Conceptual Architecture Diagram: Definition & Examples

Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

Computer system design is a difficult task, particularly with the ever-changing needs of today. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the conceptual architecture diagram, what it is, and some examples of how it is used.

Change is Inevitable

Things change. The truth of this statement can be seen in almost anything you choose to consider. Radios became stereos, which turned into entertainment systems; black and white televisions became color televisions, which turned into three-dimensional televisions; and telephones became cell phones, which turned into portable information-gathering devices. But it is no truer than with computer systems, where it is said there is a major shift in technology every eighteen months. But if this is true, how do designers keep on top of it all? How do they make sense of things and move them forward? There is no simple answer, and many techniques come into play. One, in particular, is the conceptual architecture diagram.

What is an Architecture?

An architecture is an overview, either written or pictorial, that describes the components of a system and the relationship between the components of that system. Think of it like the floor plan for a house. It shows you where the walls, windows, and doors are, and their spatial relationships to each other. An architecture presents information at a high level, meaning that it doesn't provide all of the details necessary to construct the system described. Rather, it provides sufficient detail to obtain a basic understanding and facilitate further discussion. For this reason, an architecture is commonly used in the area of system design.

What is a Conceptual Architecture Diagram?

A conceptual architecture diagram is the formal name given to the pictorial representation of the system architecture. It is a drawing, rendering, or map that visually describes, at a high level, the particulars of the system in question. It is composed of differing blocks that represent the components and a series of lines, sometimes with arrows, indicating how the components interact. Its purpose is to provide information that might not easily be conveyed through words alone. Think of them like any street map you've ever seen. They display major buildings, point of interest, and the streets that connect them. We'll take a look at a couple of actual examples in the subsequent sections.

Example One

This example shows the conceptual architecture diagram for a multi-tiered computer system. It consists of the main server cluster at the top, directing servers in the middle, and the individual desktop computers below. Here is the diagram:

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