97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know – 9/97
We’ve all been hit with budgetecture. That’s when sound technology choices go out the window in favor of cost-cutting. The conversation goes something like this.
“Do we really need X?” asks the project sponsor.
For “X”, you can substitute nearly anything that’s vitally necessary to make the system run: software licenses, redundant servers, offsite backups, or power supplies. It’s always asked with a sort of paternalistic tone, as though the grown-up has caught us blowing all our pocket money on comic books and bubble gum, whilst the serious adults are trying to get on with buying more buckets to carry their profits around in.
The correct way to answer this is “Yes. We do.” That’s almost never the response.
After all, we’re trained as engineers, and engineering is all about making trade-offs. We know good and well that you don’t really need extravagances like power supplies, so long as there’s a sufficient supply of hamster wheels and cheap interns in the data center. So instead of saying, “Yes. We do,” we say something like, “Well, you could do without a second server, provided you’re willing to accept downtime for routine maintenance and whenever a parity bit flips, causing a crash, but if we get error-checking parity memory then we get around that, so we just have to worry about the operating system crashing, which it does about every three-point-nine days, so we’ll have to do nightly restart. The interns can do that whenever they get a break from the power-generating hamster wheels.”
All of which might be completely true, but is utterly the wrong thing to say. The sponsor stopped listening right after the word “well.”
The problem is that you see your part as an engineering role, while your sponsor clearly understands he’s engaged in a negotiation. We’re looking for a collaborative solution-finding exercise; they’re looking for a win-lose tactical maneuver. And in a negotiation, the last thing you want to do is make concessions on the first demand. In fact, the right response to the “do we really need” question is something like this:
“Without a second server, the whole system will come crashing down at least three times daily, particularly when it’s under heaviest load or when you are doing a demo for the Board of Directors. In fact, we really need four servers so we can take one HA pair down independently at any time while still maintaining 100% of our capacity, even in case one of the remaining pair crashes unexpectedly.”
Of course, we both know you don’t really need the third and fourth servers. This is a counter-negotiating gambit to get the sponsor to change the subject to something else. You’re upping the ante and showing that you’re already running at the bare, dangerous, nearly-irresponsible minimum tolerable configuration. And besides, if you do actually get the extra servers, you can certainly use one to make your QA environment match production, and the other will make a great build box.