Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization

Igor Izraylevych

8 min read

Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization

Microservices architecture is a crucial piece of cloud-based infrastructure for some of the world’s largest companies, including Amazon, Netflix, eBay, Zoom, Apple, and thousands of others. 

As we start with the most popular examples, let’s have a look at Netflix. During the pandemic, Netflix pulled in another 26 million subscribers, with so many people stuck at home with nothing to do. Netflix acquired millions of these subscribers in Europe, forcing the European Commission to ask the platform to stream in standard definition (SD) rather than HD to prevent broadband networks from crashing across the continent. 

How do Netflix and other tech giants — such as Amazon — cope with massive volumes of customers, streamers, and web visitors? 

The answer is leveraging the advantages of microservices architecture. Businesses can use microservices architecture to scale, making it easier for them to handle millions of customers performing different actions at the same time, such as buying products and services, downloading, and streaming. 

Between 2010 and 2016, Netflix reengineered its cloud-based infrastructure, now using over 700 microservices to operate various features of the streaming giant’s platform. And this is just one example. 

Does your business need to scale application infrastructures? If you haven’t started using microservices architecture, then now is a perfect time. Microservices architecture allows enterprises to scale applications and cloud-based IT infrastructures. 

In this article, we take a closer look at microservices architecture, including microservices architecture principles, and key benefits, compare differences with other solutions and review how companies get started with microservices architecture. 

Introduction to Microservices

Microservices architecture is a framework for developing applications and IT infrastructures. It’s built based on a set of independently deployed, loosely-coupled smaller services that communicate and interact with one another using IT protocol best practices, including SOAP,  REST,  and well-defined APIs (event-driven, asynchronous, and synchronous). 

Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization - photo 2 

Application performance, speed, and scalability are crucial. Companies are handling more traffic internally and from customers than ever before. The pandemic forced every business to take a leap forward. Digital infrastructures struggled to keep up, with millions working from home and online customer demand surging ahead of projections. 

Companies that have been using microservices architecture coped better with increased demand for their applications and platforms. 

A microservice is a bundle of features or processes. Individual microservices are usually part of a much larger application, platform, IT ecosystem, or infrastructure. And yet, each one is independent of other microservice within this ecosystem. 

Individual microservices communicate with one another through fast-paced scalable processes, such as RESTful APIs. In many ways, you can think of microservices like LEGO bricks. Each one is self-contained, yet when put together, you can build anything from a small house with a picket fence and tree in the garden to the Star Wars Death Star. 

Here’s how microservices communicate with one another: 

Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization - photo 3

Source: Microsoft

What is Microservices Architecture? 

Microservices are independent applications within a larger IT infrastructure, distributed ecosystem, and platform-based applications. 

Every microservice runs on its own codebase and is housed in an individual cloud-based server, separate from the other microservices within a company’s IT infrastructure. In most cases, separate teams work on developing and maintaining individual microservices. 

Microservices are small, individual, and independent components of a larger application, platform, or IT ecosystem. Unlike monolithic architectures, microservices scale more effectively and come with numerous upsides for businesses and users. 

The beauty of microservices software and microservices development is each individual microservice can be developed and deployed separately. You don’t need to make changes to the overall infrastructure of a more extensive application. And yet, when microservices work together, they can produce powerful efficiencies, playing important individual roles within scaled cloud-based application ecosystems. 

Here’s a comparison of microservices vs. monolithic application architecture: 

Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization - photo 4

Source: Microsoft

Microservices design means that individual microservices can have separate tech stacks, frameworks, and libraries. Thus, companies can use the most appropriate technology for specific purposes rather than worrying about how this could affect the entire IT infrastructure.  

Microservices architecture is already being used by over 29% of tech business leaders and CIOs, according to a 2020 O’Reilly article. The question is, why are 2/3rds of tech leaders not already using microservices within their IT infrastructures?

How do Microservices work?

Businesses with legacy or overly complicated monolithic applications are increasingly turning to microservices architecture and applications to solve IT challenges. 

Too often, in enterprise IT ecosystems, an overcomplexity can cause problems scaling, maintaining, and updating applications. Alongside the challenges a complicated interconnected network of applications and databases can cause when providing services to customers and ensuring staff stays productive. 

Here’s everything that goes into microservices architecture and microservice-based ecosystems: 

Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization - photo 5

Source: IBM

Although microservices work in isolation, and each operates as a standalone application, they are part of a much larger ecosystem. 

Before organizations start to implement a microservices architecture, they need to create a diagram to understand and assess the various dependencies. Not only between individual components of the microservices architecture but between those components and the broader corporate IT ecosystem. 

Doing this will highlight anything that might prevent microservices from communicating with one another, negatively impacting the application ecosystem. Once you’ve got a clear map of every microservice within this application environment, you can move onto microservices development. 

Many businesses choose to work with dedicated development companies for this. Outsourcing, while ensuring a team works with your own in-house developers, generates massive efficiencies, cost and time savings. External rather than in-house developers, software engineers, and data analysts can more easily understand what needs to be achieved and how to produce the outcomes businesses need. 

What are the key benefits of a Microservices Architecture? 

Building and deploying a microservices architecture generates numerous upsides for businesses, such as the following: 

  1. Access: With modular design, often deployed within containers, microservices are easier to access for those with limited knowledge of coding languages. You don’t always need developers to update them, making them more accessible than complex multi-featured, multi-environment-based applications. 
  2. Isolating errors: Identifying and fixing errors and bugs are significantly easier. When errors occur, developers know where to look, saving time and money. 
  3. Adaptable: Because microservices are loosely coupled and have standardized ways of communicating, they don’t need to share the same codebase or tech stack. Each can be designed in the most effective way for the particular microservice software, making them more efficient. 
  4. Easier to maintain and upgrade: Naturally, this makes maintaining and upgrading/updating microservices easier. You don’t need an entire tech ecosystem, just one small component of something much larger. 
  5. Evolutionary, faster, and scalable: Microservices evolve, operate at faster speeds — thanks to the distributed nature of these ecosystems — and are more scalable. 
  6. Automation: Businesses can implement automation more effectively using microservices architecture and applications. Plus, thanks to infrastructure automation and cloud-based environments, the cost of developing and implementing microservices is significantly easier. 
  7. Integration: Businesses need to integrate microservices and legacy/other systems within the IT ecosystem. Fortunately, microservices integrate easily using SOAP,  REST, and well-defined APIs. 

Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization - photo 6

Microservices architecture allows companies to scale technology more easily, applications run faster, and development, upgrades, and fixing errors is significantly more cost and time effective than monolithic architecture and legacy IT systems. 

How do I get started with Microservices Architecture? 

One of the tech myths that supposedly changed technology forever, and indeed Amazon, is CEO Jeff Bezos’ famous “API Mandate,” which resurfaced online around ten years after Bezos first issued it in 2002. Amazon’s approach was an influential factor amongst tech companies that has contributed to the development of microservices architecture. 

Here’s a copy of the mandate (as close as online sources can get to it): 

  • “All teams will henceforth expose their data and functionality through service interfaces.
  • Teams must communicate with each other through these interfaces.
  • There will be no other form of interprocess communication allowed: no direct linking, no direct reads of another team’s data store, no shared-memory model, and no back-doors whatsoever. The only communication allowed is via service interface calls over the network.
  • It doesn’t matter what technology they use. HTTP,  Corba, Pubsub, custom protocols — doesn’t matter. Bezos doesn’t care.
  • All service interfaces, without exception, must be designed from the ground up to be externalizable. That is to say, the team must plan and design to be able to expose the interface to developers in the outside world. No exceptions.
  • Anyone who doesn’t do this will be fired.”

The following principles are helpful and applicable for companies getting started with microservices architecture:

  • Have a clear mapped out understanding of your entire tech ecosystem and applications; 
  • Document the areas where current software and applications don’t achieve the goals of stakeholders, users, and the business; 
  • Set goals for what exactly you need software and applications in your business to achieve instead, including a breakdown of features and key objectives; 
  • Using this, work with a development company to mind map and plan the ways microservices architecture can more effectively achieve your operational, business, and software objectives. 

Examples of Microservices Architecture 

Some of the world’s biggest companies, including Amazon, Netflix, eBay, Zoom, Apple, and thousands of others, are already using microservices architecture and its principles in complex IT environments. 

Other high-profile examples include Spotify. With over 75 million monthly users, Spotify switched to microservices to reduce dependencies and avoid synchronization. With 600 developers spread across 90 teams and 5 offices, this has generated enormous efficiencies and improved the user experience. 

Gruner + Jahr, a German publishing giant, also switched to microservices and cloud-based vendors, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and GCP, to scale more effectively. 

What’s the difference between Microservices Architecture and SOA? 

Microservices and service-oriented architecture (SOA) have quite a few things in common. Unlike Monolithic architecture, SOA is more user-friendly,  and easier for developers to work with. 

Both SOA and microservices communicate using protocols over a network, such as APIs. However, there are several differences in the way SOA approaches architectural patterns and technology outputs.

In an SOA-designed IT ecosystem, databases are shared. So, if changes to the codebase or database are made, this could impact the entire application. 

Also, microservices are much smaller. Whereas SOAs are often larger and more complicated, an enterprise service bus (ESP) connects various services within the application. All of this makes SOAs more likely to fail and more challenging to scale compared to microservices. 

What’s the difference between Microservices and Monolithic Architecture?

In most cases, Microservices Architecture is compared to Monolithic Architecture, especially when corporations are updating their IT ecosystem and looking for an alternative to help them overcome complex digital challenges. 

Here’s a table comparing some of the most significant differences between the two approaches: 

 

Microservices Architecture Monolithic Architecture
Loosely coupled individual applications/units, communicating through APIs and other channels Single application unit; most legacy applications are designed this way and only communicate with other applications through APIs 
Microservices could have individual UI’s, or be a part of a much larger application. Each has its own codebase, tech stack, team to manage and update, and cloud-based servers Monolithic applications consist of a single UI, one database or data warehouse, and a server-side application. Everything is built using the same codebase and tech stack
Easy to fix errors; developers can quickly identify the cause of any bugs and fix them without hunting through millions of lines of code More difficult to fix errors, as one bug can cause problems for the entire application 
More scalable, faster, agile, and although users may not know what’s in the background, the user experience is consistently better Monolithic applications are usually less scalable, slower, less agile, and it’s more challenging to add new features, make upgrades, and improve the user experience 
Easier to document, making it more straightforward for different development teams to work on and for one team to pick up where another finished When documentation is limited it can be more difficult for third-party developers and development teams to work on and work with monolithic architecture 

 

Here’s a visual comparison of Microservices vs. Monolithic Application architecture: 

Microservices Architecture: A Guide to Sustainable Modernization - photo 7

Source: Microsoft

What’s the difference between Microservices Architecture and an API? 

An API is an application programming interface, a way for different pieces of software, platforms, and databases to talk to one another.  APIs are useful for individual microservices to communicate using protocols, but they aren’t in the same category as microservices architecture. 

A microservice is a small self-contained piece of software. Often part of a group of microservices that interact on one level or another, contributing to the underlying technology of a more extensive application or platform. 

APIs are an integral part of this ecosystem, but a collection of APIs acting as an interface between two or more pieces of monolithic architecture isn’t going to be as robust, agile, scalable, or flexible as microservices-based ecosystems. 

Conclusion

For enterprises wanting to scale, microservices architecture is the way forward. Microservices architecture makes it easier for companies to build or overhaul complex systems, software, and applications without using the monolithic approach. Users and stakeholders find they are more user-friendly, load faster, easier to fix, update, and make software development more cost- and time-effective. 

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Microservices FAQs 

What are Microservices? 

Microservices are small, self-contained software applications. Each has its own codebase, database, and usually a separate tech stack and development team to build and maintain it. Interacting with other microservices using APIs and other protocols, these powerful, agile, fast, and scalable software units can play a role in a larger application or platform. 

What are the advantages of Microservices Architecture? 

Microservices architecture is smaller, more agile, flexible, easier to fix, scale, and more agile than SOA or monolithic architecture. 

How do Microservices work? 

Microservices work in a number of ways, capable of performing a wide range of functions. Each operates from a separate database and communicates using protocols, such as APIs and REST. 

 

Igor Izraylevych