Developing a basic architecture is the centerpiece of the total systems engineering process. It is fundamentally a synthesis procedure that normally requires
• The formulation of alternative system architectures
• The analysis of the postulated architectures to verify that they satisfy system requirements
Architecting is performed at the top level, dealing with functional descriptions rather than detailed subsystem design features. Various methods are available to facilitate architecting, and these are discussed later in Chapter 9, with case examples in the Appendix.
A good example related to the issue of architecting has emerged rather clearly in the computer information system world. Years ago, computer systems largely involved a dominant mainframe computer and thus the information system had a highly centralized architecture. As minicomputers, workstations, and microcomputers came into use, architectures evolved into more decentralized configurations. In today's world, we see networks of client-server configurations as a preferred architecture for many types of computer information systems. In broad terms, matters of the degree of centralization or decentralization represent architectural alternatives.
Architectures can also involve fundamental technology considerations and choices. An example is the basic selection of a time-division multiplexed system versus a frequency-division multiplexed system. These are very basic choices that ''drive'' the remainder of the system design. Once a selection is made, further architecting must be compatible with this basic approach.
The world of architecture and engineering (A&E) firms demonstrates, through analogy, another way of understanding notions of architecting. In designing an airport, for example, the architect portion of the firm does the basic top-level design and architecture for the airport. Once this is complete, the engineers take over (civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, etc.) to convert the basic architecture into a physical system. However, modern concepts of concurrent engineering would suggest that the engineering team should be represented in the ''front-end'' architecting processes. Concurrent engineering is viewed as one of the key thirty elements of systems engineering.
Finally, we note that this element of systems engineering, as herein defined, is devoted to the formulation of alternative architectures, all of which are deemed to satisfy, in differing degrees, the system requirements. This element does not include the selection of a preferred architecture. Such a selection is subsumed in the following element, alternatives analysis and evaluation.
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