Lego blocks placed on a table

Think of a computer application as a bunch of Lego blocks. Many of the blocks are interchangeable, allowing you to build whatever you want. But some of the blocks are more specialized. Little people. Steering wheels. A pirate flag.

Regardless of the purpose of the piece, however, it fits just fine with the others. So you can place a Lego guy standing on the mast of your ship, waving the pirate flag. But he could also be waving that flag from the cab of a firetruck. Same flag piece, same building blocks, but the result is a different model.

Increasingly, software developers are adopting microservices as a design standard, which emphasizes the plug-and-play nature of robust software, kind of like Lego blocks. Modular design, as evidenced by microservices, helps companies preserve uptime, maintain software, scale according to usage and easily add components such as shopping carts or analytics.

Part of digital transformation

Companies undergoing a digital transformation are looking toward microservices as a design architecture. The concept has been around for more than six years, making it mainstream in the fast-changing technology ecosystem. It’s a variant of service-oriented architecture, with broad computing modules connected through APIs that make the software more nimble.

Digital transformation can be accomplished in small steps. The first step would be to separate the client from the server, an important but delicate process. Then, insignificant modules can be pulled out and replaced, connecting them to the core through APIs.

Here are four advantages of a digital transformation strategy.

Preserve uptime. In the legacy world, nearly all application components are connected to one another. If one part fails, the entire application goes down. That’s why software upgrades take place in the middle of the night, in case something goes awry. Airlines are susceptible to systematic failures because of the combination of legacy system, mergers and new software being cobbled together, often with disastrous results.

Since microservices are comprised of modules, work on the inventory module, for example, won’t impact the website or the CRM system.

Maintain software. This is a corollary of preserve uptime, because maintenance is a huge driver for needing to bring a system down. But if the application is modular, upgrades, changes or fixes to one module will not impact the others.

Older technology may require taking the software offline to perform system-critical maintenance and/or upgrades.

Scalability. A company’s software, like the company itself, must be nimble in today’s frenetic business environment. What formerly could be accomplished in a few months with no problem must now occur in a few weeks to keep up with competitors and changing market conditions.

Microservices allows companies to add, subtract, expand or change modules on the fly, while maintaining the same functionality that internal and/or external users demand.

Adding components such as analytics. With a legacy system, data collection for any analytics component must occur within the data stream, requiring additional coding at the point of collection. This can be a time-consuming process to plan and implement, not to mention the possibility of crashing the system. A modular design allows applications such as analytics or shopping carts to be added to the core software without affecting the other components.

Additional benefits

In a microservices model, APIs provide the connectivity among software modules, allowing for easy integration with other systems.

Another added benefit to microservices is greater developer productivity. With a more monolithic software system, any sane IT manager would never let a developer touch the software without six to eight months of training on every component, what it does and how it interacts with the other components.

With modular design, a developer can learn the system module by module, becoming proficient on one before moving to the other. Instead of needing to understand thousands of lines of code, an individual module may contain a few hundred.

Like Lego blocks, microservices gives companies much more flexibility to design applications that suit the unique needs of their businesses, their customers and their users. Just remember, though, pirate flag is not included.

By Rajesh Thampi July 11, 2017
Tags: Enterprise