Microservices

Microservices are a Hype, but they have their pros and cons. Sometimes people say, that this is the magic tool to solve all problems. They hear it on conference talks, read it in the internet or even in books. It is not the first time and it won’t be the last time that we hear a promise like that. It was promised with a lot of new or newly sold technologies, like object oriented languages, scripting languages, functional languages, spiral instead of waterfall, agile instead of rup, client server instead of dumb terminals or web applications instead of fat clients or fat javascript clients instead of serverside rendered pages, cloud technologies, serverless, zero-something and now microservices. And of course a lot more. Usually we get promised an efficiency gain by a factor of two or three. So we should by now be million times faster in developing a functionality than in the good old days with assembly language on punch cards. Are we?

Such promises should not stop us from being critical and analyzing pros and cons.

But in order to achieve any benefit from micro services it is crucial to understand them well enough and to apply the concept well enough. Badly implemented micro service architectures just add the disadvantages of microservices to what we already have.

It is often heard that microservices should be made so small that it is „trivial“ to rewrite them. That may be hard to achieve and there are some good reasons why.

If we make microservices so small that they are easy to rewrite and we need only a few of them, probably our application is so trivial that we should question if it is at all necessary to split it into microservices or if we should rather build a monolith and structure it internally. On the other hand, if we have a big application, in the best case it can be combined of a huge number of such „trivial“ microservices. And we get a lot of complexity in the combination. Just imagine you are getting a house built. And the construction company just dumps a few truckloads of lego blocks in the construction site. They are all well designed, well tested, high quality and you just need to plug them together. I cannot imagine that this will ever be trivial for a huge number of services and a non-trivial application.

Another problem is that there are typically one or more spots of the application where the real complexity resides. This is not a complexity made by us, but it is there because of the business logic, no matter how well we look at the requirements, understand them, work on them to get something better that is easier to build. Either these microservices tend to become bigger or they are more connected with other parts of the system than would be desirable for a microservice. So we end up with one or a few relatively fat „micro“services and some smaller ones, the smallest ones actually relatively trivial to rewrite. But we can keep everything non-essential out of these central services and make them at least as simple as reasonably possible.

Now we do have issues. How do the services communicate? How do they share data? By the book each service should have its own database schema. And they should not access each other’s DB schemes, because services should be independent from each other and not be using the DB as integration layer. In practice we see this rule applied, but in the end there is one database server that runs all the schemes for all the microservices. But we could split that up and move the database closer to the service.

Now there is some data that needs to be shared between services. There are several ideas how to accomplish this. The most basic principle is that services should be cut in such a way that little data needs to be shared. But there is also the pattern of having a microservice that operates like a daemon and a companion service that can be used for configuring the daemon service. There are some advantages in splitting this up, because the optimizations are totally different, the deployment patterns are different, the availability requirements are different. And it can be a good idea to build a configuration on the config service, test it on a test system and them publish it to the productive service, when it is complete, consistent and tested. Still these two services closely belong together, so sharing between them is well understood and works well. More difficult is it when it comes to data between really different services. We assume that it has been tried to eliminate such access to data from other services and it only remains for a few cases. There can be data that really needs to be in one place and the same for everybody. We can for example think of the accounts to log in. They should be the same throughout the system and without any delays when changes occur. This can be accomplished by having one service with really good availability. In other cases we can consider one service as the owner of the data and then publish the data to other services via mechanisms like Kafka. This is powerful, but setting up a good and reliable Kafka infrastructure for high performance and throughput is not trivial. When it comes to multimaster data and bidirectional synchronization, it gets really hard. We should avoid that. But it can be done when absolutely needed.

When services talk to each other, we should prefer mechanisms like JMS or Kafka over REST or SOAP calls, because it avoids tight coupling and works better, if one service is temporarily not available. Also we should avoid letting one service wait for the response from another service. Sometimes REST calls are of course the only reasonable choice and then they should be used. We need to address issues as to what happens if the service is not available and how to find the service.

When moving to a microservice architecture it is very easy to „prove“ that this approach „does not work“ or has „only disadvantages“ over a monolithic architecture. But microservices are a legitimate way to create large applications and we should give this approach a chance to succeed if we have decided to follow this road. It is important to embrace the new style, not to try to copy what we would have done in a monolith, but to do things in the microservice way. And it is important to find the right balance, the right distribution and the right places for some allowed exceptions like REST instead of JMS or data sharing.

Links

Share Button

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert.

*