The world of enterprise software development came of age with the inception of ‘single purpose’ software applications aligned to a specific business function. Accounting programs in the finance domain were a common example. But with time, more applications arrived to spread the benefit of enterprise technology across multiple business functions such as manufacturing, supply chain and inventory management.
ERPs were designed to foster process efficiencies by transmitting information across business functions and collating the same on a central system for actionable decision making. Unfortunately, however, problems started creeping in when businesses customized these applications to cater to their own unique requirements. More often than not, increased customization rendered these applications slow and clunky, since they were too rigid to scale and were not created on open standards. Frequent iterations were a challenge due to the bulky nature of these applications. The IT department that was supposed to incite productivity became the reason for slowness.
Of course, ERPs are just one of many such systems. Other applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems also fit the description perfectly and are equally cumbersome. This class of applications are commonly referred to as monoliths.
From a software lifecycle management perspective, monoliths carry larger risk than smaller applications. Implementation, update, and maintenance of these applications can be a daunting task since there are too many moving parts that require simultaneous attention.
The Shift toward Microservices – Rewiring Software Architectures
Today, businesses mostly revolve around consumers. And it is customer experience that dictates business outcomes. Given this scenario, leading companies have set the standards for instantaneously responsive, personalized, and increasingly predictive real-time services across all customer touchpoints. At the locus of personalized service delivery lies smartphones which have made customers used to continuous improvements in applications instead of long upgrade cycles.
Technologies such as the cloud allows on-demand delivery of application functionalities, database storage, and other IT resources through the web rather than costly on-premise hardware solutions. However, simply shifting a monolith application to the cloud means relocating the same clunky software architecture on a separate system – along with all the shortfalls. So, companies need to focus on building nimble and agile applications that can accurately uphold the differentiation the business provides while continuously enhancing the capabilities they offer. This will allow them to engage customers quickly and meet demands as soon as they appear.
For instance, as Netflix made the switch into an online ‘only’ source, they had to focus on customer experience while ensuring that customers were getting access to personalized selection of content rather than browsing by genre. They must adjust personalized content and how it appears on millions of devices they support. Additionally, they also had to scale the application and content delivery rapidly. Especially with the release of a new show when viewership is expected to spike (take the instance of Orange is the New Black).
So, how did the streaming giant manage to achieve all this? The answer - microservices framework. Slowly but surely, enterprises across industries are adopting microservices which allow software. to be more agile and independently scalable. The pattern allows developers to localize change and reduce impact that might lead to lower availability.
With this architectural style companies have the liberty to deploy application functionalities as discreet lightweight services. These functionalities interact with businesses through a set of well-defined application program interfaces (APIs). This approach works well for most businesses since it allows them to deliver small application changes incrementally, while speeding up delivery and reducing service disruptions. Considering that mobile and other digital applications are extremely dynamic and require frequent updates, microservices prove to be extremely effective there too.
A recent survey reveals that 63% of companies are currently using microservices architecture, out of which 60% are doing so to attain faster turn-around times for new service and product deployments. with another 54% to foster digital transformation and, in the process, drive next-gen applications. It is important to understand that Microservices architecture does not essentially entail cobbling up several software components together. Rather, it involves the seamless functioning of independently deployable application functionalities that can communicate with each other through Application Programming Iinterfaces (APIs). These interfaces allow enterprises to escape monoliths, as they serve as a ´contract’ between microservices.
In order to simplify their transition from a monolith architecture to a micro services framework. , enterprises need to create a strategic transition roadmap right at the start itself. The ideal starting point for the adoption of microservices architecture would be to take an ‘A-B-C’ approach.
- First Abstract: Create a layer of abstraction to access capabilities required to service the customers, employees, partners, and machines – API layer
- Next Build: Align capabilities to leverage the APIs to improve user experience. Untangle the experience from how systems are architected
- Finally Change: Break the back-end services to more manageable microservices
Simplifying the Transition – Overcoming Challenges that Come with Adoption
There’s no denying, microservices are poised to become the default model of software lifecycle management going forward. However, according to a survey from Lightstepa whopping 99% of the organizations have reported that they face challenges when leveraging microservices in software development.
To maintain business agility, each component of a microservices-based architecture should be easy to develop, test, deploy, and release. Automating the entire software development lifecycle includes continuous integration, testing, and delivery (CI/CD) process in microservices. This helps the architecture to perform at full potential in terms of speed and consistency.
The trouble increases manifold when there’s a need to test hundreds of services, their integration, and interdependencies. One way to solve this would be to deploy service virtualization strategy for microservices. It can help provide developers and testers with tools to quickly simulate testing environments of a complex production environment, reduce dependencies and allow ease of integration. IT teams need to take on the responsibility to define the right capabilities (domains) that enable the functionality of a system.
With a microservices architecture that’s driven by APIs an organization might have to keeps track of hundreds of services running simultaneously. In such circumstances, keeping track of even the smallest of the incremental changes in an application is tough. As services are deployed, developers need to embed telemetry and analytics into the platform to simplify operations and change management.
Finally, every team involved in the microservices value chain needs to take responsibility for securing the services since it’s a distributed responsibility. Ensuring that calls are always routed through a secure service API gateway helps in establishing consistent security policies.
In short, teams developing microservices should care about ensuring quality, operating, and securing the service as much as they care about developing it.
While software architecture design might not appeal to all decision-makers across the board, one can’t help but agree that software applications now lie at the core of how a business operates. Their nimbleness, overall performance, and resiliency directly impacts business agility and ultimately revenue.
Microservices represent a radical shift in the way how organizations approach application development while moving to a software-centric model. It’s time that businesses start exploring its potential to redefine the services that they deliver to their customers.