As the digital age continues to evolve, many businesses are opting to work smarter, not harder, with microservices-based software. Microservices have been the buzz of the tech industry since the term was first coined in 2011. In the years following, microservices have become the new norm, powering many of the applications we use every day (Netflix, Spotify, eBay, and Amazon, just to name a few).
As knowledge of the multitude of microservice architecture benefits reaches the mainstream, companies of all sizes have jumped on the bandwagon in pursuit of a more flexible, scalable alternative to traditional monolithic architectures. In fact, a study conducted by Bernd Rücker found that 63% percent of 354 businesses questioned stated they were looking into microservices. But before delving into what microservices are, it may be helpful to discuss what they are not:
Monolithic applications are built as a single entity, combining the user interface, business logic and data interface into a single program. Each component is intertwined and dependent upon the others. Though the monolithic approach is falling out of fashion in some areas, a monolithic architecture may still be the right choice – depending on the particular needs of the business.
Monolithic Architecture Benefits
Monolithic applications are often less demanding to develop than their microservice counterparts, making them a great choice for the earlier stages of a business. Microservices-based architecture is reliant on numerous components communicating across numerous machines, making testing a challenge. Monolithic apps are more straightforward than microservices, and since they rely on only themselves, they’re far easier to test (when they’re kept small).
Another benefit to monolithic applications is simplicity. Complexity, where it isn’t needed, tends to result in slower loading speeds and overall poor performance, making monolithic architecture a better choice for some small-scale apps.
Drawbacks of Monolithic Architecture
While monolithic structures do have their benefits, they aren’t without their flaws. Monolithic programs work great when they are kept simple, but once they grow too large or reach a certain level of complexity, they become more and more challenging to manage. The more you add, the less control over the program you have.
The code in monolithic architecture often ends up difficult to understand, which makes editing risky and onboarding new developers a lengthy, arduous process. Since everything in a monolith is interdependent, a single bug could take the whole app down, and individual components can’t be changed without impacting the entire app. All of this results in increasingly slower updates, higher expenses, and diminished scalability as time goes on.
So, What Are Microservices Anyway?
Microservices have quickly grown in popularity as the modular, adaptable alternative to monolithic architecture. Aptly named, microservices are comprised of small, independently deployable services in communication with one another. Each service runs its own process to perform one well-defined task. By breaking the software down into smaller, separate pieces, it becomes far easier to manage – especially as the software grows.
Microservice Architecture Benefits
Microservices came about as a way to solve the problems developers faced with monolithic applications. Perhaps the greatest of the microservice architecture benefits is that they make dense, complicated applications far easier to handle. Coders don’t need to understand the ins and outs of every aspect of a microservices application, just the component(s) they’re working on. Because of this, onboarding isn’t impacted too heavily by how expansive the application becomes.
Applications built with microservices architecture are far less likely to fail in general; they allow coders to edit and debug individual components without impacting the others. It’s also much easier to spot a bug and perform maintenance when you know exactly which portion of the software it comes from.
For those planning to scale their software, microservices architecture is almost always the best way to go. Microservices free developers from the all-or-nothing way of scaling monoliths. Adding a new capability is often as simple as creating a new microservice, radically reducing the time it takes to make upgrades. With this approach, developers can make smarter decisions around scaling; they can focus on scaling the most important capabilities without affecting the others. In the highly competitive technological landscape, fast turnaround on updates is no longer an edge, it’s an expectation (and a hard one to meet with monolithic architecture).
One of the more abstract microservice architecture benefits is the size of the teams likely to be working on the application. In many software companies, developers are split into teams based on the microservice they work with. These small teams tend to work faster, smarter, and with fewer miscommunications than their larger counterparts. Since they focus on one area of expertise, they also tend to be more knowledgeable on their piece of the app (whereas in one large team, everyone needs to understand everything).
Drawbacks of Microservices
Though the microservice architecture benefits are staggering, they do pose some challenges. For starters, having multiple different services makes the software more complex than a monolithic approach with only one. This can be an issue if you don’t have an adept team to manage them.
In the long run, microservices are typically less expensive than monolithic software with the same capabilities – but not in the beginning. Each microservice has its own network and computing requirements, and getting the pieces to communicate with each other has its expenses. But again, once scaling comes into play, microservices tend to be the most cost-effective route.
Though it’s not an issue with the software, another major drawback to microservices is that they can require a complete overhaul of organizational culture. Companies used to building and maintaining monoliths may have to completely restructure how they work; breaking into smaller teams, trading in generalized knowledge for specialization, and rethinking how they communicate across departments.
How to Choose?
When to Use Monolithic Architecture
Despite their drawbacks, in many instances, monolithic architectures are preferable to microservices. This is true when you are working with a small team with fairly straightforward business needs. Not every business needs a flexible, scalable application, and for those who don’t, monolithic software is an excellent choice.
When to Use Microservices
Microservices are the way to go for complex software; unlike a monolith, increasing complexity here won’t impact the integrity of the application. If scaling the application is a possibility, then once again, microservices are the way to go. The caveat is that microservice architecture is difficult to build well, so they are best reserved for highly skilled teams.
Why Netflix Made The Switch
Netflix as we know it couldn’t exist without microservices, a reality they learned the hard way in 2008. Back when they ran on monolithic software, one error resulted in a mammoth database corruption, causing a 3-day delay in DVD shipments. This wasn’t due to negligence on Netflix’s part; the infrastructure just wasn’t capable of fostering that much growth. In response to the issue, and knowing more would come if the app were to continue gaining users, Netflix became one of the first major companies to switch to an AWS cloud-based microservice.
Now, a separate service handles each aspect of Netflix’s application. This allows Netflix to update pieces of their service without shutting the whole system down, and most importantly, it allows them to add as many new users as they please.
If Netflix had chosen to buckle down on their monolith and continue scaling it to keep up with their growing audience, the costs would have been enormous. Unlike the microservice-based architecture they currently use, it isn’t possible to scale just the pieces of software impacted by the number of users with a monolith – they would have had to scale everything. Needless to say, without switching to microservices, it’s hard to imagine how Netflix could get to the nearly 2 million users they have today.
Build Smarter With Vice Software
Arguably the hardest part of getting a microservice-based application is finding the right people to build it – our team of skilled developers has you covered. With Vice Software, you don’t need to choose between quality, time and price. One of the greatest microservice architecture benefits is that they allow for a lean development methodology. In short, that means we start by building only what you need, so we can bring you an incredible application without ridiculous upfront costs and years of development. Intrigued? Contact us for a quote today!