Conventional software solutions, both on-premises and in the cloud, are large applications that handle several different business functions and technical operations from one platform. This monolithic design can offer developers and operational teams a variety of efficiencies, not to mention cost savings in the number of tools they need to manage.
However, this infrastructure can become bulky and unmanageable as a developer team upgrades the application and the rest of the organization expands its use cases and user base over time. To make applications that work better with agile project management and DevOps team needs, many enterprises are opting to transform their most important enterprise applications into microservices.
What are microservices?
Microservices architecture is an application model in which individual components and functions are separated into different containers, or clusters, so they can operate and scale independently. Many enterprise software vendors are incorporating microservices into the newer apps that they create, but a growing segment of enterprise tech teams are taking these applications into their own hands and creating microservices that work for their specific business needs.
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are used to maintain basic connections amongst these services, but each microservice hosts its own business data and primarily relies on its own business logic and operational rules. This independent design makes it possible for a company’s developer teams to focus on each individual app component rather than the application as a whole.
Microservices vs APIs
Microservices and APIs are sometimes confused because of the cross-functional application management features they both offer. However, microservices and APIs serve distinct purposes in enterprise networking infrastructure and frequently work together.
APIs help separate applications “interface,” or communicate, with each other so they can co-manage operations and business workflows. APIs are also used to help different microservice components of the same application communicate with each other, but they are not the primary feature of microservices architecture.
Read more: How Do APIs Work?
Microservices, on the other hand, are the result of dividing a single application or platform into several different segments. While each microservice can handle different business needs and function independently, they’re still part of the same bigger application and still share some resources.
Key features of microservices
An application that has been segmented into a microservices design typically includes the following features:
- Autonomous services
- Lightweight APIs for cross-service communication
- Agnostic design for different programming languages and applications
- Containers and serverless computing
- Databases and data storage
- Load balancing
- Performance monitoring
Also read: Are Your Containers Secure?
Examples and use cases for microservices
A growing number of global enterprises—both service providers and internal teams—are turning their applications into microservices. This transformation not only creates new efficiencies for internal operations and teams but also helps companies to improve customer experiences.
Netflix uses a microservices architecture for a variety of its internal operations. One example is the Netflix Cosmos Platform, which is the company’s microservices system that processes media files from outside partners and studios to make them accessible to user devices. This solution combines microservices with load- and queue-based autoscalers and asynchronous video workflow rules.
In combination with the Internet of Things (IoT) and distributed computing solutions, Tesla relies on microservices architecture to support grid resilience and quick recovery times. Tesla uses both Kubernetes containers and Akka, an open-source application development toolkit, to create its microservices architecture.
Read more on TechRepublic: How Tesla Uses Open Source to Generate Resilience in Modern Electric Grids
Trade Republic, a fintech startup in Germany, uses microservices to separate industry- and organization-specific knowledge and requirements. This structure is particularly helpful for addressing a wide variety of banking and finance needs across enterprise customers from different industries, as well as the needs of individual consumers.
Learn how one tech company is helping businesses modernize their applications with microservices: Developing a Cloud Modernization Strategy: Interview with Moti Rafalin of vFunction
Pros of using microservices
Microservices help teams make their application visibility and functionality more granular, which can lead to a variety of security, collaboration, and growth-based benefits.
A microservices strategy creates an application infrastructure where each application component functions independently. Because these components only rely on and communicate with each other for a few resource-sharing workloads, microservices architecture makes it possible for teams to scale up or scale down individual services without hurting the functionality of another service.
A microservices architecture is designed to let developer teams choose the resources that best fit each service. This developer-agnostic infrastructure means that developers can use the platforms, programming languages, and third-party support applications that make the most sense for the microservice or project they’re running.
Improved fault and resource isolation
Microservices give developers and security professionals precise visibility into and control over what happens in each application component. This application composition offers improved fault isolation; security and performance problems in one service do not have to affect the others.
Resource isolation is another benefit of this design because memory problems and limitations will likely only affect one service’s uptime rather than the entire business application.
DevOps teams stand to benefit the most from microservices because of the development and deployment agility this strategy provides. A company’s developers can update or work on each service as needed without changing ones that are doing well or aren’t ready for updates. This focused development cycle typically leads to more efficient CI/CD pipelines and quicker time to market, or quicker time to internal users, depending on the specific use case.
Learn more about DevOps resources: Best DevOps Tools
Cons of using microservices
Microservices won’t work for every team and application use case. Enterprises should watch out for these potential issues that come with a microservices architecture.
Potential for resource sprawl and shadow IT
Independent platform, language, and other resource selections across individual microservices will likely lead to more overhead resource types that a company needs to manage and pay for. Resource sprawl can lead to unnecessary costs and inefficiencies, while also causing potential problems with shadow IT and limited global security visibility.
Difficulties with global testing and security management
Deployment, debugging, and application testing are not as easy to conduct globally in a microservices model. Teams need to make sure all interconnected services are functioning one by one before they can take big testing and deployment steps.
Testing and management are easier with a microservices architecture, but global testing and security management become more difficult without the right supportive tools in place.
Not suited for smaller teams and their needs
Microservices are complex to set up and often require additional resources and third-party partners for strategic deployment in an enterprise network.
The amount of work that goes into setting up microservices might not be well-suited to small businesses and smaller developer and tech teams, due to a combination of lacking technical expertise and financial resources. Your team will need expert-level knowledge of DevOps best practices and complex deployment and testing schedules for microservices to be successful.
It’s also important to invest in the right security monitoring, API, and application infrastructure resources, which can quickly become cost-prohibitive for some teams.
Read next: Best API Management Software & Tools