Amazon, Netflix, Spotify: three businesses that share a lot in common. Instantly recognisable, multi-billion-dollar valuations, and set to dominate industries for generations.Yet there’s one detail you might not know: they have all benefited from a microservices architecture when expanding their operations. But before we dive into how microservices support scalable growth, let’s first understand what it means to build a monolith.
Monolithic applications comprise of a single unit: one structure that handles every function, including HTTPS, domain logic execution, database operations, client/browser communication, authentication – the list goes on, but you get the picture.
This means that anytime you want to upgrade your system – be it a small tweak, a feature release, or a platform upgrade – you have to rebuild and deploy the entire application. From a development standpoint, this is a difficult task; imagine the level of work for even the smallest of updates.
When it comes to scaling, the requirement becomes almost impossible.
As more clients use your application, you may well run into usability issues, and performance could drop – the bottleneck might rest with a single component, but if you can’t scale that one service, you are left with few options.
You can either choose to run separate instances to handle the increased load, but then you have the overhead of running multiple versions of the same application: not ideal.
Or, you can switch to microservices: the path Amazon chose in the early 2000’s, allowing them to improve their front-end development lifecycle, deploying more than fifty-million times every year.
So, Why Choose a Monolith in the First Place?
In truth, starting out with microservices can be difficult. You don’t know the exact architecture of your product. It’s hard to define which services you need. Microservices are resource-heavy and time-consuming to manage, particularly if you’re only looking to build an MVP.
So, many projects start with a monolithic architecture.
If you intend to scale your team and your user-base, however, you should consider the microservices approach as early as possible.
5 Benefits of Microservices
Microservices focus on building a single application as a collection of small services. They break down vast systems into smaller, manageable components so that teams can work independently to develop and scale a product – without stepping on each other’s toes or having to repeatedly ask for permission to build, test, and deploy.
In essence, microservices provide five distinct advantages.
#1 Evolutionary Design
The most significant benefit of a microservice-based architecture is you can evolve your product direction over time without having to rebuild the entire application from scratch.
Any new feature becomes an additional microservice. So, product managers define what they need; developers build, then you plug the service into the existing application.
#2 Manageable Codebase
As each microservice handles a single functionality, the codebase remains reasonably sized and so easier to manage.
Rather than having to run thousands of tests across millions of lines of code, you just have to consider the service in isolation.
#3 Simple to Scale
Not only can developers keep a hold on existing architecture; when the time comes to scale, it’s easy to develop the necessary services to handle the increased load.
Take Netflix as an example: if they know a new season of Stranger Things will generate lots of international traffic, they can scale the specific API across geographies to preserve streaming speed and avoid localised latency.
#4 Simpler to Deploy
Companies have to respond quickly to changing market dynamics, but the deployment process can delay releases.
Small codebases with few dependencies reduce deployment risks, allowing DevOps to introduce the new service in minimal time without unnecessary overhead, buy-in, or sign-off.
Monoliths are only as strong as their weakest link; one failure can bring the whole application down.
With microservices, on the other hand, isolated failures only affect specific features, while the application remains live.
Overcoming the Communication Challenge
Microservices have many positives, but every technology presents its own difficulty: clearly, if you have multiple services to manage, you’ll need to consider how your teams will operate. Moreover, you’ll need visibility of how each internal service communicates with the others within the overall infrastructure – both for troubleshooting and ongoing maintenance.
Establishing and tracking communication between microservices is often a primary concern, but there are a couple of ways to simplify your setup.
You can build endpoints for each service so that other components can retrieve the necessary information.
Or, RabbitMQ and ZeroMQ offer reliable messaging queues in the context of task management or wide-scale processing. For a real-life example: an email will likely be put in a queue for processing by an email API before being sent.
If you are planning an application, it pays to consider the preferred approach as early as possible. While microservices present increased complexity early on, the argument for long-term scalability often wins out. If you would like to learn more here’s our text about AWS and how it shortens platform’s time-to-market!