Speed versus scale. Cloud versus on-prem. Monolith or microservice.
There are many factors to weigh when determining the right architecture service for your organization. The right setup for your organization should be one that most aligns with its objectives. Understanding the two most common software structures can help you identify how best to proceed.
Software technology has innovated at breathtaking speed over the past few years. It meets more demands than ever before, from performing more tasks faster to assisting with shifts to remote work. When organizations look at enterprise software architecture, many choose between two different options:
There are considerable benefits and drawbacks to each setup – some that your organization will need to weigh carefully. To help streamline your decision-making process, we’ve simplified what you need to know.
The first option for firms to consider is a monolithic setup. As its name implies, it means that your software application all exists inside one single codebase. It’s a unified unit that has applications built in different layers. One change to a feature requires a change to the entire software stack. To help you picture this, a software system with everything built into it would be a monolithic architecture, such as HubSpot or SalesForce.
Put simply, monoliths do it all by themselves. There is no need to contract with a vendor for an additional service that it cannot do independently. The software is self-contained and self-sufficient, from marketing and sales to resource management.
Advantages of a Monolith
- Simple and fast to develop, test, deploy, and scale
- Reduce the number of network vulnerabilities to security threats
- Faster onboarding and training for developers as they only need to learn one application
- Quickly identify needed technology patches
Disadvantages of a Monolith
- Difficult to manage at scale
- The entire application has to shut down to implement a patch after its identification
- One security breach leaves all data within the monolith vulnerable to theft or damage
- Inflexible to address new needs or adjusting to changes quickly
Now that we understand monoliths, it’s time to turn to its opposite: microservices. This setup consists of smaller, independently deployable services that you can customize to fit a user or organization’s needs. All services run independently and use their code stack rather than sharing one. Each service connects to the others based on need and function, giving companies greater control and flexibility.
You can expect these structures to continue to be popular, with a projected growth rate of 22.5% between 2019 and 2025. Notable companies recently embraced microservices architectures, including Amazon, Netflix, Uber, and Etsy. This shift is due to the ease of a microservice adapting to new business needs. As each microservice has its database and one functional responsibility, it is easier for organizations to implement changes suited to their needs.
Advantages of Microservices
- A smaller structure makes it easier to scale
- Any microservice needing an update only interrupts that single service
- Security breaches can be isolated to only that affected microservice
- Easier to hire developers as not every microservice uses the same platform/code, expanding the pool of potential applicants
Disadvantages of Microservices
- Complexity could require more time and effort to manage
- Skilled developers are required to handle the complexity of the system
- Requires a lot of network bandwidth and usage as services communicate with each other
- Less secure than monoliths due to multiple inter-service communication and access points to the network
Decision-Making Guide: Monoliths or Microservices
There are clear differences between monoliths and microservices. Each offers unique benefits to help your organization scale and meet its business needs. A third option exists, known as modular monoliths, that aims to combine the benefits of monolith and microservice architectures. But how to know which structure is best for your organization?
While the type of work your company performs, or the industry it operates within, may play a role, there are some good rules of thumb to keep in mind. If you need a quick, lightweight application, a monolithic application could help you best. Flexible solutions that need to adapt to changes and staff overtime should always look to microservices. Consider what the future looks like for your business and evaluate your staff’s current capabilities. It’s possible to start with a monolithic architecture and then migrate slowly to a microservice setup as your needs develop and evolve.
The Middle Path: Modular Monolithic
Choosing a software architecture is not an “either-or” choice – a middle ground exists between monoliths and microservices. This third approach combines features from both ends of the spectrum to create what’s known as a modular monolithic.
Modular monolithic reuses monolithic components and breaks them down into smaller modules. Each module can complete its functions independently, making them different from a microservice. Modules do not have to depend on others. Each module completes one unit of a business requirement, differing it from a monolith. If an organization begins as a monolith, it’s easy to transition to a modular monolith, while moving to a microservice can come with significant learning curves for development teams.
Advantages of Modular Monoliths
- Easy to vertically scale as needed
- Lower complexity (and thus easier to manage) than microservices
- The code base remains secure and re-usable for other applications
- Clear separation of function and responsibilities between modules
Disadvantages of Modular Monoliths
- Difficult to integrate modules with third-party applications
- Horizontal scaling requires greater management skills as more functions are required
- Modernization is complicated due to the unified codebase architecture
When choosing the right application for your organization, evaluating which technology stack best enables you to succeed is critical. While monoliths may seem simplistic, they could help your organization at the right time. Ultimately, the right setup will allow you to build, test, scale, and deploy as needed.