June 7, 2017

Microservices on steroids, getting from just agile to business agile [part 1 of 2]


Agility is important, and business agility even more important. With this, the architect has to play a crucial role by defining the right principles, commandments if you will, and seeing to it that the product development teams live by them. Principles like KISS and Independent Deployability are two principles not to mess with. MIcroservices are an important and extremely helpful aspect of this, so is continuous delivery. But you need to get those microservices on steroids in order to be able to move from just agile to business agile. In this first of a two piece post, I am laying the ground works for explaining how you can facilitate business agility in your architecture.

Since you’re reading this post, it’s likely you’re an IT architect or have to deal with one every once in a while. Meaning that you’ve been confronted one way or the other with Service Oriented Architectures (SOA). Maybe you’re even a proponent of this architectural style.
I’m not going to explain what an SOA is, there’s quite a few very good sources available online explaining what it is and why it’s a good way of building your IT landscape, or not. As always, there are just as many proponents as there are people against and SOA. Over the years I’ve grown to like the premise of an IT landscape where fairly small pieces of functionality can be strung together to realize business functions. And with the advent of RESTful web-services, the premise of a true SOA has become more prevalent as ever.

Nowadays all you see and hear around you are Microservices, even though there doesn't seem to be a clear definition that everybody feels comfortable with, everybody is doing Microservices. One of the most interesting definitions I heard is that it is a really small service. But not as small as a nano service. But just to make sure that you know what I refer to when discussing Microservices, here're two definitions I like to use. The first is from Wikipedia, which in and by itself is no guarantee for it to be correct, but at least it's a common definition:

"Microservices is a variant of the service-oriented architecture (SOA) architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services. In a microservices architecture, services should be fine-grained and the protocols should be lightweight. The benefit of decomposing an application into different smaller services is that it improves modularity and makes the application easier to understand, develop and test. It also parallelizes development by enabling small autonomous teams to develop, deploy and scale their respective services independently. It also allows the architecture of an individual service to emerge through continuous refactoring. Microservices-based architectures enable continuous delivery and deployment."

The second definition is form Martin Fowler, which is in essence the same:

"In short, the microservice architectural style [1] is an approach to developing a single application as a suite of small services, each running in its own process and communicating with lightweight mechanisms, often an HTTP resource API. These services are built around business capabilities and independently deployable by fully automated deployment machinery. There is a bare minimum of centralized management of these services, which may be written in different programming languages and use different data storage technologies."

Microservices are not easy to develop, much like API's, they require a rather typical level of maturity of a development team to develop them. The hard part of Microservices is typically the "independently deployable" aspect of the services and then in particular maintaining that independence of time. Let's call it sustainable independence.
What I usually see is that over time the architecture becomes convoluted, resources entangled (the whole HATEOAS thingy is not trivial at all) and adversity against rearchitecting the IT landscape to get back to independent microservices.
To develop them,  the Microservices, you need to invest. In general, a Microservice is way more expensive to develop than a regular service. Much like an API being a lot more expensive than a simple service interface. So I would argue that there needs to be a business case to capture some functionality or resource in a Microservice.

Still, Microservices are a good thing to look into, if not only to be able to dismiss them. But more importantly, they are very helpful in becoming agile. I would almost argue that in order to be agile, you need an SOA based on Microservices and API's. Having said this, I need to emphasise that we're still talking about agility of the product development team, the IT people.
Mind that having an architecture with highly independent units of deployment is a blessing for all of us that want to do Continuous Delivery or Deployment for that matter. It makes life so much easier and as an architect you should really make sure that independence of components, services or units of deployments, however you want to call it, is a prime-directive to all your developers, great and small. It should be up there on the wall with the rest of your architecture principles. First of course you mention KISS and second the declaration of independence for your components.

But as I said, agility so far is technical agility. You've designed your software, your product, for change. Which allows you to be agile. Your PO (Product Owner) wants something different, you can change your code easy as can be. But when you think about it, it won't make your business more agile, it will make your IT more agile.

There's quite a bit more to be done before your business gets its agility... more on that in the next part.

Thanks once again for reading my blog. Please don't be reluctant to Tweet about it, put a link on Facebook or recommend this blog to your network on LinkedIn. Heck, send the link of my blog to all your Whatsapp friends and everybody in your contactlist. But if you really want to show your appreciation, drop a comment with your opinion on the topic, your experiences or anything else that is relevant.


Special thanks to Sytse for pointing out one or two textual errors and helping me correcting them.

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