21 June 2011

Reference architecture, what is it?

I am at WICSA 2011 and the words “reference architecture” come up now and then in discussions. I am not sure I like the definition in Wikipedia, I think relies too much that you already have knowledge or experience of a reference architecture.
One simile (parable?) would be to a building code, a set or rules that underlie the actual architecture and construction of a house. The architect is free to build any type of house, as long as the code is adhered to.
But I like to use cooking as an example. A recipe is like an architecture, when you actually cooks the recipe and serve it is the implementation of software. You need to do certain things that are implementation specific, like tasting to see if the amount of salt suits your taste etc, and maybe you need to double all the ingredients to fit your  dinner party.
Julia Child writes in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking that there are 6 principal ways to make a sauce, one being an emulsion of melted butter with egg yolks, which is common the common method for béarnaise, hollandaise and choron sauces. The type of emulsion is similar to a pattern while the three different recipes are designs.
For a restaurant; a product line architecture would be the menu they have based on the ingredients they stock, for example chicken could be used in more than one dish.
So what is a reference architecture for a restaurant? It would be the “rules” that guides and controls what is possible or desirable. It could be for example driven by the business domain, e.g. it should focus on French or Hunan cuisine. Woking as a “development method” would not be relevant in the former, but certainly in the latter.
Or it could be driven what is technically possible, e.g if the kitchen has no deep fryer it is impossible to for example make french fries.
Or there could be other restrictions, such a desire to only use locally produced ingredients.
Maybe I went to far with this simile (parable)?

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