By Arvind Venkatraman, Chief Technology Officer, Congruent Solutions
In the last year, a number of companies, who were laggards when it came to tech adoption, have jumped on the digital bandwagon. One of our customers, who has been using decades-old legacy technology, is eagerly exploring modern alternatives. Every business leader has realized that technology will be the business driver in this decade and beyond.
From my informal survey of business leaders, here are their top needs:
• Lightweight applications: They’re tired of monolithic applications that occupy significant space on the computer and load painfully slowly. Instead, they need lightweight apps that work effortlessly on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.
• Speed-to-market: Leaders no longer want to hire a team and wait three years to see an application in production. They want the app to be deployed immediately and updated constantly.
• Flexibility of development: They also want the flexibility to evolve based on customer feedback.
• Reliability: Customers no longer forgive outages and security breaches. They expect 99.999% uptime. Business leaders also demand this because any downtime can directly impact a tech-powered company’s top line.
The one technological change that can deliver all these benefits and more: Microservices.
What are microservices?
Microservices is the approach of developing a large application in the form of small, loosely coupled services. Each ‘service’ is built around a business function, autonomously developed, independently deployable, and communicates with other services using APIs and HTTP. This renders the entire application lightweight and modular. Therefore, it’s no surprise that over 68% of tech leaders are either using or investigating microservices.
While microservices can make application development cost-effective, secure, and scalable, its impact on performance is what business leaders see as transformative.
How do microservices improve application performance?
To begin with, microservices are lightweight and fast to run. By its very nature, microservices are small, independent services performing a small task. This means that the memory footprint of each service is small, making them lightweight and quick to run. When combined with database caching, clustering, connection pooling, server-side caching, performing background logic asynchronously, etc., you can further optimize the resources needed to run each microservice, significantly improving speed.
It improves resilience, minimizing large-scale application failures. Unlike a monolithic application where the failure of one service adversely affects other components, microservices makes it easier to:
• Isolate failures, as each service works independently
• Identify and resolve root-cause of performance issues
• Rollback an update without redeploying the entire application
However, since the services communicate on a network, which can be unreliable, you need to be careful about how your architecture is built. Ensure that the microservices are fault-tolerant, protected by circuit breakers, have the right thresholds, include necessary fallback logic, etc.
It liberates you from language/tool dependence. You can implement your microservices in different languages, tools, databases, operating systems, and more. This gives the developers the freedom to use a programming language and framework that is right for the service they’re developing while ensuring that all services work seamlessly as a whole. So, if performance is your goal, you can choose the language/framework needed for every service to run faster.
It scales dynamically. When the development team does capacity planning in advance, microservices can ensure that it scales effortlessly to meet evolving needs. It is important, of course, to make sure that the dependencies are also designed to scale accordingly.
Beyond the technological transformation, adopting microservices-based architecture also brings cultural changes to an organization. For instance, it can dramatically improve development speed. Given applications are broken down into smaller independent services, the development of each service is quicker. For newer team members, a small, self-contained service is much easier to understand — and work on — than a towering monolith. As a result, new developers can be onboarded faster.
Also, in most organizations using microservices, the teams are small and are structured around the business function they serve. This makes it quicker for them to make decisions about their service, collaborate when needed, and take a product to market at greater speeds. This facilitates the adoption of continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) practices.
It allows you to evolve based on feedback. Microservices allow you to incorporate user feedback and update existing features or develop new features faster.
Despite its several benefits, microservices can be complex to implement and sustain. If you’re looking to adopt microservices for your organization, here are some points to consider:
• Language independence shouldn’t lead to fragmentation. The team needs to come together to build consistency and repeatability in the features.
• Testing needs to be adapted for microservices-based architectures. You need to set up a robust quality assurance practice to prevent multiplying issues of latency, caching, service unavailability, etc.
• You need to set up comprehensive monitoring systems to predict and prevent failures.
• In a microservices architecture, shift-left is often the security approach. This means that developers need to think of security from the start.
Most importantly, adopting microservices is not just a technology change but also a cultural one. Teams would need to move to an Agile, DevOps, cloud-native structure to leverage microservices entirely. Developers need to be able to provision resources quickly without having to wait for days. Processes need to offer enough independence to encourage innovation without affecting quality. In short, microservices can be complex to adopt in the short term. But when done well, leaders can reap benefits for years to come.
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