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When it comes to designing a new IT system or solution, IT architects can choose from a bewildering variety of techniques, approaches and methodologies. Used correctly, these tools will provide some help and guidance, but in many cases they simply add to the complexity, increase confusion, and in the worst cases, produce an inferior solution.

Some architects recommend starting with a blank piece of paper and being creative, dreaming and reaching for the stars. This is great if you are starting from scratch and have free reign, but that is a luxury most IT architects don’t have.

Others advocate refining the existing solution, polishing the rough edges, and making incremental changes and improvements. This works well if your existing solution is already fit for purpose, but again, many IT architects don’t have a solid foundation to build from.

Clearly, these are two extremes. The majority of IT architects operate with existing constraints or systems while trying to deliver against new requirements, needs, and business objectives. In these situations, there needs to be a happy medium between creating something from scratch and adapting the current system. This is where architectural patterns are the IT architect's best friend.

Architectural patterns

At their simplest level, an architectural pattern is a repeatable and reusable solution to an existing software architecture problem. If a problem has been solved before, why not make use of that existing knowledge? An overall solution will consist of multiple different patterns working tightly together. There is rarely a single pattern that can deliver the complete solution. The skill of the IT architect is to understand, then select the most appropriate patterns to combine into the solution.

Let’s look at a simple analogy – Imagine you are designing  a two-story house and you want a window in the lower story. Above the window is the wall of the upper story. The wall immediately above the window needs to span the window and support the wall of the upper story. There will be an architectural pattern describing the type, size, and shape of the structural support needed. There could even be another architectural pattern if the window is replaced with a door.

In IT architecture there are patterns describing how web servers should handle web requests, how data should be read from a data repository, and how to publish messages to multiple subscribers. These patterns are based on past experience and are proven to work. 

Red Hat portfolio architectures

Red Hat’s answer to the need for architectural patterns is the Red Hat Portfolio Architecture Center. These are architectures found in successful customer implementations and documented deployments. They contain logical, schematic, and detailed diagrams on each of the technical components in a solution. They also include recommendations, lessons learned, and best practices on how to use Red Hat products to architect solutions.

The portfolio architectures are available to everyone as reusable assets.

Retail portfolio architectures

IT architectures rarely operate in isolation, free from the constraints of existing systems, solutions, and applications. IT architecture for retail is no exception. Any new architecture design must consider existing legacy systems, custom-built applications, and off-the-shelf systems from a variety of vendors. Many of these systems could be critical to a retailer; they could be running warehousing, order management, or supply chain operations. These systems must be considered and frequently factored into any new architecture plans. This is a coexistence approach that leverages existing systems and it may add additional systems, if needed, and not rip and replace and bring in an entirely new solution.

With an extensive and growing collection of portfolio architectures created specifically for customers working in the retail industry, IT architects now have an easily accessible collection of knowledge to help them build better retail-focused solutions. 

These architectures provide a best-practice approach to dealing with the constraints and realities of existing retail solutions frequently faced by IT architects.

Every portfolio architecture contains:

  • A solution overview describing the high-level details of the solution, a single diagram of the solution, and details of the business drivers achieved by the solution.
  • A logical diagram showing the main components or system context for the solution.
  • Schematic diagrams showing how the main solution components interact to deliver the solution.

All diagrams are available in format and can be reused or modified to help kick-start your own solution design.

There are two categories of retail solutions available on Red Hat Portfolio Architecture Center:

  1. Supply chain optimization - a series of solutions focused on how supply chains need to  balance protecting margins, utilizing store and warehouse capacity while meeting delivery expectations to stores and consumers.
  2. Retail solutions - a collection of solutions focused on common retail problems such as point-of-sale systems, headless commerce systems, and in-store health and safety compliance.

When it comes to designing and architecting a retail solution, the best starting point is existing, proven solutions known to work for other customers. This is where the Red Hat Portfolio Architecture Center can add real value to the architect's kit bag. It contains a number of retail solutions with existing material and diagrams available for reuse to shorten the design effort.

Retail supply chain blog series and portfolio architectures

Retail portfolio architectures

About the author

As a Chief Architect for Retail in the UK, Boyle engages in strategic dialog with IT decision makers and influencers across the ecosystem of Red Hat customers and partners. Boyle collaborates with architects and technologists across the globe to unlock the potential of open source solutions.

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