A microservice is a type of application architecture. It comprises of a loosely coupled collection of services, and every single service is independently deployable.
The overall advantage of microservice architectures is that they enable for the continuous delivery of large and complex applications, especially in the cloud.
Compared to monolithic applications, microservices are also easier to scale and modernize. You can read more about this in one of our earlier blog posts that compares monolithic & microservices.
Because you can deploy each independent service on its own, it takes less time to develop updates for your application. You can assign a development team to each individual service, and in turn, allow them to focus on that one service (such as a feature) without worrying and working through the rest of the application. You basically localize the complexity to a service.
In contrast, with a monolithic architecture, your developers will need to update the entire stack
to only release one or two feature updates. Besides making it easier to develop and deploy, it also allows you to push updates on a faster cadence.
A major microservices advantage is that it’s easier to scale to meet additional demand. There’s no need to spin-up entire VMs (i.e., horizontal scaling). You only need to increase resources for the set of resources the high-demand services need, such as the RAM (i.e., vertical scaling).
A key microservices benefit is its ability to avoid cascading failures. If a specific service fails, you can limit the failure to only that one failure and, in turn, prevent the app from crashing. However, service meshes such as Istio play a vital role in enabling this through circuit-breaking.
You’re not relying on one service provider; rather, you can source services from any vendor in the world. Besides flexibility, you also reduce technical debt by substituting services later down the line, such as when it goes obsolete or too expensive to use.
Another microservices architecture advantage is that it allows you to build strong development teams. First, you follow Conway’s Law to assign each service a specialized team with specific knowledge on that service. Second, by supporting many different types of services, you build competences in multiple programming languages, frameworks, and tools.
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The biggest challenge microservices software architecture is that it has higher upfront costs in terms of development and deployment. You need sufficient hosting infrastructure with full-time security and maintenance support (i.e., a data center). You also need to build teams who know about each service and, in turn, build a very complex system out of those many services.
Your application could use dozens, if not hundreds, of different services. For your application to work correctly, you must enable and secure the communication between your services. But this requires a substantial amount of coding unless you acquire a service mesh, but integrating the service mesh brings its own development challenges.
Also, if something goes wrong, it’s much more difficult to track the source of the problem. Again, a service mesh (with tracing) helps considerably.
Finally, developers can’t test the entire system from their individual machines. They’ll need to access your microservices’ support infrastructure. This limits developer flexibility.
Though microservices have their drawbacks, certain organizations require them. For example, you should develop a microservices application if you’re anticipating lots of users. You need to have fine-grained scalability, and only microservices will offer it.
The increased complexity of managing distributed systems and services is a challenge.
But you can overcome it.
For example, you can work with a cloud service provider (CSP) for your data or VM hosting needs. You can also cut your development time and costs by adopting proven tools, such as Kubernetes, Istio, and others. You can also up-skill your internal teams with the help of cloud development partners.
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