What distinguishes microservices from other types of software? Here we cover the main characteristics that make microservices so successful compared with other methodologies. Take a look!
The history of software development is littered with stories of large development projects. However, after an investment of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of software developer’s hours, and with many of the best and brightest minds in the industry at work, they have somehow never managed to generate anything of value for their customers and have collapsed under their own complexity.
These gigantic projects tended to follow waterfall methodologies which insisted that all requirements and application design had to be defined at the beginning of the project. So much emphasis was placed on getting all the software specifications right that there was little scope for meeting new business requirements or refactoring and learning from mistakes made in the early stages of development.
However, the reality is that software development is not a linear process of definition and execution but rather an evolutionary one that takes several iterations of communication, learning, and delivery to the customer before the development team really understands the problem.
Problems to consider when using a traditional methodology
To compound the challenges of using traditional methodologies, many times, the granularity of software artifacts creates the following problems:
Tightly coupled systems: Invocation of business logic is done at the programming language level rather than through protocols such as SOAP and REST. This greatly increases the possibility that even a small change to one component of the application can break other parts of the application and introduce new bugs.
Hidden dependencies: Most large software applications manage different types of data. For example, a customer relationship management (CRM) application may manage customer, sales, and product information. In a traditional model, this data is maintained in the same data model and within the same data warehouse. Although there are obvious boundaries between data, too often it is tempting to go outside a domain to directly access data that belongs to another team. This easy access to data creates hidden dependencies and allows implementation details of a component’s internal data structures to leak throughout the entire application. Even small changes to a single database table can require a significant number of code changes and regression tests throughout the application.
Monolithic: Because most of the components of a traditional application reside in a single code base that is shared among multiple teams, every time a change is made to the code, the entire application must be recompiled, rerun through a full test cycle, and redeployed. Even small changes to the application codebase, whether they be new customer requirements or bug fixes, become costly and time-consuming, and large changes become nearly impossible to make in a timely manner.
What distinguishes microservices from other types of software?
A microservices-based architecture takes a different approach to delivering functionality. Specifically, microservices-based architectures have these characteristics:
Restricted: Microservices have a single set of responsibilities and are limited in scope. Microservices adopt the UNIX philosophy that an application is nothing more than a collection of services where each service does one thing and does that one thing really well.
Loosely coupled: A microservices-based application is a collection of small services that only interact with each other through a specification and not implementation. Each microservice has a well-defined interface, using a non-proprietary invocation protocol (e.g., HTTP and REST). As long as the service interface does not change, microservice owners have more freedom to make modifications to the service than in a traditional application architecture.
Abstraction: Microservices fully own their data structures and data sources. Data belonging to a microservice can only be modified by that service. Access control to the database containing the microservice’s data can be blocked to allow only the service to access it.
Independent: Each microservice in a microservice application can be compiled and deployed independently of the other services used in the application. This means that changes can be isolated and tested much more easily than with a monolithic application.
Why are these attributes of microservices architectures important for cloud-based development? Cloud-based applications generally have:
A large and diverse user base: Different customers want different features and don’t want to have to wait for a long application release cycle before they can start using these features. Microservices allow features to be delivered quickly because each service has a small scope and is accessed through a well-defined interface.
Extremely high uptime requirements: Due to the decentralized nature of microservices, microservice-based applications can isolate faults and problems more easily. This reduces the overall downtime of applications and makes them more resilient to problems.
Uneven volume requirements: Traditional applications deployed within the four walls of a corporate data center generally have consistent usage patterns that emerge over time. This simplifies capacity planning for these types of applications. But in a cloud-based application, a simple tweet on Twitter can drive demand for Clouds.
Because microservices applications are broken down into small components that can be deployed independently of each other, it is much easier to focus on the components that are under load and scale those components horizontally across multiple servers in a Cloud.
Critical roles for a successful microservices development
While it takes more than technical staff to deliver a complete application, I believe the foundation for successful microservices development starts with the perspectives of three important roles:
Architects: Their job is to see the big picture and understand how an application can be decomposed into individual microservices and how the microservices will interact to deliver a solution.
Software developers: They write the code and understand in detail how the language and language development frameworks will work.
DevOps engineers: They provide intelligence on how services are deployed and managed, not only in production but also across environments. The keywords for DevOps engineers are consistency and repeatability across environments.
Taking the big step
We are in the nascent stages of architecture transformation, where only the most forward-thinking organizations have taken steps towards modernization. Companies that have successfully integrated continuous innovation into their business operations have altered the way they deploy enterprise software.
So be ready to take into account all the new architectures that are emerging nowadays. Microservices could help your organization make the necessary changes to stay on the path of innovation.
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