Though microservices have been around for a while, they have recently gained popularity for their promise to replace the monolithic approach to IT. But what are they exactly? Essentially, microservices are individual web-based applications that serve specific functions and are relatively easy to mix and match to meet different needs. For this reason, they are becoming increasingly appealing as the basis for a software architecture in organizations that want to modernize their enterprise IT systems and enjoy the benefits of utilizing SaaS and the cloud.
Building Blocks for Agility
Small, lightweight and flexible, microservices are well adapted to agility: when strategies change, they can be modified in relative isolation-without impacting all aspects of the system and risking outages and downtime. Microservices are frequently paired with container technologies, such as Docker and Kubernetes, in order to exploit their natural portability and isolation as ways to package and quickly deploy.
This modularity provides an alternative to complex, monolithic applications, where all modifications and updates must first be slowly and carefully checked for risks to the entire system. The structural risk isolation and ability to rapidly deploy (and revert) changes that microservices architectures enable fosters a better partnership between developers and operations teams.
Flexibility Brings Challenges
However, with great flexibility comes a higher risk of something slipping through the cracks. Putting so many different services together can be a bit like building a puzzle: the dependencies and overall structure can be difficult to manage without a clear point of control and a plan for what the finished product looks like.
Process scalability is another challenge. An enterprise can run one cloud-based service with relative ease, but simultaneously running dozens of services across multiple clouds quickly becomes a complicated juggling act. In fact, with all of the independent "moving parts" that come with microservices, it becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to manage these processes manually.
How Can Automation Help?
One key part of a solution to the problem of managing a large fleet of microservices is the implementation of an automation system that can string together the multitude of different applications in a microservices-based architecture. By defining workflows and connecting the modules, automation makes communication among stakeholders faster, more reliable, more transparent and more accurate, leading to quicker releases of updates and less time spent on rework.
Automation is therefore a key part of making a microservices-based architecture manageabale at enterprise scale. Rather than something that can be set aside and revisited later, automation must be "built in" as the architecture emerges in order to ensure that business processes work as planned, and that the services customers demand are constantly provided.