Simon Brown says it nicely:
Simon Brown (@simonbrown) March 04, 2015
Architect Clippy is a bit more snarky:
I see you have a poorly structured monolith. Would you like me to convert it into a poorly structured set of microservices?—
Architect Clippy (@architectclippy) February 24, 2015
In both cases, the message is the same: microservice architectures (MSAs), in and of themselves, are not necessarily “better”. There are aspects where moving to a distributed architecture from a monolithic one can improve a system (e.g. enabling selective load balancing and incremental deployment). However, if someone isn’t capable of building a modular monolith, distributing the pieces is unlikely to help matters.
Even where the requisite architectural design capability exists, however, it isn’t a given that distributing the components of the application is the right choice. Distributed applications will incur additional complexity from both a development and an operations standpoint. The more granularly the application is distributed, the more complexity will result. It makes little sense to incur complexity costs that outweigh any benefits received. The decision, however is not a binary one; system architectures that fall between MSA and monolith are possible. One can selectively apply MSA and/or SOA principles from the application level all the way to the enterprise’s IT architecture.
Daniel Bryant’s “Drafting a Proposal for a Microservice Maturity/Classification Model” contains an interesting taxonomy of application architectural styles:
- Megalith Platform
- Humongous single codebase resulting in a single application
- Monolith Platform
- Large single codebase resulting in a single application
- Macro SOA Platform
- Classical SOA applications, and platforms consisting of loosely-coupled large services (potentially a series of interconnected monoliths)
- Meso Application Platform
- ‘Meso’ or middle-sized services interconnected to form a single application or platform. Essentially a monolith and microservice hybrid
- Microservice Platform
- ‘Cloud native’ loosely-coupled small services focused around DDD-inspired ‘bounded contexts’
- Nanoservice Platform
- Extremely small single-purpose (primarily reactive) services
As a taxonomy of application types, Bryant’s work is interesting. Some of the details he’s listed for each type are highly generalized (e.g. Megaliths and Monoliths are assumed to be highly coupled, low cohesion big balls of mud that are difficult to understand), but it could serve as a basis for categorizing applications. As a maturity model, however, it has serious issues. As a maturity model, it would assume that nanoservices(!) represent the zenith of application design. I would argue that this is inherently flawed. Not all enterprises will necessarily require applications fitting the full MSA model. The idea that all applications would benefit from this style of architectural design is extremely hard to believe. I would argue that forcing this style onto smaller applications with limited user bases would be harmful – incurring unnecessary expense for these applications would risk discrediting the technique in circumstances where it would be appropriate.
Where a technique is chosen because of evidence that it delivers specific benefits that meet specific needs and the costs involved don’t outweigh those benefits, there is a higher probability of success. Where the decision is made on the basis of using what’s “new” or “cool”, there’s no real way to give a probability of success because the selection criteria is divorced from fitness for purpose. That being said, my bias would be towards a much lower chance of success.
Innovations can be alternatives without necessarily being “better” in all cases.