designers.
  2. Wikipedia: Reference Architecture - very short for a complex topic, but it is too the point in defining the reference architecture as templates within a subject, industry, or domain. It stresses the importance of a common vocabulary and in drawing upon successful projects within the domain. It aligns with the use of APIs which I believe will become an important part of a strong digitization of oceans reference architecture.  It also calls out a number of the benefits derived from the reference architecture.

  3. CIO Online Magazine - describes where the reference architecture fits within the EA toolkit, and looks to all the relationships among business, systems, and technology. It describes how the reference architecture can greatly assist in defining specific technical deliverables within these complex systems. Having a proven, standards based, and shared toolkit for developing the oceans reference architecture will assist in keeping the architecture team distributed throughout Atlantic Canada well aligned when creating and maintaining the reference architecture..
Some example reference architectures:
  1. Microsoft Industry Reference Architecture for Banking (MIRA-B)
  2. A Reference Architecture for The Open Banking Standard
  3. IBM Insurance Reference Architecture
  4. Healthcare Reference Architecture
These four serve as examples of reference architectures from established industries where the patterns, technologies, and architectures have developed through time. As you read through these you can get a sense of the value, industry collaboration, growth, and innovation that can be facilitated by having a comprehensive industry reference architecture.

What is unique about a digitization of oceans reference architecture?

The infrastructure of the Digital Ocean. (Courtesy of Liquid Robotics, a Boeing Company)
It's too early in this discussion to be specific about the oceans reference architecture, it is important to note that it is both broad and deep. It is broad in that it includes many ground based systems, processes, and infrastructure similar in complexity to the previously mentioned examples. In addition to this broadness we need to add the theater in which the digitization of oceans operates; we have vessels of many types (airborne, surface, and submersible), we have a growing collection of sensors and protocols, we have cross industry collaborations (fisheries, environment, oil and gas, shipping, researchers, academia, defense, etc.). I believe it is safe to say the reference architecture for the digitization of oceans will be very broad due to the number of data collection points and the number of intersections (technical and otherwise). The oceans reference architecture will also be very deep in that the data will be coming from many sources above and below the ocean surface. And the data that is being collected will both be very specific and detailed, while also being general at a more meta level. I believe it is the breadth and depth of the digitization of oceans that make its reference architecture unique. And its creation is a large, important, and emerging challenge... more on this to come.

Over the next few months I will be publishing a series of blog posts describing, in more detail, all the aspects for building a successful digitization of oceans reference architecture. Next up is; "a plethora of end points" with focus on oceans technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). Please follow along and make comment. For a table of contents of these coming posts please review a companion post; Digitization of Oceans Reference Architecture TOC