Enterprise software needs to be built in context. Major development projects aren’t started for fun; they’re meant to create a product that supports a specific business goal. Every piece of the architecture puzzle contributes to the success or failure of the final product, and developers need to keep their client’s goals in mind when designing their architecture.
With the wide variety of tools available to developers, though, this sometimes gets lost in the drive to try something new. Architecture choices for enterprise software have to balance function with innovation. Here’s a look at the best technologies for meeting that need today.
What “enterprise-friendly” means
Before suggesting specific technology, it’s important to take a step back and look at what makes technology “enterprise-friendly.” There are five key characteristics shared by the most business-forward tools.
- Scalability: The architecture should allow growth, especially sudden rapid growth, without a drop in performance that could throttle its upward trajectory.
- Performance: Software needs to work well over a wide variety of conditions. This usually includes mobile performance that must compensate for device quality and network strength.
- Security: Fallout from breaches and leaks can put a company’s future at risk. Enterprise-ready architecture supports security features throughout.
- Cost: This includes everything from the initial investment to ongoing maintenance costs. Getting an MVP released as quickly as possible to let it begin generating ROI is a priority for most businesses, too.
- Interconnectivity: Enterprise software needs to interact with other tools and software already in use. It has to either fit in established workflows or improve them enough to justify disruption.
Given those parameters, what kind of architecture makes the cut?
Cloud storage has gained popularity as a low-cost alternative to physical data infrastructure. Being able to skip the long, expensive process of purchasing, assembling, and maintaining servers without limiting the eventual reach of software has serious enterprise appeal. The most obvious advantage is price. Only the necessary resources are bought up front, which lowers the initial investment in projects.
There are other business-oriented benefits, too. Cloud storage is highly scalable. Adding resources is as simple as upgrading a subscription. It’s also helpful that companies can use higher-level digital and physical security tools provided by the cloud vendor. This provides an extra layer of security to help guard against breaches.
One aspect of cloud storage that tends to get taken for granted it how well it powers mobile team collaboration. Telecommuting and working with remote or distributed teams is becoming an enterprise reality as companies look to keep costs down. Cloud storage provides access to company resources wherever a team member can get online.
Microservices split functions into services that operate independently of each other. The style is enterprise-oriented and geared towards flexibility, scalability, and performance.
It does take a skilled developer to set up and maintain a microservices architecture without making it overly complicated, but the enterprise benefits outweigh that drawback. For one, microservices perform well at scale. Their distributed nature reduces demand on any single service. If one service is busy, others can continue working on other functions to provide a consistent user experience.
Independently functioning services make microservice architectures more robust, too. IT can work on a malfunctioning service while others are still functional, giving the software greater availability.
Another thing that makes microservices perfect for enterprise is their flexibility. Developers can use a variety of tools and technology on each service, depending on what is most appropriate for the job at hand. When a better tool comes along, that service can be upgraded much more efficiently than in monolithic architectures.
Finally, microservices are fast to develop. The separation of concerns means that distributed teams can be working simultaneously on different components. Faster development translates to lower overall costs and a shorter time to market.
Platform as a service
Platform as a service (PaaS) is an innovative approach to software development that takes care of a lot of basic, repetitive tasks involved in building software. A vendor hosts the hardware and software for software development so that users can access their tools from anywhere with an internet connection. PaaS vendors vary in scope, but generally they offer tools to develop, test, deploy, host, and maintain applications.
The main concerns with PaaS revolve around pricing at the highest levels and some loss of control. Those are arguably outweighed by the advantages, though. Many PaaS providers have extremely low-price or even free options at lower tiers, so by the time an application reaches those higher usage tiers it should be able to support that cost.
The loss of control is more bug than feature for some users since it stems from the removal of necessary but tedious tasks that bog down development. Teams are freed to focus on the software’s core function and user experience.
Like all cloud computing technologies, PaaS is highly scalable. It also comes with the ability to use the best versions of current software and tools. The vendor upgrades and maintains their own hardware and software, so developers get a high quality toolset without the hassle.
Something to watch out for in the future is function as a service (FaaS). This trend which grew out of PaaS greatly reduces the infrastructure required to use application functionalities. Instead of having continual uptime, users are charges by instance. That results in lower costs and higher scalability. However, this form of serverless architecture is still maturing and should be used thoughtfully.
Building in context
The key to designing enterprise-friendly architecture is to build it in context. Look past the software’s function to the company’s long-term goals. Consider how the software will be used, upgraded, and maintained as it grows. Letting enterprise priorities guide architecture choices may seem counterintuitive, but in the end it leads to software with a longer, more productive lifespan.