What are Microservices?

A full explanation including the advantages and challenges


What are Microservices?

To begin to explain microservices it is worth providing a brief explanation of the systems that were used before the development of microservices. Microservices architecture differs from monolithic architecture. A monolithic application is a single unified unit, whilst microservices architecture breaks an application down into a set of smaller, independent services. These services carry out every application process separately from each other. What this means is that each separate service has its own framework, logic, language, and database.

The idea behind microservices is that it allows your development team to work on different services separately without it impacting other services. So, when you want to make a change in one area, the others can continue to run. This means that scaling is much easier than with a monolithic application.

Microservices also offers flexibility in terms of technologies. The microservice approach does not limit developers to a particular framework or language, so the best technology that suits a particular service can be used.

This works extremely well for complex applications that need to scale. Some examples of organisations that use microservices are: Netflix, Amazon, eBay, Groupon, Uber and SoundCloud.

Are Microservices Better Than Monolithic?

Although there is certainly a trend away from monoliths and towards microservices, it may not be right for every business. If your business is small, you are just starting out, or only want to validate an idea, a monolith may be the simplest way to get going. In these instances, you can use a small development team to develop a simple and lightweight application which will be much easier to build, make changes, test, and deploy.

Where microservices architecture is better than monolithic architecture is if your business applications are more complex, if you have multiple teams within your business, if you are looking to grow or scale, or increase productivity.

Microservices offers effective solutions for handling a complicated system of different functions and services within one application. Microservices are ideal when it comes to the platforms covering many user journeys and workflows. Microservices are complex, however and can be almost impossible to implement without hiring Microservices specialists.

Why Go From Monolithic to Microservices?

For most established, larger organisations with complex, evolving applications, microservices suit far better. This is because of the many advantages in using microservices:

Migrating to microservices allows for easier scalability. Because each microservice runs autonomously, it makes it relatively easy to add, remove, update, and scale individual microservices. This can be done without disrupting the other microservices that comprise the application. When demand increases, you only need to upgrade or divert more resources to the microservice affected by the increasing demands.

Microservices allows for better fault isolation. The beauty of microservices is that it is split up into simpler, individual components. This makes it easier to build and maintain applications and to isolate and repair faults without having to shut down the entire application.

Greater flexibility is another huge advantage of microservices architecture vs monolithic architecture. When creating a microservices-based application, we can connect microservices programmed in any language and on any platform. This means greater flexibility to use the programming languages and technologies that best fit the needs of the project and the team.

Better data security is another benefit. Secure APIs are used to connect microservices. A secure API safeguards the data it processes by making sure it’s only accessible to authorised applications, users, and servers. This is particularly useful if your business manages health, financial, or other kinds of confidential information.

What Are the Challenges With Microservices Architecture?

We’ve seen that migrating to microservice architecture can deliver many benefits, however, those benefits do have some challenges associated with them. The real challenge is that Microservices are quite complex to design correctly and to build and so real specialists in the area are required.  

Some challenges to consider are: 

  • Overcoming design complexity: Identifying the correct boundaries and every detail of a microservice. If these are unclear, decomposing your business requirements into specific domains and eventually creating microservices that are sized adequately, is extremely difficult. 
  • Data consistency
  • Testing and monitoring: as with any system, testing and monitoring needs to be undertaken. It’s worth noting that with microservices there are more services to monitor and they also may have been developed using different programming languages.
  • Operational complexity is likely to increase.
  • API quality is paramount. Managing communication between microservices can be hard without using automation and advanced methodologies such as Agile.
  • Team expertise: new skillsets will be required by your development and operational teams. Most failures occur because of poor design and an unprepared development team. If your team does not have experience working with distributed architectures or has not adopted a DevOps culture, it is unlikely to work.

When is the Right Time to Migrate My Monolith Application to Microservices?

Adopting a microservices architecture is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Despite being less and less popular, a monolith has its strong and durable advantages which work better for many use cases. But for many, the question is really when and how to move your existing code to a microservices-based architecture. There are big costs and risks involved in doing so and choosing the right time and approach can make all the difference in maximising a return on your investment.

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