Today we are living in a global pandemic that has left almost no corner of our lives untouched. One of the biggest changes it has brought is a shift to remote work and a higher reliance on digital technology in our daily lives. This acceleration to a digital-first world is being experienced by many companies,  governments, and non-government organizations alike. This has necessitated revisiting and adapting to how we build and deploy the software that runs it all.

While today’s pandemic is what we see and think about daily,  I have been thinking back to a different crisis we faced in 2008 when a global financial crisis cascaded across the world. Governments then discovered that some of the world’s largest banks had become enormous entities, with so many different financial functions and companies relying on their success. When the financial crisis hit, these banks needed to be preserved, or else they could cause devastation to the entire economic system.

Monolithic software can have that same effect on a company. Traditional software development is steeped in a monolithic architecture, with multiple functions housed in one software application. While this structure has its benefits, it can be extremely complex to manage correctly. One error in code can take the whole system down. The cost to a business could be catastrophic.

While monolithic systems have their place in software architecture, in today's agile environment, a company that relies solely on a monolithic system may not be able to adapt to rapid change and stay ahead of the competition.

However, the development of microservices gives companies more choice in how they structure their software systems. Microservices help companies create applications that are easier to deploy and maintain, allowing them to be more agile. To understand how they do that, let's examine the two types of architectures.

What is monolithic software?

Monolithic software contains all of its functionality interwoven into a single framework. This system is beneficial in part because:

  • It creates fewer cross-cutting concerns because different modules like caching, error-handling and batch processing are built on a single code base.
  • Modules share memory access, which creates faster communication between processes and better throughput performance.

What are the issues with monolithic systems?

While a monolithic system allows for business functions to communicate more easily with each other, it also has its own set of complexities that can slow a business down:

  • It runs on a single code base, so developers need to understand how the entire system is coded.
  • Changes take considerable time and money because when a change is necessary to one application, the entire system needs to be updated and redeployed.
  • Scaling is more complex because all applications need to be scaled in tandem.
  • When new technologies emerge, they can't be written into monolithic applications without a complete rewrite of the system.
  • Digital transformation requires a greater financial investment.

For example, say you have an e-commerce website that sells direct-to-consumer and also via Amazon's Associate program. Demand for selling products from affiliates rises and is now three times that of your own website. To support this demand, you need to scale just one node in your monolithic software, but you can't. In a monolithic system, if you scale one node, you have to scale them all, even if other functions are still capable of serving your organization's needs.  

The development of microservices has enabled companies to move beyond their dependency on a centralized architecture and has enhanced their ability to compete within the market.

What are microservices?

Microservices are applications that allow functional modules to be independent of each other, but they still provide the capability for them to easily communicate with each other through . Essentially, they allow companies a plug and play capability with the functions in its framework.  

How can microservices help?

Microservices have many advantages:

  • Flexibility in deployment and updating. Components are independent of each other, so they can be deployed and updated independently, rather than changing an entire system.
  • Developer learning curves are less steep, which allows for more effective project execution.
  • Faster, more appropriate scaling. When you need to scale just one element of your system, a microservice framework makes it possible to scale specific modules independently rather than scaling whole system.
  • Easier adoption of new technologies. When new technology improves one module, you can implement it on that module quickly without disturbing the functionality of other modules.
  • Business units can create and implement new applications that are relevant to their functions rather than upgrading the organization's entire system.

In short, microservices allow companies to be more agile, scale more quickly, and more importantly, have architecture that doesn't become so big that it bogs down a company and prevents them from being able to quickly adapt to competitive challenges in the marketplace.

Why are microservices important to software delivery?

Microservices improve software design and delivery in a number of ways.

  • Each service can have its own development team. Instead of one large development team, a microservice team can be in proportion to the needs of the microservice.
  • Teams manage less code, so they can master it faster, find bugs more quickly and manage code quality more effectively.
  • Teams can work in parallel, which allows them to iterate quickly and scale faster.

More importantly, one component can't take down the entire application. If a component fails or needs an upgrade, it can be done without having to take the entire system offline.

Considerations when deploying microservices

The development of microservices allows companies to have more choice in their architecture systems, yet implementation and deployment do take careful planning to ensure success. A successful microservice implementation does require financial investment in the set-up process, and it needs a carefully planned and managed release pipeline in order to maximize the effectiveness of the system. Working with the proper team and partners can be your best bet at developing an architecture that will allow your company to grow efficiently and better adapt to future technology needs.