How did we get to Microservices?


If you have struggled with decisions when designing APIs or Microservices – it is best to take a step back and look at how we got here. It helps not only renew our appreciation for the rapid changes we have seen over the past 10-20 years but also puts into perspective why we do what we do

I still believe a lot of us cling to old ways of thinking when the world has moved on or is moving faster than we can process. APIs and microservices are not just new vendor-driven fads rather they are key techniques, processes and practices for businesses to survive in a highly evolving eco-system. Without an API-strategy, for example, your business might not be able to provide the services to consumers your competition can provide or with the quality of service we have come to expect (in real-time)

So, with that in mind let us take a step back and look at the evolution of technology within the enterprise and remember that this aligns to the business strategy

Long time ago

There were monolithic applications,  mainframe systems for example processing Order, Pricing, Shipment etc. You still see this monolith written within startups because they make sense – no network calls, just inter-process communication and if you can join a bunch of tables you can make a “broker” happy with a mashup of data

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1. First, there was just the legacy monolith application

Circa 2000s MVC app world

No ESB yet. Exploring the JVM and Java for enterprise application development. JSF was new and EJB framework was still deciding what type of beans to use. Data flowed via custom connectors from Mainframe to these Java applications which cached them and allowed viewing and query of this information

There were also functional foundation applications for enterprise logging, business rules, pricing, rating, identity etc. that we saw emerging and data standards were often vague. EAI patterns were being observed but not standardized and we were more focused on individual service design patterns and the MVC model

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2. Then we built lots of MVC applications and legacy monolith, integration was point-to-point

Services and Service-Oriented Architecture

The next wave began when the number of in-house custom applications started exploding and there was a need for data standardization, a common language to describe enterprise objects and de-coupled services with standards requests and responses

Some organisations started developing their own XML based engines around message queues and JMS standards while others adopted the early service bus products from vendors

Thus Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) was born with lofty goals to build canonical enterprise data models, reduce point-point services (Java applications had a build-time dependency to services they consumed, other Java services), add standardized security, build service registry etc

We also saw a general adoption and awareness around EAI patterns – we finally understood what a network can do to consistency models and the choice between availability and consistency in a partition. Basically stuff known by those with a Computer Science degree working on distributed computing or collective-communication in a parallel computing cluster

One key observation is that the vendor products supporting SOA were runtime monoliths in their own right. It was a single product (J2EE EAR) running on a one or more application servers with a single database for stateful processes etc. The web services we developed over this product were mere XML configuration which was executed by one giant application

Also, the core concerns were “service virtualisation” and “message-based routing”, which was a pure stateless and transformation-only concept. This worked best when coupled with an in-house practice of building custom services and failed where there was none and the SOA product had to simply transform, route (i.e. it did not solve problems by itself as an integration layer)

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3. We started to make integration standardised and flexible, succeed within the Enterprise but failed to scale for the Digital world. Not ready for mobile or cloud

API and Microservices era

While the SOA phase helped us move away from ugly file-based integrations of the past and really supercharged enterprise application integration, it failed miserably in the digital customer domain. The SOA solutions were not built to scale, they were not built for the web and the web was scaling and getting jazzier by the day; people were expecting more self-service portals and XML parsers were response times!

Those of us who were lucky to let go off the earlier dogma (vendor coolade) around the “web services” we were building started realising there was nothing webby about it. After a few failed attempts at getting the clunk web portals working, we realised that the SOA way of serving information was not suited to this class of problems and we needed something better

We have come back a full circle to custom build teams and custom services for foundation tasks and abstractions over end-systems – we call these “micro-services” and build these not for the MVC architecture but as pure services. These services speak HTTP  natively as the language of the web, without custom standards like SOAP had introduced earlier and use a representational state transfer style (REST) pattern to align with hypermedia best-practices; we call them web APIs and standardise around using JSON as the data format (instead of XML)

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4. Microservices, DevOps, APIs early on – it was on-prem and scalable

The API and Microservices era comes with changes in how we organise (Dev-Ops), where we host our services (scalable platforms on-prem or available as-a-service) and a fresh look at integration patterns (CQRS, streaming, caching, BFF etc.). The runtime for these new microservices-based integration applications is now broken into smaller chunks as there is no centralised bus 🚎

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5. Microservices, DevOps, APIs on externalised highly scalable platforms (cloud PaaS)

Recap

Enterprise system use has evolved over time from being depended on one thing that did everything to multiple in-house systems to in-house and cloud-based services. The theme has been a gradual move from a singular application to a network partitioned landscape of systems to an eco-system of modular value-based services

Microservices serve traditional integration needs between enterprise systems but more importantly enable organisations to connect to clients and services on the web (cloud) in a scalable and secure manner – something that SOA products failed to do (since they were built for the enterprise context only). APIs enable microservices to communicate with the service consumers and providers in a standard format and bring with them best practices such as contract-driven development, policies, caching etc that makes developing and operating them at scale easier

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techiecook

I apply my degree in computing with my experience in building networked software to create products that people will love. More about me here https://techiecook.com/about/

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