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Microservices Architecture in Cloud Native Applications: Benefits and Challenges

microservices architecture

Microservices Architecture in Cloud Native Applications: Benefits and Challenges

Several years back, the ‘cloud’ was considered the future of application development. While this is still the case today, savvy experts say that the key to modernizing application development lies in one particular cloud computing component: cloud-native technology.  

This is an all-new approach that involves building applications using cloud-based technologies only from bottom up. A cloud native application is distinct from cloud-based and cloud-enabled apps in that the former is built and hosted on a cloud service from birth. Conversely, cloud-based and cloud-enabled applications are originally developed on traditional architecture before being reconfigured for execution in the cloud.

Combined with cloud native security, this new architecture continues to be a key component of digital transformation for its excellent scalability, adaptability, and portability. Additionally, cloud native technology is all about speed and agility. These 2 are among the most crucial requirements in this fast-paced era where end-users want rapidly responsive applications with lots of features but zero downtime.

Cloud Native Technology Foundational Pillars

The cloud native architecture is based on several critical components: the most critical of which are the cloud infrastructure itself, microservices, modern design, containerization, automation, and backing services.

For this post, we’re going to expound on microservices as they are considered the core of cloud native architecture.

What are Microservices?

Microservices in cloud native architecture is building an application by separating each of its functionalities into multiple independent services. These services are engineered to handle an individual task in the application ranging from implementing capabilities to running processes. 

Although these small software services operate largely independently, they are part of a more extensive architecture and are made to ensure excellent communication and data exchange between themselves.

A Peep at the Era before Microservices

The concept of microservices was conceived from the dire need to simplify the monolithic application architecture.

Before developers embraced the idea of creating applications in separate software services, each application comprised several layers built in a single stack and coded in one monolithic server. These layers can be:

  1. Authorization layer
  2. Presentation layer- handles HTTP requests
  3. Application layer- business logic
  4. Database layer- responsible for retrieving data from the database
  5. Application integration- creates links with other services or data sources
  6. Notification layer- for sending notifications

There are several benefits of monolithic applications that make them suitable for small to medium workloads. First, developing an app using this architecture is relatively more straightforward, particularly in the early stages. The application is also easier to test and deploy.

The main challenges of this traditional application architecture set in when the business expands, making it necessary to handle and process hundreds, thousands, or millions of users at once. The obvious solution for this is vertical scaling, which involves installing powerful hardware to sustain heavier applications. You may also make the server more capable, for instance, by boosting its processing power and adding memory and storage. However, there’s only so much that you can do to scale the infrastructure this way.

Secondly, the monolithic architecture creates a lot of areas where things can go wrong. What’s worse is that a bug in one of the modules is potent to bring the entire system down. Furthermore, since this architecture does not have self-healing properties, damage in one of its components requires human intervention.

The other major drawback of monolithic applications is that you can’t make changes to a single module without affecting the entire application. This makes it necessary to redeploy the whole system, even when making a simple upgrade in one of the components.

How are Microservices Different?

The significant advantage of microservices is that each service can be deployed in its server with dedicated resources. Even when deployed in a single server, each service can be made to reside in a dedicated container. A container is technically a server by itself in that it features all the executables, libraries, configuration files, and the binary code that each service requires to function.

Microservices are expected to be among the cloud computing trends for 2021 because they allow continuous delivery (CD), which enables producing software at any time and in short cycles. One of the reasons why microservices enhance CD is the ability to upgrade one microservice independently without affecting the other services.

Secondly, containers are self-healing, which means that they can auto-scale, auto-replicate, and auto-restart without the need for human intervention. The real advantage here is that problems in the application and infrastructure don’t cause downtimes and are fixed quickly.

Advantages of Microservices Architecture

  • Faster deployments– microservices promote continuous delivery, which is releasing complex applications within a short time.
  • Continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD)– this allows quick updates on code.
  • Improved testability– because each service is small.
  • Fault isolation– deploying each service in an independent server or container isolates faults. This means that an issue with one module won’t affect the performance of the entire application.
  • Improved scalability– separating the services allows horizontal scalability whenever necessary as opposed to scaling the entire system. This helps a lot in cost-saving.
  • Easy to understand– credit to the added simplicity, the IT team can easily understand everything about each microservice and how it works.
  • Enhanced security– because each service is a small independent component, the attack surface is greatly reduced. An attack on one of the services is less likely to spread to other services as they are isolated from each other.

Challenges of Microservices

While there’s no doubt that microservice architecture is ushering us into the future of application development, it has a good share of its challenges, too:

  • Testing takes time compared to monolith applications.
  • Microservices are a distributed system, which developers find complex to build.
  • Because services are hosted in independent servers or containers, there is a need to create extra code to facilitate effective communication between the modules.
  • Most IDEs (developer tools) are meant for creating monolithic applications and lack enough support for distributed microservices.
  • Deploying a distributed system of a cluster of services is generally complex.
  • It’s not ideal for legacy applications as the process of re-architecting the codebase can be both complex and costly.

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