Two years on from my Microsoft Certified Architect Board

Two years ago today, I was in Seattle preparing for my five hour long panel interview a.k.a. board for the Microsoft Certified Architecture certification. It’s the highest level of certification Microsoft have ever offered and there are still only around 100 people who have it. To pass, I needed to submit a 50 page project portfolio prior to standing before four existing MCA’s for a whole afternoon and talking about my approach to solution design and delivery.

All I’ll briefly mention about that afternoon is that it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the most enjoyable and the rewarding. The people on the Board got up in the middle of the night to fly to Seattle to meet with me. They’d read my portfolio and wanted to meet me. They wanted to hear about how performed my role as much as grade me on it. I still use the feedback and guidance from that afternoon now.

The rest of my article today isn’t about that afternoon, it’s about the two years after it. The highs and lows about how my career as an architect has progressed.

Suddenly Directionless

When I found out two weeks later that I’d passed I was happy – but then directionless. The Board members in their feedback gave me long term career goals, career objectives and told me to keep learning – but I didn’t know what to do immediately next. There wasn’t a harder exam in my day-to-day life to sign up for.

I wanted to design better technology solutions

My goal at that point was to learn to design even better technology solutions. To me that meant more rigour about my design processes and designing larger solutions. When I looked for new books, they were about business transformation. That interested me personally but the word server never mind SQL Server was missing from the index of those books – I didn’t know how to use them in my day job. I knew I had a long history about talking to business and IT leadership audiences, but I always thought my deliverables were the technology solutions or guidance.

Then one day

Several months after my Board, I was on an architecture training course hoping to find this hard to find next level of design knowledge. I was grumpy because it was about topics like business transformation, solution value management and project prioritisation while I thought I needed to learn about design and quality to design solutions. Then one day on that training course, I realised what the next phase of my career was going to be about – how to be a better architect:

I design better solutions – by making them business transformation projects.

Everything a business does needs to have business benefits

Two years on from that period, I still see the technology solutions I help design and deliver as the reason for working with my customers. However, the value I enjoy giving them is making sure that what the IT department does is helping the business achieve its goals. For example, using cloud based servers doesn’t just make IT’s life easier for deployments – it can help the business deploy new capabilities faster. If that organisation is in the retail sector and needs to support a high number of short lived digital marketing initiatives that can be re-assuring news for IT to tell the business.

Guest blog author for Microsoft TechNet

Over the last few weeks I’ve started writing guest blog articles for the TechNet UK team, around one a month on the theme they’re promoting around that time.

The first two published have been about how IT’s relationship with sales and marketing is changing, and an architect’s view about adopting cloud computing.

Article Links

Rather than link to each directly, I’ve created a Bing search below to find them.

Link to my articles

Managing multi-vendor technology environments

At this week’s series of SQL Server community events hosted under the SQLRelay umbrella, I presented a session titled “Managing multi-vendor technology environments”.  It sounds like something large organisations have to do, which is true, but it’s now also something individual solution owners have to do – especially in the business analytics space.

Rarely is one vendor’s technology enough to meet a solution’s every requirement.  Whether it’s the source systems, the storage and analysis layers, or the presentation layer – it’s increasingly common for business intelligence/business analytics solutions to create solutions that use components from multiple sources. 

Our use of the word vendor is also changing especially as the open source community is now making significant contributions with Hadoop and R.

Below is both a link to my presentation and its overview.


Session Overview

Rarely has a single vendor managed to meet all of an organisation’s technology requirements, especially in an era when we increasingly depend on vendor-less open-source software.  Instead, we regularly deploy portfolios of products and technologies to meet a business’s needs.

This style of enterprise computing isn’t new but what’s becoming more common is for a single project to use and integrate multiple products and technologies.  To find an example, we need look no further than modern business intelligence solutions.

Regardless of where it happens, deploying multi-vendor solutions increases risk – the risk of increased complexity, increased costs and project delays.

This session’s objective is to help us manage multi-vendor environments.  We’ll consider when to decide if a single vendor’s “just good enough” solution may actually be the best decision – or how to manage the inevitable – the complexities of integrating, supporting and purchasing in multi-vendor environments.

Download Link


Review of Open2Study’s “Introduction to Enterprise Architecture”


Recently, I took an online training course provided by Open2Study – an open learning initiative by Australia’s Open Universities. Its title was an “Introduction to Enterprise Architecture” and I’m providing an overview and review of it.

Course Logistics

Firstly, the course is free – all you need to invest is about 10 hours of your time over a month. From what I can see, the course runs every four or five weeks. You can find all the information at this web page:

Course Delivery

Open2Study deliver the course online over four weeks – not a single lazy Sunday afternoon when you can rush through it – using ten minute YouTube videos. Each video ends with a “pop quiz” and each module ends with an assessment. They each use multiple-choice questions, but as I’ll comment later that doesn’t make them easy.

Craig Martin presents the videos and in my view is the best person in the world to teach you about enterprise architecture. I’ve linked to an overview about him here.  I first knew about him after finding some videos on YouTube about similar subjects and realised how much I liked his teaching style.

“Real enterprise architecture”

Very quickly you realise this course is about enterprise architecture – the discipline of making businesses more effective, and not enterprise IT architecture – dealing with large numbers of IT systems.  Expect to learn about business processes, business capabilities and industry reference models – rather than how networks or servers work.

I’d say about 30% of the content discusses “traditional IT”, the remaining 70% is about business architecture and how to implement transformational change within a business.

If you want to learn how to design technically large and complex IT systems – look elsewhere.

If you want to know how deliver business value and business transformation using IT, read on.

Seven out of ten

Having completed, and passed, the course I’ve given the course a score of 7/10. To understand why, I’ve broken my score into 7 good points and 3 bad points:

Good points

  1. The course was about “proper” enterprise architecture and not advanced IT design – previously I’ve found these types of courses always end up swaying towards just IT or just project delivery techniques
  2. I actually learned, a lot.  Too often we find ourselves sat in training where we know more than half of the material already but we have to sit through it to learn the bits we don’t know.  I’d estimate I knew about 20% of the training material before I started.
  3. The ten minute videos were just long enough to cover a complex subject but short enough so I didn’t get bored and just listen to it in the background.
  4. The videos each had a transcript that you could read either in sync with the video or without watching the video at all – sometimes I needed to read what had just been said slowly to understand it said rather than listen to it again.
  5. Craig Martin’s delivery used straight forward real world examples to compliment his academic material – sometimes instructors get carried away telling you long and complex stories rather than just the relevant details
  6. The videos used a clever “transparent whiteboard” to draw diagrams that allowed me to take good screenshots for my notes – there’s no slides for this course.
  7. The web site was easy to use – sadly that still has to be said and not taken for granted.

Bad points

  1. The course was both an introduction to enterprise architecture and an introduction to TOGAF.  Although there’s four modules to cover both of these topics it’s a lot of material for “an introduction”.  The pace in module 2 that went through TOGAF in quite some detail meant a lot of stopping to catch up on my notes and then work out what was just said.  A slowdown in pace at the expense of some content would’ve been better.
  2. The questions in the pop quiz at the end of each module weren’t always covered in the video!    The difference in terminology or even material often meant I had a blank face when I read the questions, that didn’t help morale after a hardcore module.
  3. The lack of download materials obviously helped keep the training free but also made it hard to do any “offline” studying.

Overall : Recommended

A few new IT/EA architect blogs


I’ve previously written about my habit of reading blogs/RSS feeds related to IT and enterprise architecture, and wanted to share/promote a couple more that have joined my reading list lately.

  • The Value Realization Blog from Microsoft
    I think I’ve written about this before but it’s worth mentioning again – a great place to learn about communicating and managing value to IT leaders, in this case written in the context of Microsoft consulting engagements.

  • J. D. Meier’s blog at MSDN
    It’s purely coincidence that this blog is hosted by this guy’s employer – Microsoft.  His blog article titles include topics such as: 10 high-value activities in the enterprise, success articles for work and life, and Agile and the definition of quality.  A very senior architect at Microsoft who shares his wisdom about delivering quality solutions.


  • J. D. Meier’s personal blog
    Putting the constraints of his day job to one site, J. D. again shares his experience about helping people “get better results in work and life”.


  • Enterprise Architect Voices
    A syndicating site that everyday collects a broad range of articles relating to enterprise architecture.  One in ten will jump out as a must-read while the rest help you understand “what other people need to read about for their jobs”



New online resources for architects from Microsoft


Those who’ve read my previous blog articles, or who know me, know my frustration at finding good educational resources for IT architects.  I’m not an enterprise architect or a senior developer, yet a lot of “architect” resources online are for just those audiences.


Microsoft’s older architect resources

About 10 years ago, Microsoft started publishing a lot of good academic material for IT architects.  This is the type of material that doesn’t really age, unlike technology specific resources, but for many reasons it started to disappear, not get updated, or not get added to.  Then the .net era took off and their attention shifted to the developer audiences.  You can find what remains online here.


Three great new architect resources from Microsoft

Very recently, some good new technology agnostic IT architect resources started appearing on Microsoft’s web sites.  I found them through the MSDN and TechNet blog RSS feeds I scan through every day and wanted to share them further.

The Value Realization blog

This blog compliments an enterprise strategy service that Microsoft Consulting Services offer their enterprise customers BUT the descriptions of the services it provides are useful to ALL IT architects.

Even though this blog uses the context of enterprise IT strategy guidance to CIOs – the same guidance can apply to your much smaller project that only has two or three stakeholders and a single sponsor.  The same processes for identifying, communicating, and measuring should still apply to your project as it does to an enterprise wide strategy.  Lots of good information here – thank you Microsoft for sharing!

Link to it here.

The Microsoft Architecture mini-site and blog

A key skill as an architect is knowing what other architects know even if it’s not your domain area.  For example, it’s useful to know that the key trends in IT right now are cloud, big data, enterprise mobility, and enterprise social media.  Knowing what our peers are working on stops us working in a silo and making decisions that could hinder future integration or re-use.

The blog and blueprints section of this mini-site are excellent technology agnostic (I know they’re not vendor agnostic!) resources for key architectural trends right now.

Link to the blog here and the mini-site here.


The Microsoft Virtual Academy architect training

The free online training resource provides the equivalent of a day’s training about one of many architecture processes and using it to scope Microsoft product based solutions.  There’s a lot of pre-sales content in there, but if you’re not interested in that it’s worth skipping through to learn about generic architecture concepts.

I wouldn’t call it enterprise architect training like Microsoft have, but for someone in the Microsoft technology space and new for the IT architect world it’s a good resource:

Link to the training course here.

Significant licensing changes in SQL Server 2014

Thanks to Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet’s tweet earlier (@maryjofoley) I’ve just read the SQL Server 2014 Licensing Datasheet and confirmed there’s two significant licensing changes for SQL Server 2014.


More memory in standard edition

Although we rarely see standard edition used in tier-1 deployments now, in SQL Server 2014 the database engine can support 128GB of memory.  This is an increase from 64GB, that was often seen as too low a ceiling for modern deployments – although we could discuss whether that’s right or wrong for several hours.


High availability deployments now require Software Assurance

This change sneaked in but it’s there in the licensing data sheet.  For now I’m just going to draw your attention to it and let the community digest.

Licensing for High Availability

SQL Server software can be configured so that if one server fails, its processing will be picked up, recovered and continued by another server. Beginning with SQL Server 2014, each active server licensed with SA coverage allows the installation of a single passive server used for fail-over support.

  • The passive secondary server used for failover support does not need to be separately licensed for SQL Server as long as it is truly passive. If it is serving data, such as reports to clients running active SQL Server workloads, or performing any “work” such as additional backups  from secondary servers, then it must be licensed for SQL Server.
  • The active server license (s) must be covered with SA, and allow for one passive secondary SQL Server, with up to the same amount of compute as the licensed active server, only.  

You can download the licensing guide (it’s only a 3 page document) from here.


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