December 30, 2020

Microservices Disadvantages & Advantages

The game-changing benefits of microservices are undeniable. When implemented correctly, microservices architecture presents a flexible, scalable alternative to legacy monolith systems. Because of this, microservices are becoming increasingly popular.

You can change out individual components, then test and deploy each element when it’s ready. That separation makes for faster delivery.

That said, you’ll need to learn more about microservices’ advantages and disadvantages to make an informed decision about bringing the strategy into your organization.

In this article, we’ll go over some key disadvantages and advantages of microservices to consider before launching an initiative.

What Are Microservices?

Microservices is an architecture used to separate a monolithic application into several independent services. These services are loosely connected and can be deployed independently, yet offer a cohesive experience to the end-user.

Companies that embrace microservices see it as a way to better manage growing data sets, leverage cloud storage, and automation, and deploy solutions fast.

Companies run into trouble if they are unable to scale their application if it is difficult to upgrade or maintenance becomes too complicated.

Microservices are derivative of service-oriented architectures, as they break an application into a series of modules, each responsible for a unique function.

What Are the Top Disadvantages of Microservices?

Despite the many advantages of microservices, they aren’t always the best choice for every organization.

Before committing, you’ll want to make sure that a microservices migration aligns with your organization’s culture and business objectives.

The first step in determining if microservices is the right fit is evaluating the challenges you’ll likely face during the transformation. From there you will need to figure out whether your team is equipped to handle them.

Below, we’ll look at a few disadvantages of using a microservices architecture. These can include:

  • Being more complicated than most monolithic applications
  • Requiring cultural changes
  • Often are more expensive than monoliths
  • Can present security threats

Disadvantage #1: Microservices Are More Complex

One of the most notable disadvantages of microservices is that it’s a lot more complicated than most monolithic applications.

Microservices involve a lot more moving parts than traditional applications, requiring enormous effort, careful planning, and strategically applied automations to ensure communication, monitoring, testing, and deployment processes run smoothly.

To further illustrate the point, here are just a handful of the complexities organizations must consider:

  • It’s challenging to maintain multiple programming languages and frameworks.
  • Existing tools are likely incompatible with new service dependencies.
  • Each service requires individualized testing and monitoring, which means organizations also need to account for automation tools.
  • Achieving data consistency is a real challenge, as each service has its own database and transaction management system.
  • The initial refactoring of a monolithic application is a massive undertaking for large enterprise applications.
  • The number of processes can grow exponentially when load balancing and messaging middleware are considered.
  • Increases in documentation overhead as an organization has to keep schemas and interface documents up to date.
  • There are several microservices patterns to choose from, making it challenging to find the one that makes sense for your organization.

As you might imagine, the more services included in your application, the more complex the entire development lifecycle becomes.

Disadvantage #2: Microservices Require Cultural Changes

Any microservices initiative requires organizations to make changes to their internal culture. Before they can start the migration process, there should already be a mature Agile and DevOps culture in place.

Each microservice team operates as an independent business. The idea is that this structure allows teams to work in small groups, work independently, and also offer more control and increased productivity.

The challenge is that each development team must be able to manage the entire lifecycle of service, including maintaining a reliable API and managing an independent test suite.

Companies will also need to determine if employees have the experience required to implement a microservices-based application successfully. Developers should have a deep understanding of the end-to-end process — and possess the skills needed to develop, deploy, test, and monitor applications.

On top of that, you’ll need people with DevOps and release automation skills on each team, an asset that will become increasingly important as you scale.

Microservices transformation often involves shifting the competencies and decision-making power from managers and architects to individual teams. Unsurprisingly, that change to the org chart can be difficult for some people to accept.

The first step toward successful adoption is to secure buy-in from the top. This requires educating leaders on how to carry out the initiative, rather than prevent their people from being productive.

And finally, organizations will need to consider the communications challenges associated with this undertaking. The independence microservices offers means that employees won’t always have the big-picture visibility they’d find in a monolith.

Individual services must work together to create a working application, and the inherent separation between teams could make it challenging to create a cohesive end product.

Disadvantage #3: Microservices Are Often More Expensive Than Monoliths

Another potential disadvantage of a microservices architecture is the cost.

Services will need to communicate with each other, which results in a high volume of remote calls. This can increase network latency and processing costs, beyond what you might expect to pay when using traditional architectures.

Developers will need to account for this problem, creating solutions that aim to reduce the number of calls to avoid disruption.

Microservices also demand more resources, as each service is isolated and requires its own CPU and runtime environment. You’ll be bringing more tools, servers, and APIs into the fold, due to the lack of uniformity.

With each service using a separate programming language and technology stack, the demand for resources increases. Organizations must account for everything needed for the development, management, and maintenance of each module.

Disadvantage #4: Microservices Can Present Security Threats

Compared to monolithic applications, microservices comes with some significant security challenges due to the sharp increase in the volume of data exchanged between modules.

Because you’re working with multiple small containers, you’re exposing more of your system to the network, which in turn means you’re exposing more of your order to potential attackers.

It’s also worth noting that because containers are highly-replicable, one weak spot in one module can turn into a bigger problem. Often, the source code is used across several applications, presenting easy access for hackers.

As a result, without the right tools and training, microservices can quickly turn into a security nightmare.

What Are the Top Advantages of Microservices Architecture?

The software industry is fast-paced and extremely competitive, with new technologies, processes, and tools rolling out every day. Many of these innovations are short-lived flashes in the pan. This makes it difficult for businesses to identify which solutions to adopt, let alone determine when and how to do so.

Microservices have been around for over a decade. Even so, many companies still aren’t quite sure if the framework will eventually fizzle out or if they need to embrace it to avoid becoming obsolete.

With that in mind, here’s a bit of background: the architectural framework emerged to address the limitations of monolithic architectures — scaling, flexibility, and productivity.

Part of the reason many organizations believe that microservices are a fad is that its approaches are always evolving.

Additionally, new tools such as Docker, Kubernetes, patterns, and methods are being introduced to the process all the time. That said, we’ve helped hundreds of clients migrate to microservices over the years and firmly believe the framework is here to stay.

In these next few sections, we’ll go over the key advantages of a microservices architecture. They can:

  • Make On-Boarding Easier
  • Reduce Risk
  • Provide Flexible Data Storage
  • Enable Polyglot
  • Reduce Clutter
  • Increase Fault Tolerance and Fault Isolation
  • Increase Speed of Deployment
  • Allow for Greater Scalability and Flexibility
  • Simplify Security Monitoring

Advantage #1: Microservices Make On-Boarding Easier

Because microservices are modular in design, developers take on a more focused role than they might in an organization that uses a monolithic application.

Each service is equipped to handle everything from data storage to communication. As a result, small teams can be assigned to developing, testing, and deploying a single service.

That smaller scope makes on-boarding new developers a shorter, more straightforward process.

New developers can get started right away, as they don’t need to understand the function of every service nor how the whole system is connected. What this means is that microservices can help companies reduce onboarding costs and put new hires to work faster.

Advantage #2: Microservices Reduce Risk

Monolithic and SOA applications can take a long time to develop, test, and deploy. This is because even one small error that impacts a single feature can delay deployment for the entire platform.

By contrast, a microservices architecture allows each feature to be developed and deployed independently. In this article, we discuss in detail the differences between microservices and service-oriented architectures.

That separation reduces risk, as the failure of one service will not cause the other services to fail. Developers can make changes to one service or roll back buggy updates without having to redeploy the entire application

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Advantage #3: Microservices Provide Flexible Data Storage

One of the greatest advantages of microservices architecture is that it allows organizations to store data in multiple locations.

By contrast, monolithic and SOA architectures restrict data storage options to just one location. While that approach works just fine for small, homogenous data sets, it’s not exactly a scalable solution.

As companies start dealing in larger data sets, and that data starts to take on varied characteristics, they may begin running into some problems. With a microservices architecture, developers are free to choose a storage type that best supports the needs of each service.

Advantage #4: Microservices Enable Polyglot Programming

Not only can organizations choose a different data storage solution for each service, but developers can also select the programming language best suited for the job.

Why write code in different languages? While it might make sense to keep things uniform with the same language used across the board, the truth is, different languages come with different functionalities.

For example, SQL works best for databases, while you’ll want to look toward Java or Swift for mobile functionality.

The point is, polyglot Microservices gives developers the freedom to choose which tools work best for them, without coordinating major development efforts with other teams.

Advantage #5: Microservices Reduce Clutter

As technologies depreciate over time, they are eventually replaced by new tools. In a monolith application, this means adding new tools to the existing stack.

Long-term, this means that monolithic applications can become very large. Decoupling a monolithic application into microservices presents an opportunity to reduce the size of your codebase by removing the unused functionality.

The speed and ease of future deployment make it easier to keep your application free from unused functionality.

Advantage #6: Microservices Increase Fault Tolerance and Fault Isolation

Another key advantage of microservices is improved fault tolerance and fault isolation. Because microservices are loosely coupled, they can be extremely fault-tolerant. Meaning, if one service fails, it won’t compromise the other services in the application.

Each microservice contains everything it needs to perform its intended function. Monolithic applications exist as a unified block of code, where various modules are closely connected.

In this case, if one feature crashes, it could mean downtime for the entire system. Microservices also make it easier to locate and isolate issues, limiting the search to just one module and thereby reducing resolution times.

Advantage #7: Microservices Increase Speed of Deployment

The microservices architecture can easily align with Agile, DevOps, and CI/CD. As companies embrace these ideologies that transform internal culture and workflows and automate manual processes, deployment speeds will increase dramatically.

Different teams can work on different modules simultaneously, without waiting for other groups to complete projects before they can move forward.

They’re also easier to find, modify, and perform QA testing. Also, small teams can develop, test, and deploy multiple modules simultaneously, allowing them to increase output without hiring more people.

Advantage #8: Microservices Allow for Greater Scalability and Flexibility

Among the key benefits of microservices are the flexibility and scalability this framework can provide.

The flexibility microservices provide also extends to vendor and technology commitments. Organizations are free to apply new technology stacks on a single service, which means the key consideration is finding the right tools for the job.

Loosely-coupled microservices allow teams to scale each service horizontally and independently.

Advantage #9: Microservices Simplify Security Monitoring

Today’s top microservices solutions can identify vulnerabilities across the entire system, with a near-zero rate of false positives that stand in the way of productivity.

Additionally, because each service is isolated from the other modules in the application, it’s easier to track down the root cause of a security issue. Compared to monolith applications, where everything is connected, microservices protect organizations from the losses caused by long stretches of downtime.

What’s more, that isolation prevents security threats from compromising the other modules in your application, resulting in both productivity gains and cost savings for organizations.

The Advantages of Microservices Prove They’re Here to Stay

In weighing both the advantages and disadvantages of microservices, it’s clear why companies opt to decouple unruly monoliths.

We’ve seen the benefits of microservices first-hand, and know just how much of an impact this transformation can have on performance, efficiency, and culture. However, it’s essential to understand the challenges and risks associated with such a complex initiative.

3Pillar Global draws on deep experience in using microservices as an integral part of the digital products we create for our clients. Contact us today to learn more.