The Agile Architect: Mastering Architectural Observability To Slay Technical Debt
The article highlights how Architectural Observability transformed the retailer's approach to grappling with a complex monolithic software system and technical debt.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
It's a story as old as (UNIX) time — in scene one, we meet an international online retailer whose software infrastructure is based on a sprawling monolithic application. As their story unfolds, and with the relentless additions of new features and modifications to existing ones, this once sleek application has grown into a complex, intertwined system. The application has matured, mirroring the business's rapid growth, but the resulting complexity introduces significant complications. Shiny new features and new approaches have been introduced over time to support those changes and requirements.
One of those beautiful complications was the introduction of Agile methodologies, which have become a standard in software development by shifting how we develop software into a more responsive and collaborative process. But with this shift, understanding our software architecture on a deeper level while keeping up with the quick pace of release cycles is becoming more challenging. Consequently, architects are in a tough spot across the org chart, from enterprise architects to chief architects to lead software architects, making it more difficult to keep track of the ever-changing systems, let alone problems like architectural drift and growing technical debt. Fortunately, the concept of Architectural Observability steps in to help.
Architectural Observability is like having a very detailed map of a software application. It gives architects detailed visibility and context into an existing application’s architecture to profile and baseline how an application is architected, identifying domains and cross-domain contamination, collecting observable dynamic operational and static data to proactively fix issues, set baselines, detect drift, identify significant architectural events, and resolve architectural inconsistencies.
That's all well and good, but how do you put it into practice? There is no clear existing methodology for doing so. As a product manager for a continuous modernization platform, I’ve learned that the following three steps are crucial to gaining Architectural Observability: Baselining, Analysis, and – no surprises here – Observation.
A systematic approach to enhancing architectural observability starts with a baselining of the application. It's crucial to evaluate the system application behaviors and interactions and pave the way for subsequent phases of analysis and observation. When baselining an application, it is important to gather information about its complexity, modularity, risks of affecting other parts, and technical debt.
Analysis and Observation
Architectural observability requires two other key phases: analysis and observation. The former provides another layer of a deeper understanding of the software architecture, while the latter maintains an updated system picture. These intertwined phases, reflecting Agile methodologies' adaptive nature, foster effective system management.
Keep in mind, in the pursuit of enhanced architectural observability, the analysis and observability phases are not separate, linear steps. Just as Agile methods constantly adapt, so too does the process of enhancing architectural observability.
The cyclic 'analyzing-observing' process starts with a deep dive into the nitty-gritty of the software architecture. By analyzing the information gathered about the application, we can identify elements like domains within the app, unnecessary code, or problematic classes. Using methodical exploration helps architects simplify their applications and better understand their static and dynamic behavior.
The 'observation' phase, like a persistent scout, keeps an eye on architectural drift and changes, helping architects identify problems early and stay up-to-date with the current architectural state. In turn, this information feeds back into further analysis, refining the understanding of the system and its dynamics.
A continual process creates a holistic, continuously updated picture of an application. Consequently, it empowers architects with the insights they need to manage their systems effectively. They can react to changes quickly and plan for future developments with a firm grasp of the application’s current state and potential trajectory.
Remember that international online retailer that was struggling with what to do about its monolithic application? Well, they decided to adopt architectural observability. They found that it offered them a magnifying glass, bringing into focus the application's architectural intricacies. With the automation that enables Architectural Observability, architects could begin with an in-depth baseline of their existing architecture. They evaluated their application’s behaviors, interactions, and complexities. They mapped out the system in a manner that was previously impossible due to their application’s massive size.
In this process, this retailer has uncovered domains within the application that could serve as potential boundaries for new microservices. They also identified 'high debt classes' — parts of the architecture that contributed heavily to its complexity, hinting at where refactoring efforts should be focused.
In parallel, the application’s dynamic behavior revealed runtime dependencies and communication patterns between different components. This insight was invaluable. It provided the architects with a real blueprint of the system. This not only mapped the static structure but also traced the living, breathing interactions within the application.
Throughout this transformation, Architectural Observability is serving as an invaluable companion, facilitating the understanding and ongoing management of the application. The insights gathered enabled architects to cut through the complexity, informing their decisions and ensuring that the architecture is grounded in a solid, evidence-based understanding of the application.
Architectural observability is not just a buzzword; it's a paradigm shift in attacking technical debt and application modernization. We're leaving behind the days of sticky notes, gut feelings, and guesswork and heading towards actionable insight, allowing Agile development teams to be more proactive and fact-based in managing their architecture and their systems.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.