Understanding microservices can be like learning a new language. Anyone outside the IT department — and even outside the programming team — is likely unfamiliar with this term, leading to a lost-in-translation moment when connecting it to “real-world” business applications.
When done successfully, microservices unlock a new way to support and advance core business functions, making it more manageable to code and update the software making your operations tick.
We’re busting through the technical jargon and insider speak to map the advantages of modern microservice architecture, specifically why it paves the road to real digital transformation at your organization.
First Things First: What Are Microservices?
Microservice architecture is a programming project methodology that breaks down large pieces of code into much smaller, more specific chunks. Those chunks are organized based on tasks, meaning lines of code are grouped according to a specific software task or business function it directs (e.g., customer order management, payment processing, etc.).
The reason behind microservices is simplification. It helps your programming team to approach large, complex software development or adjustment projects. Rather than assigning millions of lines of code for the team to write or review at once — and hope no one messes up — microservices lets you break apart and organize code into bite-sized task groups, then assign programmers to work on that and only that specific group.
Microservices are a direct response to the traditional coding and programming environment known as a monolith. Organizations that employ a microservice architecture are sometimes referred to as “modularized,” i.e., running a modular software ecosystem.
Think of microservices and their APIs as a pile of legos and the traditional monolithic coding style as a lump of playdoh. With legos, you can break apart and rework smaller groups of pieces, then put them back together without destroying the whole. With playdoh, it takes much more finesse to alter just a tiny portion without damaging the larger design.
Advantages of a Microservice
Today, there’s a strong business case for changing to a microservice-defined rather than monolithic architecture. In fact, the impact and advantages of making that switch are felt by more than just programmers.
The microservice, or modular, architecture is designed to make writing, tweaking, testing and managing software code easier. With a modular architecture, programmers have an easier time building, testing and maintaining applications because they’re comprised of smaller code fragments. Those fragments themselves still regularly communicate through the use of your pre-existing APIs, yet aren’t nearly as around-the-clock reliant on one another to work.
In a monolith architecture, if one code component fails, the entire task’s application goes down. Think of a glitch in your customer/client log-in page that ends up disrupting the user’s order history, payment processing and transaction management. With a microservice architecture, your programmers can review and fix lines of code related only to running your log-in page, preserving the functionality of the rest.
Microservices can also improve the quality of your code itself. Consider the effects this style of coding has on your programming and IT team. Rather than have gigantic loads of code dumped on them to improve a piece of software underpinning an entire business process, programmers receive smaller, task-specific assignments to tweak and tailor. They’re better able to focus on their assignment, resulting in simpler testing scenarios, fewer errors and more sophisticated final code.
This approach has positive effects across your organization. Programmers themselves feel less pressure to rush work, while employees working in the department whose software is being reworked can better manage expectations and keep up departmental outputs. Overall, that sense of urgency, stress and existential project gravity is reduced into something far more manageable.
Programmers in a microservice architecture can use different programming languages across projects and software environments. Because specific programming languages are best suited for different business functions, your IT team is free to pick the best coding language that’ll translate into supporting the best business applications.
That’s not the only flexibility microservices allow. Microservices are well suited to containerization which can assure a piece of software will function identically regardless of its environment. This results in user-friendly, accessible software all departmental employees can use, as well as more scalable tech solutions that grow and adapt as you do without forcing your programmers to rework your entire data and software ecosystem.
4. Risk Management
Given its modular makeup, one failure in a chunk of code will not trigger an entire application to fail. In the tech world, this is known as failure isolation, and microservice architecture has a big leg up here compared to its monolithic cousin.
Programmers no longer have to manually scour mountains of code to identify the source of an error manipulating the whole. With modularity, teams can dissect smaller code groups to find a bug or glitch quickly, as well as expand memory components of one poorly functioning portion without having to temporarily take down the whole.
Modular architecture is innately more collaborative than other types of programming frameworks. In fact, its entire model operates under a collaborative system yet alleviates much of the pressure and perfectionism latent in coding.
Managers can split large coding projects up amongst individuals and teams. Those teams only have to focus on their portion of the overall program, then compile the pieces back together. The results are more specialized, advanced end products without the stress and headaches associated with individual large project oversight.
Modular ecosystems let organizations mix and match code and program components that have proven themselves successful. Since code is already divided into organized categories with specific functions, there’s no need to keep reinventing and writing fresh pieces every time there’s a changing business need.
That reusability has no shelf-life and can play out across the years. As your business grows, alters its products or services or reworks its IT infrastructure, you can roll over the program features and controls you need without constantly reinventing the wheel.
7. Digitally Transformative
Digital transformation is one of those business buzzwords dropped when organizations attempt to improve the way they use technology. Often, digital transformation plans get muddled somewhere between ideation and implementation, leaving employees to assemble the operational pieces with one hand tied to the past and the other pulled towards a confusing future.
Microservice architecture is one of the best ways to connect the dots between behind-the-scenes programming and business deliverables. Development teams understand the bigger picture behind their work, while other departments see the technical side of coding and programming as instrumental to their own jobs and final products. The organization transforms from ad-hoc, siloed and sometimes static workloads to cohesive, interdependent capabilities maximizing business functions, bringing convenience and ease to all.
Disadvantages of Microservice Architecture and Modularity
Like any process change, there are limitations to using a microservice architecture — particularly during early stages when developers and programmers are making the switch.
Testing changes to code can require greater coordination with a modular system.
Consider the lego analogy from above. To build a better final lego creation, you must first ensure individual lego pieces are intact. Then, you must test the interdependent features of your lego design, confirming each chunk is sound and secure. Only then can you move onto putting together and testing the final assembly.
Modular programming architecture works similarly to this. Developers are tasked with ensuring both the smaller code chunks and its interdependent functions run error-free and in congruence with other enterprise technologies. Only then can they confirm the success of the whole, a longer effort which is evident in most distributed systems.
Given its fragmented architecture, microservice bugs can be more difficult to track down. Doing so often requires pouring through code log after log after log, with each log dedicated to a particular business function or service.
Since many organizations using modular microservice infrastructure regularly manage hundred of such chunked services, that means hundred of individual logs to analyze. Luckily, technology can ease this burden through distributed tracing tools which can help combine log statements as they cross service boundaries. The downside, here, is that additional tooling for aggregated logging and distributed tracing become a de facto requirement to support microservice architectures.
3. Suitable Company Size
There’s a reason companies like Netflix, PayPayl and Twitter are advocates of microservice architecture. They’re huge organizations with near-unimaginable amounts of task-based code groups necessary to perform even their most basic functions. For example, to display one product page after a search, Amazon must coordinate between 100-150 cohesive coded services — all to show you the grilling tongs you want for Christmas.
Smaller organizations or startups may find it challenging to invest the resources necessary to support this level of code organization, as well as manage the layers of its orchestration.
4. Refactoring and Maintenance
Similar to testing and debugging hurdles, microservice architecture can also be more cumbersome to refactor. With refactoring, the goal is not to change a software’s external behavior but instead improve the existing code itself for features like enhanced organization, readability or scalability.
Given code is broken up into hundreds of pieces, refactoring is no longer as simple as logging into your integrated development environment (IDE for short; the application programmers use to develop software) and moving things around with a few clicks. Instead, programming teams will have to consolidate individual service chunks, then harmoniously tweak and tailor non-external-behavior code. Some of this pain can be avoided by creating the proper boundaries around your microservices, thus isolating functions to be changed. It is impossible, however, to completely eliminate upstream and downstream effects so team coordination is always necessary.
Think of refactoring and restructural maintenance like rearranging the furniture in a room. The goal isn’t to change the function of the room (i.e., it’s external behavior), but to better that room’s flow and arrangement. With a monolith architecture, all necessary furniture sits in the room already. With a microservice architecture, though, those pieces of furniture may be scattered throughout the house and require a few helping hands to cart it in before you’re able to “refactor” for optimal organization.
While there are a handful of additional technical concerns that come with microservices as compared to monoliths, organizations must ultimately decide for themselves which programming framework is right for them. Research similarly-sized organizations in your industry to see who uses which system to begin vetting use cases and benefits. You might also consider working with a cloud-native application developer or a similar consultant to receive personalized information on the pros and cons of both kinds of architecture for your operations.
Real Examples of Successful Microservice Architecture
Consider these examples of businesses successfully implementing microservice architecture to solve product or service issues, as well as streamline the management of overall business functions.
Netflix has been heralding microservice architectural’s operational and business advantages for years. As the company shifted away from its home-delivered DVD service to the on-demand video-streaming behemoth we know today, its development model shifted as well.
In late 2011, Netflix moved fully to the cloud and broke its monolithic architecture into hundreds of micro-programs and applications. Each program came with a small team tasked with end-to-end management of streaming program deployments, managing its own individual data stores, running separate builds and mastering the modular hack of writing all code in a microservice at identical levels of maturity.
Netflix is now seen by many as one of the most successful adopters of modern microservice architecture and an example to emulate. Netflix IT leaders regularly speak publically on their microservice philosophy and practices, sharing insights and instructions with other enterprises.
The popular ride-hailing app (and frequently cited posterchild of Silicon Valley-style industry disruption) didn’t start out with a modular coding system. A few years ago, though, it made the switch, driven largely by its business growth.
As the app expanded into dozens of cities beyond San Francisco, it needed a burgeoning, flexible system to manage its rapidly growing billings, payment and geo-based driver-rider connection services. A monolithic framework wasn’t going to cut it. Couplings became too complicated, and no changes could be made to the codebase without disrupting entire features of the app.
Uber now manages roughly a dozen major categories of microservice projects for core functions, from users to currency and exchange rate payments. Each major category is broken down into smaller modular frameworks, mirroring microservice best practices of scalable, separate data layers.
Amazon ushered in a new mode of shopping, reviewing, rating and recommending products that is now so ubiquitous that many modern consumers take it for granted. While revolutionary, this expectation for endless-aisle online shopping with personalized recommendations and plenty of crowdsourced feedback requires a tremendous amount of cohesive data services — sometimes as much as 100-150 running on a single page.
Amazon answered this functional servicing question by converting to a decentralized, fully distributed multi-service platform able to house more items, receive more orders and maintain more user accounts. Given the sheer size of Amazon’s operations and the number of services and business functions it manages, the company uses six application platforms, including C++, Java, Jboss and Perl/Mason to do so. It also spearheaded one of the largest and most dynamic web-based service software suites available today, which it packages and sells to others as the commercial cloud-computing solution, Amazon Web Services (AWS).
How Can Your Organization Use Microservice Architecture?
Modern IT infrastructure can be the key differentiator between you and your competitors. Plus, using the latest, most adaptive software platforms and environments makes everyone’s roles easier.
Turn to the experts when you’re considering updating your IT infrastructure. From cloud integrations to container services, application automation and so much more, Oteemo’s consultants are ready to optimize the work your teams already perform — and the name you’ve made for yourself. Reach out for more information on microservice-guided digital transformation for your enterprise today.