Most technology interested people has had some form of experience around computers. Many know that they’re built using various components such as a CPU, GPU, hard drive or SSD, RAM, audio and video card, motherboard and more. The idea is that the computer itself is assembled by putting these components together to create something that can do more than they can on their own. A similar idea lies behind what’s called microservices within software development.
The difference behind an application built using microservices and a more traditional monolithic application is just that – the microservice application is made up of smaller, composable pieces of software that work together. Each of these pieces is developed and maintained separately form the rest of the app. This actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Modularity is something that can be seen in many other areas of technology. Now it’s starting to find it’s place in software development as well. It’s especially compatible with a DevOps way of doing things.
Benefits of microservices
The microservices approach to development comes with multiple advantages. First off, an application built with many smaller components is easier to understand, to test and to maintain over time. It also creates overall agility and can drastically cut time-to-market for new features. This is most notably true for bigger enterprises where development teams can be separated both geographically and culturally.
However, those are not the only advantages:
- Flexibility in development. With component being separate from each other, they can be developed in different times, at different speeds and through different iteration schedules.
- Automation and pipeline adaptability. Being very modular, microservice applications can easier fit into CI/CD pipelines.
- Failure isolation and recovery time. If – or when – a part of the application contains a bug or needs to be fixed, this can easily be done without affecting the application as a whole.
- Meeting various needs. Different parts of the application has different needs and requirements. With a microservices approach, the smaller components can remain small while others are scaled to meet those component specific demands.
Microservices and containers
If the concept described above sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is. The modular design idea is hardly new. In fact, other programming paradigms have reached similar solutions – for example, Service Oriented Architecture. However, microservices depend highly on existing culture. The rise of DevOps and agile supports microservices well. Naturally, they’ve been integrated into the transformation shift that DevOps brings.
Another natural fit for microservices is containers. When application components become smaller and more independent, it makes sense to utilize Docker or other container tools to smoothly and dynamically both develop and maintain these components. The idea to separate various functions into several containers instead of cramming them into one large physical or virtual machine combines nicely with what you’re trying to achieve when using microservices.
If you and your organization are using cloud structures for your applications, containers can also help you cut down on costs. For example, optimizing your server utilization rates is easier when various components are able to run on the same OS instance. It also enables better response times in regards to failures and boosts customer satisfaction.
On the other hand, microservices is a concept that can work well without containers too.
Once you’ve decided that you want to run your application based on microservices, you need to handle a few other matters. For starters, you need to be able to monitor your various microservices. You also need to manage them and possibly scale up or down to match requirements. Luckily, there are several tools designed to help out with these problems. The rising star of container orchestration tools is Kubernetes. Kubernetes is an open source tool that can be hosted on all cloud platforms as well as on-prem solutions.
In short, Kubernetes is a system that helps run and coordinate applications based on container deployments across a machine cluster. It was originally developed by Google and aims to help users manage various components and services across their infrastructure. Key concepts within Kubernetes include predictability, scalability and high availability.
Kubernetes allows the user to be very specific in regards to how the application and its components should run and interact with other applications. Scaling up or down? No problem with Kubernetes. Other nice features include:
- Support for continuous delivery
- Version traffic switch, allowing for feature testing or rollbacks
- Interfaces and platform primitives
All in all, using Kubernetes or similar tools will probably be necessary when working with microservices and containers.
Transitioning to microservices
As with all changes, there is a cost. Switching an existing application’s entire architecture is no small task. Many will likely find it too difficult and time-consuming to give the transition a chance. Some applications are also simply not fit to be run using the microservices model. In addition, your organization culture most likely needs to adapt and transform as well.
The nice thing about microservices, however, is that it’s compatible with traditional application structures as well. Given that your company has a solid strategy for handling both types of applications, there are no inherent problems to running a microservice app at the same time.
With that said, many organizations will likely look towards microservices as a key to their future IT strategy. They will undoubtedly need to figure out a way to smooth the transition to modern day architectures while still keeping existing applications running.
Are you looking to start working with microservices? Perhaps you’ve already started and need more information? Let us know in the comments below!