At some point every company feels weighed down by monolithic architecture, systems, and apps. Your software development process slows down, it’s harder (or impossible) to build modern products or features, and your company's services are vulnerable to threat, fragile, and slow. Microservices offer a pathway to scalability, resilience, and faster time-to-market, no matter how stuck you feel with your current architecture and software development process.
The first step is to adopt a service oriented architecture (SOA). Start building modular services that can be contained and scaled individually. Do it for one thing, get the hang of it, and then you can wrap your mind around retooling your whole tech stack with microservices. It’ll take time, investment, and cultural adoption to get right but it’s worth it. You’ll deliver better experiences to your end users, increase the speed of software development, and have a flexible foundation to grow from.
Sounds easy, right? Like anything worth doing, it’s a simple concept to say out loud but complicated to do. Here’s an overview of microservices, the world’s most successful brands that use them, and how they can improve everything from your DevOps to customer experience.
What are microservices?
Microservices are an architectural and organizational approach in modern application development (MAD) that structures an application as a collection of small, loosely coupled, and independently deployable services.
Each microservice is responsible for a specific functionality, encapsulating a well-defined domain within the larger application. The microservices communicate with each other using lightweight protocols such as HTTP, REST APIs, or messaging queues. With an ecosystem of microservices, everything from your infrastructure to customer-facing products gets more flexible, simpler to maintain, and more resilient.
Global enterprises that use microservices
Even the most successful companies in the world can get stuck building all their software on a single slow-moving web app. Take Airbnb for example – they ended up with a bloated monolith powering their global service. It was a single point of failure that slowed down engineers, and prevented them from providing the best customer experience. In 2018 they launched a company-wide initiative to migrate their tech stack to a service oriented architecture (SOA).
They’ve had a lot of success and are still evolving their SOA. Once adopted, a microservices approach to software development is an ongoing process with benefits and challenges along the way. Here’s a quick look at the companies that show it’s possible to adopt and build microservices architecture no matter how far along and invested you are – at any scale.
- Airbnb – To accommodate its growing user base and diverse range of services, Airbnb transitioned from a monolithic Ruby on Rails application to a microservices architecture. This change enabled the company to scale services independently, improve system performance, and accelerate development cycles.
- Netflix – One of the early adopters of microservices, Netflix transitioned from a monolithic architecture to a microservices-based approach to support its massive global user base. This made the growing demand for streaming services easier to meet. Thanks to microservices, Netflix scaled its products independently, improved fault tolerance (crucial for streaming services), and sped up software development and deployment.
- Amazon – Amazon adopted microservices to cope with the complexities of its large-scale e-commerce platform. If everything from Prime Video to their marketplace depended on the same tech team, it wouldn’t be possible to differentiate and grow each experience. Microservices allowed Amazon to scale services individually, accelerate innovation, and improve overall system reliability.
- Uber – Uber is the classic rapid growth story – with expansion into new markets happening in an extremely short time. Uber couldn’t run its ride-hailing platform on a monolith, so they used a scalable and flexible architecture. By adopting microservices, Uber could develop and deploy features quickly, scale services based on demand, and maintain a high level of system reliability across a virtually unlimited number of new markets.
- Spotify – Spotify employs a microservices-based architecture to support its vast catalog of music and millions of users worldwide. Microservices enable Spotify’s product engineering teams to scale services, manage complex data requirements, and deliver a seamless experience to users across different platforms.
What kind of technology powers a microservices approach?
There’s a wide array of tech that makes a microservices approach possible – from Kubernetes to your choice of cloud platform. Every company ends up with a different technology mix but there are some consistent frameworks, tools, and platforms that make it possible anywhere.
- Containerization – Containerization tools like Docker and container orchestration platforms like Kubernetes are essential for packaging, deploying, and managing microservices. Containers provide an isolated environment for each microservice to run – ensuring consistency across development, testing, and production stages.
- API gateways – An API Gateway is a single entry point for external consumers to access various microservices. It can handle tasks like request routing, load balancing, authentication, and rate limiting. Popular API gateways include Amazon API Gateway, Kong, and Apigee.
- Service mesh – A service mesh, like Istio or Linkerd, provides an infrastructure layer to handle service-to-service communication, enabling features like load balancing, service discovery, and mutual TLS authentication between microservices.
- Messaging and event streaming – Microservices often use asynchronous communication patterns to minimize coupling between services. Tools like RabbitMQ, Apache Kafka, or Google Cloud Pub/Sub enable message passing and event streaming between services.
- Monitoring and logging – Monitoring and logging tools are crucial for maintaining the health and performance of microservices. Solutions like Prometheus, Grafana, ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana), and Datadog provide observability and help diagnose issues in a distributed system.
- CI/CD and DevOps – Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, enabled by tools like Jenkins, GitLab, and GitHub Actions, allow for faster development, testing, and deployment of microservices. DevOps practices ensure smooth collaboration between development and operations teams.
- Cloud platforms – Cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) offer managed services and infrastructure that facilitate microservices deployment, scaling, and management.
- Service discovery and configuration – Tools like Consul, Etcd, or Apache Zookeeper facilitate service discovery and store configuration data for microservices, allowing them to locate and communicate with each other.
CIOs look for these benefits of microservices
Whether you’re a VP of engineering or the CIO, your goals for implementing microservices will be similar. The modularity of a service based architecture leads to a healthy list of DevOps benefits.
- Virtually unlimited scalability – Microservices enable applications to scale horizontally by deploying more instances of individual services based on demand. This allows for better resource allocation and improved performance under varying loads.
- High availability and fault tolerance – With a microservices architecture, the failure of one service is less likely to impact the entire application, improving resilience and service quality. This is particularly useful in mission-critical systems where downtime can have severe consequences.
- Decoupling and modularity – Microservices promote a modular approach, breaking down complex applications into smaller, independent components. This simplifies development and maintenance by allowing teams to focus on specific functionalities.
- Rapid development and deployment – By breaking an application into smaller services, teams can work on different parts of the application concurrently and deploy updates independently. This accelerates development cycles and enables continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines.
- Polyglot development – Microservices let your teams choose the most suitable programming languages, frameworks, and tools for each service. This opens up use of the best technologies for specific tasks instead of being stuck in an old framework, codebase, or service.
- Integration with external systems – Microservices simplify the process of integrating with third-party services or APIs. They encapsulate the integration logic within dedicated services, making it easier to manage and update.
- Data partitioning and isolation – With microservices, you can partition and isolate your data by service. This reduces the risk of data corruption and enables easier data management, governance, and data security.
- Load balancing and resource optimization – Microservices make it easier to distribute load and optimize resource usage. This gives your DevOps teams better control over the deployment and scale of every service on a case-by-case basis.
- Cross-functional team collaboration – A microservices-based approach promotes cross-functional teams. Imagine having better collaboration between developers, testers, and operations staff. This reduction in friction improves the software development process from end to end.
- Maintainability – Each microservice focuses on a single functionality. That means your codebase remains small and easy to understand. This makes it easier to maintain and update and helps reduce run costs for your suite of applications.
- Legacy system modernization – Microservices can be used to gradually refactor and modernize legacy applications by breaking them down into smaller services and replacing or updating them incrementally. This improves maintainability and enables the adoption of modern technologies without a complete rewrite.
All of that sounds great, right? Well, there are some challenges that keep many companies from adopting microservices. They’re not insurmountable by any means. It’s just important that you can list them off for the CEO and other leaders while planning to mitigate them before they pop up.
Common challenges in adopting microservices
- Increased complexity – Managing a large number of services, their interdependencies, and communication can be complex and requires new skills, tools, and senior software engineers who understand them.
- Data management challenges – Ensuring data consistency and handling transactions across microservices can be difficult and may require adopting new patterns such as eventual consistency and event-driven architectures.
- Security concerns – Implementing proper security measures for communication between services and access control is crucial to maintain a secure environment. It can be easier or harder than securing other systems. Ultimately this depends on having expert resources who know how to effectively secure a microservices architecture
- Monitoring and observability – Comprehensive monitoring and observability tools are necessary to manage the health and performance of a microservices-based application effectively.
- Organizational readiness – Adopting microservices may require a cultural shift in the organization, fostering cross-functional teams, shared ownership (we call this the hard problem in software development), and a DevOps mindset.
- Network latency – Increased communication between services can introduce latency and potential performance issues.
- Skillset and expertise – Implementing microservices requires team members to learn new skills and technologies. Think containerization, cloud platforms, and distributed system design patterns. If you don’t have these people already, you must hire them, which can take a long time.
None of these challenges ultimately stops companies from adopting a microservices approach to software development. The end results of large-scale applications that have high scalability, flexibility, and maintainability make it worth the investment. When it comes down to it, the hardest part about microservices is finding engineering resources who know them.
How do I find someone who builds microservices?
It could take 6-18 months (or longer) to hire an internal team that already knows microservices, APIs, and containers. Meanwhile, you have milestones on your roadmap to hit and there’s no budget to add headcount. That’s why Codingscape exists – we can help you get started with APIs and microservices next quarter.
We get up to speed faster than other firms (or internal recruiting) to start delivering the software you need. Zappos, Twilio, and Veho are just a few companies that trust us to build software. You can schedule a time to talk with us here. No hassle, no expectations, just answers.
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Cole is Codingscape's Content Marketing Strategist & Copywriter.