Microservice Application: Edutech Startups' Postmodern Way of Meeting Growing Demands

Beas Dev Ralhan, CEO, Co-Founder, Next Education | Thursday, 09 March 2017, 10:56 IST

Being one myself, I know founders of startups juggle sales, marketing and recruitment at the same time. They are the multi-tasking heroes. But one of the prerequisites of expansion is democratisation of all departments. All departments need to work independently to increase productivity and output. Stretching the analogy to the field of software development, we feel the need to break away from the monopoly of monolithic application and switch over to microservice applications. Microservices are small, autonomous and modular services that work together to serve the business goal. Monolithic applications are coupled with technology stack. Every problem in the system has to be handled in the same tech stack. In microservices, however, smaller teams work on smaller codebases (autonomous services) and each team can choose the best technology to solve their problems. This ideology of technological independence, heterogeneity and autonomous services ensures better performance of the application and promises to bring in a true digital evolution.

Initially, the scale of enterprise and product is small, and the solution can be provided on a smaller and simpler application. Hence, monolithic application can be the initial choice. It is a single-tier software unit that combines user interface and data access code into one single program. The self-contained application performs not just one single task, but deals with the workings of all the steps involved.

Move Over Monolithic Applications
A huge monolithic application has a longer startup time, and debugging and developing functionalities are harder with a bigger codebase. That affects the deployment process and productivity. To update one single component, the entire application has to be redeployed. Again, scalability of a monolithic architecture is difficult-- it scales in only one dimension. If different components have different requirements, a monolithic application fails to scale each component separately. With growing customer demands, this kind of architecture develops into an enormous jumble of codes, that no one group of developers can understand it in its entirety.

One of the prime requisites of a digital platform is a user-friendly interface. The need is to create processes that develop independently, and can be coded quickly and modified according to the urgency. This is where monolithic architecture falls short. In the postmodern era of breaking down components, the philosophy of dependence on one sole program and platform no more stands good. Hence, breakdown is inevitable not just because of the growing needs but also because of the changing philosophy.

Need of the Hour - Shift to Microservices
Microservices Application (MSA) is a software system that interacts with each other to fulfil common goals. MSA fulfils the goal of Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA) by being agile and easily deployable. These loosely coupled modules communicate with each other via Application Programming Interface (API). The API gateway routes all requests to relevant microservices. If required, it can invoke more than one microservice and then aggregate the results accordingly. Multiple teams can work independently on multiple projects, thereby reducing the turnaround time for any requirement. Continuous release of updates is possible with the system running and stable.

API Gateway- the Glue
While transitioning from monolithic application to MSA, both the systems exist in parallel. And, one of the key challenges is the integration between existing systems and new microservices. When the system is redesigned to microservice architecture, an API gateway can act as a glue code in easing the interaction between all the instances. It is easy to increase the capacity in MSA. It also helps reduce the cost of integration and secures the MSA.

Advantages of MSA
Apart from easy deployment and convenient team alignment, MSA is resilient and tolerant to faults. Failure in one part of the system will not hamper the workings of the entire system. Bottlenecks or issues in one physical server will not affect the microservice functioning in another server. Each microservice is self-managed by its own administration and monitoring dashboard. Microservices are composable systems which have the ability to reuse functionalities for different purposes and varied frontends. Multiple products can reuse the same set of microservices.

One of the important things to keep in mind while designing microservice applications is their service size, which is a debatable topic. Care should be taken not to make a monolith out of a microservice. Stick by the "Single Responsibility Principle" and things would never go wrong. A small service is what is always recommended. Designers should refrain from architecting large domains as they are potential monoliths, which if designed would betray the very purpose of its transition in the first place. 

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