‘Building blocks have long been a critical component of the TOGAF framework. They help to define the requirements of such systems, along with the components that will deliver on these requirements. In creating an architecture, an organization effectively decides what combination of building blocks to address specific business problems and targets.
The Open Group, the organization behind the TOGAF framework, offers several general principles of building blocks:
- “An architecture need only contain building blocks to implement those services it requires.
- “Building blocks may implement one, more than one, or only part of a service identified in the architecture framework.
- “Building blocks should conform to standards relevant to the services they implement.”
With the right combination of building blocks, a company can enjoy several benefits, such as:
- Enhanced legacy system integration
- Greater interoperability
- Increased architectural flexibility
But what are building blocks made up of, and how exactly do they work?
What does a building block contain?
According to The Open Group, building blocks have several generic characteristics:
- “A building block is a package of functionality defined to meet the business needs across an organization.
- “A building block has published interfaces to access the functionality.
- “A building block may interoperate with other, interdependent building blocks.
- “A good building block has the following characteristics:
- It considers implementation and usage and evolves to exploit technology and standards.
- It may be assembled from other building blocks.
- It may be a subassembly of other building blocks.
- Ideally, a building block is re-usable and replaceable, and well-specified.
- “A building block may have multiple implementations but with different inter-dependent “building blocks.”
There are two main building block categories to consider:
- Architecture Building Block (ABB) – These blocks are related to the Architecture Continuum. They are defined and selected through the application of the ADM and capture architecture requirements in terms of factors such as Data, Technology, Application, and Business Architecture.
- Solution Building Block (SBB) is related to the Solutions Continuum. SBBs are components used to fulfil the requirements of ABBs, which will direct and guide SBB development.
The Open Group also specifies three building block types:
- Reusable building blocks, such as legacy items
- Building blocks to be the subject of development, such as new applications
- Building blocks to be the subject of purchase
However, it’s important to remember that a ‘building block’ is an abstract concept. Their contents vary and feature different levels of detail depending on what stage of the ADM they are created or updated. They can also change depending on the needs of the architecture. For example, early on, a building block could describe requirements. Later, an architect would provide a full specification created via multiple building blocks.
Building blocks will usually be defined iteratively throughout an EA project. The defined functionality, architectural constraints, and availability of products will not all be evident from the start. Over time, SBBs will be bought or developed to meet these needs. Functions will also be combined in individual building blocks using the desired level of integration.
There are two important points to remember:
- The contents of building blocks can vary extensively
- The process of creating building blocks happens gradually
What is an Architecture Building Block (ABB)?
According to The Open Group, an ABB will:
- “Define what functionality will be implemented
- “Capture business and technical requirements
- “Are technology aware
- “Direct and guide the development of SBBs”
ABB specifications should also include the following at minimum:
- “Fundamental functionality and attributes: semantic, unambiguous, including security capability and manageability
- “Interfaces: chosen set, supplied (APIs, data formats, protocols, hardware interfaces, standards)
- “Dependent building blocks with required functionality and named user interfaces
- “Map to business/organizational entities and policies”
What is a Solution Building Block (SBB)?
According to The Open Group, an SBB will:
- “Define what products and components will implement the functionality
- “Define the implementation
- “Fulfill business requirements
- “Are product or vendor-aware”
SBB specifications should also include the following at minimum:
- “Specific functionality and attributes
- “Interfaces; the implemented set
- “Required SBBs used with required functionality and names of the interfaces used
- “Mapping from the SBBs to the IT topology and operational policies
- “Specifications of attributes shared across the environment (not to be confused with functionality) such as security, manageability, localizability, scalability
- “Performance, configurability
- “Design drivers and constraints, including the physical architecture
- “Relationships between SBBs and ABBs”
How are building blocks combined?
An ‘architecture’ will list its building blocks within an architecture model. It will also provide specifications on how blocks are connected to fulfil defined business requirements.
Integrating requirements will typically be defined at a high level when it comes to combining building blocks. Over time, more detailed views will be defined as part of an iterative process involving elements such as:
- Critical strategic decisions
Studying TOGAF building blocks
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