What are the advantages and disadvantages of microservice architecture?
The world around us are run by complex processes which have been built over many years and perfected daily. A large percentage of these processes are software driven which have layers upon layers of codes, each denoting a task and service. Over a period and with added functionalities, this software becomes a huge entity. This is similar for every software dealing with large enterprise version processes. Maintaining them and finding bugs becomes an onerous task and companies would have deploy enormous resources to undertake costly housekeeping. To overcome such an eventuality, there is a new concept called microservices. It is a new model and has shown tremendous potential. In this article we will learn a bit about microservices and how they benefit us all.
What is microservices?
Microservices is an architecture that segregates a large software into smaller services. These services are loosely connected and can be deployed independently. However, to the end user, it will all feel as one application. The beauty of this concept is that despite being separate entities of the same software, the cohesion between them does not betray the segregation and the user experience remains constant throughout. This is the reason why most organisations are gradually shifting to such an architecture. They feel they can leverage the latest technologies, both in storage and security by breaking down large software into smaller units. It also has a direct bearing on the upkeep of the software, which being bulky would pose a challenge.
Evolution of Microservices
Microservice, though a new concept, does have a long legacy. Its roots lie in the SOA or Service Oriented Architecture, a concept that was designed to overcome the disadvantages a monolithic architecture would pose. The need of the hour was an efficient system that would fulfil the requirements of the user. There were many ways of doing it, one being building the entire software at one go and deploying it. Though this was the preferred model for many decades, with the advent of technology, it gradually lost its relevance. Companies began to build functionalities separately and had them added to the master framework. This made their task simpler and maintaining services easier. There was also another bright side to this. Companies could now charge services separately and the revenue cycle was much more vigorous.
The current scenario illustrates the popularity of the microservices architecture. Every organisation has implemented the same across projects and reaping handsome benefits. Microservices provides a lot of advantages to its and one of the prime intentions of this article is to highlight them. Let us now look at the advantages, microservices architecture provides to its users.
One of the prime challenges of software deployment is on-boarding. Large software is saddled with legacy issues and require large teams to handle them. There is also the case of finding and eradicating bugs and errors. Separate teams must be deployed to oversee such circumstances. With microservices, smaller teams can manage the entire architecture. Microservices are modular in design and hence developers can focus on stated responsibilities compared to what they would have had to while managing a monolithic architecture. Each service is built to handle a wide range of functionalities. The smaller scope pertaining to microservices makes it easier for newer teams to quickly get a grasp of things and hit the road running. Microservices architecture help companies reduce onboarding costs and allow new joiners to get a better understanding of things. They would not have to investigate a whole lot of things or the entire interlinking of functionalities and features.
Reduction of risk
Building monolithic architectures are risky. There are a lot of challenges of building a single structure. Developers need to tread extremely careful while adding iterative steps and that itself is time consuming. A simple error in any of the interlinking of functionalities will lead to catastrophic outcomes. A complete recoding of the software adds to the financial burden of the company and an immense wastage of human resources. Monolithic and SOA applications take a lot of time deploy, since they must undergo arduous sets of testing. Microservices are built, tested and deployed independently. The very nature of microservices make it an ideal entity for the reduction of risk since we have already discussed the risks a monolithic architecture poses to the project. The beauty of microservices also lies in the fact that various teams can simultaneously work on various functionalities and deploy them concurrently. This allows the project to progress at a faster pace with much lesser scope of errors. Such an arrangement allows the companies to deliver projects with shorter turnarounds and timelines. It is also a great way to widen profit margins whilst reducing costs. Microservices architecture is therefore not just advantageous in the reduction of risk but also turn the project more profitable.
Flexible data storage
This is a vital advantage that microservices provides to its practitioners. The flexibility it provides pertaining to data storage is of great use. Separate services can be stored in disparate locations. This gives additional security to the program and prevents its from stopping in the event of server malfunctioning. Monolithic and SOA applications must be stored in one location and are therefore prone to hardware risks. Small and homogenous data sets are less vulnerable to such mishaps compared to large ones. All applications which are to be scaled in the future will be facing such risks. Flexible data storage is a vital feature under any circumstance. It allows the organisation to respond to threats and outages efficiently and get back to operations in the quickest possible time. In the long run the cost to safeguard information and data is much less while opting for the microservices architecture than the monolithic and SOA method of building applications. Another salient feature of microservice architecture is that the developer us free to select the type of storage needed depending on the requirements of the service. This provides a certain amount of flexibility to the development team.
Multiple Programming Language
No other architecture allows for multiple programming options but microservices. This is also called polyglot programming. Each service can be built on the program of developer’s choice. However, the usual doubt regarding disparate language getting integrated together and creating a mess remains. Though is always good to be consistent, it also needs to be understood that different languages have different functionalities. Then there is also the case of fluency of developers. It is not always that the team of developers will be fluent in one language. This adds to the flexibility of the team. Microservices architecture allows developers of separate services work in their preferred language and then add it to the framework, without much support from the other teams. Such freedom is beneficial for the betterment of the project and has positive repercussions. Multiple programming languages also allow the project to widen its scope. It has also been observed that projects based on the microservices architecture have seldom faced many challenges related to multiple programming languages and that they have mostly performed as good or even better than the ones which are monolithic or follow the SOA principle.
Reduction of clutter
Monolithic architectures need to transform with addition of new technologies and features. That would mean new codes are added on top of the new ones and making them unimaginably large over a period. Breaking the monolithic into microservices will allow the software to be easily manageable. It will also be prudent from the maintenance perspective since maintaining a clutter of codes is cumbersome and prone to frequent breakdowns and errors. It is also pertinent to note that future deployments of microservices will be easy and fast and will also keep the application free of functionalities that are no more needed.
Given the advantages of the microservices architecture, there are a few disadvantages too.
While there are inherent benefits that microservices provide, it is also true that the microservices architecture is far more complex than most monolithic applications and there are many reasons for it:
Multiple languages and frameworks that can lead to a confusion while integration
Multiple storage locations
Each service will require specific testing protocols and monitoring and thereby doubling the automation efforts
Data consistency being maintained across various services is a challenge
Number of processes in a microservice compared to monolithic application is far more in number
A manifold increase in the amount of documentation
Multiple microservice patterns to choose from
Such a set of challenges is sure to daunt any project manager while opting for microservices. However, given the advantages that it provides, these difficulties can be worked upon on an individual basis.
Change in culture
Most teams are close knot and work in conjunction with each other. That would mean, there would a single driving force or a leader who would manage the entire workflow and rest would simply follow and complete their said tasks. Microservices does away with this model and instead helps builds separate teams, which are small and work independently of each other. They set their own goals and work accordingly. But the biggest challenge is finding individuals who have the requisite experience in working in a microservices environment. That would mean having the knowledge of the entire software development life cycle. A deep understanding of the end-to-end process is a must, lack of which will lead to less than satisfactory results. Teams will also need to possess DevOps and automation skills, qualifications which will be increasingly in demand once the project scales. Each team would then have to be their own project leads, responsibilities which do not easily come to the inexperienced.
Contrary to the usual understanding, microservices are costlier than monolithic applications. That is because of the numerous teams that are at work. There are multiple resources that will be required to keep the project moving. Disparate storage locations, multiple frameworks, many automation tools, servers, APIs add up to the project cost. The need for human resource too would increase since teams would go in for specialised skills. Monolithic and SOA applications do not require multiple modules, but microservices do. And this becomes the prime price differentiator between the two.
The threat to any application increases with the volume of data being transferred between its modules and external sources. Microservices work with many modules making them vulnerable to illegal interception. The presence of multiple storage locations and frameworks along with multiple languages, each with its own limitations adds to the entire security complexity. Working with microservices is akin to working with numerous small containers, whereby each container is replicable. This poses a high risk to the project since attackers can easily replicate one or many services and gain easy access to database and the network. This is the reason why microservices should only ne opted for by companies after careful evaluation of the human resources available. The requisite training and tools are necessary for the successful implementation of this architecture. Companies would not want, under any circumstances, their projects turning into security quagmires. One of the most sought-after information while attacking individual services is the source code, which is usually common. One they get their hands on it, the rest is easy. The database can be accessed and so can the network, on which the application is placed, be. While monolithic applications are also vulnerable to attacks, it is easier to secure them compared to those based on the microservice architecture.
While there are disadvantages, and most entities have a dark side, the numerous advantages prove that the microservice architecture is here to stay. For applications that will scale over a period, it is imperative that they have a model in place which will help it achieve its potential. The model should not be cumbersome, provide ample scope of scale and robustness and easily maintainable. While there can be a quick debate regarding costs, but there are numerous factors that drive expenses. However, the bottom line is that microservices is the future of project management.