The changing role of the enterprise architect – interview with Ravi Mayuram
Many see architects as a dying breed, reasoning that with infrastructure moving to the cloud, who needs them anymore? But even with cloud, infrastructure is complex and somebody is needed to sit between the goals of the CSuite and the demands of the developers, and ultimately to make the business’s digital dreams a reality. Architects are becoming more prominent – as the IT consultants of the business, helping everyone realize their ambitions.
Here at JAXenter we love following the latest trends and keeping track of shifts that are taking place in development culture. That’s why we found time to ask Couchbase Senior Vice President of Engineering and CTO Ravi Mayuram a few questions about how and why the role of the enterprise architect is changing.
JAXenter: How is the role of the architect changing as cloud computing has become dominant?
Ravi: This is a very broad question, so let us define ‘architect’ and see how the role is impacted.
Broadly speaking there are application architects (who develop applications enterprises need), IT architects (who define the computing needs from data centre to desktop to mobile access) and security architects (who govern information access and security).
Each of these roles are changing amid a generational shift in our computing paradigm. Each role calls for a detailed understanding of modern infrastructure – such as NoSQL databases, message buses, application frameworks, microservice architecture, modern global scaling methodologies and mobile/edge applications. There is a sea change in how applications are being constructed from the ground up.
The application architect’s role is particularly crucial as they determine which of the numerous choices of technologies and open source components they are going to pick to assemble their stack. Together with the move to a DevOps model this architect also needs to understand the technology shifts happening in the deployment and control plane as well, where platforms like Kubernetes are changing the continuous integration or continuous delivery model of application delivery and manageability.
The IT architect’s role is also evolving considerably with the virtualisation of the data centre – be it network, compute or storage. This, combined with cloud and edge becoming an integral part of any IT landscape, leaves architects with their hands full, working hard to evaluate and implement the architecture that is right for their enterprise.
The security architect has an increasingly large threat surface to manage, with cloud, on-prem and edge all providing a rich hunting ground for data breaches. Security architects need to ensure the technology choices being made take risk into account, and make sure that the organisation doesn’t fall foul of regulatory changes.
JAXenter: How can the architect stay relevant in today’s enterprise?
Ravi: The architect needs to be aware of changes across three areas and educate themselves well. The first is business transformation. They need to play close attention to how the business leaders are seeing the landscape, the competition, the future and what decisions they are making to stay on top of it. The second is the technology landscape, where they need to be conversant with the evolving landscape of architectures and products and develop a point of view for their organisation.
The third is the organisational transformation that goes hand in hand with such dramatic change in the business and technology landscape. They need to be thought leaders, influencers and change agents for the rest of the organisation.
JAXenter: If this is the architect’s future role, what skills do they need?
Ravi: Architects have traditionally been the ones responsible for translating business requirements into technology requirements, and helping the organisation build the right technical solution to meet the business’ needs. They need to balance the need for change with the organisation’s overall stability in these times of change. They are the ones to sift the hype from reality, and the ones to champion new technologies and initiatives and guide the organisation to scale new heights.
JAXenter: Edge computing is a good example of an emerging tech that is rising in prominence now. In your view, why is this?
Ravi: This has a lot to do with the way computing power has evolved. Until recently, most organisations lacked the capability to support an entire network of devices doing their own data processing. The only part of the network capable of collecting and analysing data was the centralised data centre or even public cloud. Now, things have changed. Technology has reached the point where much of the actual data collection and processing can be done at the edge of the network, by the devices themselves. There’s no need to send data back and forth to a centralised server or cloud. This is important:transferring these vast amounts of data will no longer be practical and cost effective.
Crucially, it also enables certain apps to effectively function ‘offline’, operating independently of the core and synchronising only when connectivity is restored. This opens the IoT up to a whole new range of use-cases where connectivity can’t always be guaranteed, such as equipping medical professionals with the ability to process patient data ‘in the field’, or planting sensors on wind turbines to provide real-time data to engineers. In these cases, data synchronisation only needs to take place occasionally , giving these applications their ‘offline’ capabilities. Edge also makes the network more resilient – if an outage occurs, the blast radius is restricted to an edge device or cluster, rather than the entire network.
JAXenter: What impact does edge computing have on the way IT is currently structured? What needs to change?
Ravi: When you really look at edge computing it comes down to deploying, managing and protecting both data and applications in a decentralised manner. This expands the footprint that IT has to control. This is a generational shift and both organisational and process models would need to change in the governance of this landscape.
JAXenter: So, does this mean that IT has completely transformed? If so, how can businesses keep up?
Ravi: It is not completely transformed, it is an evolution of IT. IT as we know it largely involves maintaining internal infrastructure, applications and processes. It is evolving to incorporate public cloud and applications delivered through the SaaS model into the mix. The future involves IT managing the fluid movement of infrastructure from private to public cloud and in reverse, as well as moving internal apps to cloud and bringing cloud based apps into the fold. This is in addition to managing the edge, where more and more compute and decisions will be made in the enterprise. Amid all of these changes to the landscape, a crucial area where IT will need to exercise more control is security.
JAXenter: Which technologies will define this new IT environment?
Ravi: SaaS, PaaS, private cloud, public cloud, edge, AI, Kubernetes/software defined everything, geo-distributed NoSQL databases, and an explosion of applications. This will be the landscape of IT from here on out.
All of this will be in the service of bringing applications to market quickly to meet constantly changing business demands. IT departments will no longer be supporting functions but will play a key role in enabling business agility. The DevOps model transforms organisations from having areas such as R&D and operations kept within silos, and creates one central team that can operate nimbly. At its heart, this organisational transformation will drive the shift of IT not only at a technological level, but at the organisational, behavioral and ultimately, the business productivity level too.
Thanks very much!