The term system architecture is used to describe the overall design and structure of a computer network or system. As information technology has expanded to include a wide range of physical devices, a method is required to organize and connect these items together in a cohesive manner. The term is also used to describe complex computer software tools that include multiple modules.
There are four main components to any system architecture: processing power, storage, connectivity, and user experience. The complexity of the system varies widely and is dependent upon user needs, business requirements, funding, and resource availability. It is important to note that system architecture must be flexible and able to meet changing needs quickly. A structure that is too rigid will not be able to accommodate new software or hardware.
Processing power is based on the computer or server. This hardware is akin to the brain of the system. Purchasing and installing the correct allocation of processors to the system must be based on the software specifications, number of concurrent users, strength of the connection, and applications. When designing a system, scalability is critical. The system architecture must allow additional processors to be added without any interruption to the current structure.
Storage space is based on the number and capacity of the hard drives and related devices built into the system. Cost is a determining factor for this type of equipment, as the cost is constantly decreasing as the capacity increases. This is due to ongoing improvements in the production process. However, from an architecture perspective, this adds another element to the process. As the capacity increases, the overall physical shape can change, making equipment obsolete.
Managing network traffic and connectivity is an important part of the system design. Much like roads in everyday life, the performance of the system is dependent upon correctly sizing and maintaining the connectivity between all aspects of the system. Upgrading network cable, switches, routers, and other equipment is expensive and time consuming, but has a huge impact on system performance.
The user experience is based on a combination of system architecture and performance. Business clients typically have minimal understanding or interest in all the aspects of the system that can positively or negatively impact his or her individual computer. A well-designed support system is responsive to users needs and can support the operation in the long run. The responsibility for the overall architecture and support typically falls to the technical operations department.