Lessons Learned From a Sank Swedish Warship in 1628 – For IT and Cloud Architects

The Vasa, is a retired Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1628. The Vasa ship was one of the highest projects of the time, with hundreds of decorative, gold-plated and painted carvings depicting historical themes. It was meant to be the most impressive ship and no cost was spared.

Nevertheless, the Vasa ship had barely left the docks of Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage. Only 1300m into its voyage, a light gust of wind toppled the ship over on its side. As water flooded through the gun portals of the ship, it sank in the shallow waters of Stockholm harbor.

The factors that contributed to the failure of the Vasa ship are plentiful:

  1. Unreasonable time pressure
  2. Changing specifications and lack of documentation or project plan
  3. Over-engineering and innovation
  4. Lack of scientific methods and reasoning

Similarly,  in IT solutions and projects the same is applicable. For instance, high performance can be a key requirement expected from the proposed technology solution architecture. At the same time, this architecture must offer high scalability and availability. Technically high performance and high scalability may not be always an achievable goal at its maximum, in which the architect needs to highlight the risk as well as the associated cost etc. to achieve the acceptable level, of these two architecture attributes and then can discuss it with the business/stakeholders to get the buy-in from them first. The architect, may find that high performance with limited level of scalability is what actually the business need and not the maximum of both.

On the other hand, having five 9s of availability technically is achievable with the proposed architecture, however, building and operating such solution can increase the cost (CAPEX and OPEX) significantly to a level where the architecture won’t be affordable by the business. While the business/stakeholders might find that three 9s, of availability is still acceptable for them as well as, will keep the project cost within the budget.

Understanding and analyzing the technical tradeoffs of proposed architecture and its attributes is important to make architecture decisions. Nevertheless, one of the biggest tradeoffs in large complex solutions architecture is related to economics.

Almost always, the most of the focus of finances or economics has usually been on cost of building the solution (CAPEX), while the costs on the longer term of operating the solution is given less weight. Therefore, the benefits that an architectural decision that’s takes into consideration the entire solution lifecycle, can bring to the business stakeholders are even more important than the (CAPEX) costs.

In the end, it all about feasibility of the proposed architecture as well as, ensuring the proposed solution is technically achievable (e.g. performance Vs. scalability) without compromising the expected business benefit(s) to achieve certain business objectives.




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Marwan Al-shawi – CCDE No. 20130066, Google Cloud Certified Architect, AWS Certified Solutions Architect, Cisco Press author (author of the Top Cisco Certifications’ Design Books “CCDE Study Guide and the upcoming CCDP Arch 4th Edition”). He is Experienced Technical Architect. Marwan has been in the networking industry for more than 12 years and has been involved in architecting, designing, and implementing various large-scale networks, some of which are global service provider-grade networks. Marwan holds a Master of Science degree in internetworking from the University of Technology, Sydney. Marwan enjoys helping and assessing others, Therefore, he was selected as a Cisco Designated VIP by the Cisco Support Community (CSC) (official Cisco Systems forums) in 2012, and by the Solutions and Architectures subcommunity in 2014. In addition, Marwan was selected as a member of the Cisco Champions program in 2015 and 2016.