API Trends: Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture

Rocks Ascending from Large to Small representing Monolithic vs Microservices architectures

Monolithic vs. Microservices architectures, we’re showing you the history and the pros and cons of each. A lot has happened in the world of APIs management taking us from Monolithic methods to Microservices. From the agile method to the Internet of Things, software development is full of hot trends. They promise to revolutionize the tech industry for years to come. Some of these trends are truly revolutionary, while others are simply a flash in the pan.

Software developers’ tend to chase after shiny objects. With this fact, it hard to distinguish between phenomena that are actually impactful and those that are just another tech flavor of the month. 

A Brief History: Monolithic vs. Microservices

“Microservices” was once thought by many to be another tech buzzword. However, there are now clear signs that the technology has real staying power. Many developers find that the use of microservices has helped increase innovation while decreasing time to market 

In a 2018 study, technology learning company O’Reilly found that more than half of software projects are using microservices. 86 percent of survey respondents said that the use of microservices was “at least partially” successful, while 15 percent report “massive success” with microservices.

With adoption of microservices so widespread, it’s no surprise that the microservices field is projected to grow rapidly in the near future. ResearchAndMarkets estimates that the global cloud microservices market will grow by 22.5 percent between 2019 and 2025, buoyed by 27.4 percent growth in the U.S. market.

The field of API management, in particular, is closely related to the use of microservices. In this article, we’ll discuss the recent software development migration from monolithic vs microservices architecture, and what it means for API management.

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What is Monolithic Architecture?

Microservices are usually compared with the traditional monolithic software architecture. Something that is “monolithic” is massive and composed of a single substance—which also perfectly describes monolithic architecture in software engineering.

Monolithic architecture is a software design pattern in which a software application is written as a single coherent piece of code. As a result, changes to one part of the code base will necessarily affect the rest of the application as well. 

The pros and cons of monolithic architecture are:

Pros:

  • Ease of use: Monolithic software applications have many different functionalities contained within a single application, including logging, caching, and performance monitoring. This makes it easier to handle, and for other components and applications to connect to it.
  • Development: For most developers, building monolithic software applications is easier and more familiar. Because monolithic software applications act as a single unit without architectural complexity, it’s relatively less difficult to debug and test them.
  • Performance: In certain use cases, monolithic software applications may be faster than microservices. Accessing shared memory, as occurs with monolithic applications, is typically faster than inter-process communication (IPC).

Cons:

  • Complexity: Monolithic software applications can become very complex and bloated as they grow and evolve. This makes it difficult to decouple and isolate different parts of the application, and even to fully understand all of the application’s components.
  • Scalability: Monolithic software applications can only be scaled as a single unit. This makes it difficult or impossible to fine-tune the resources that each component of the application uses.
  • Legacy technology: Adding new technologies to a monolithic software application can be extremely challenging.

What are Microservices?

Microservices architecture is a software design pattern in which a software application is broken down into many separate yet interconnected components, known as microservices. Each of these microservice components has its own logic and is running its own process, communicating with the other components via a lightweight API.

The pros and cons of the microservices architecture are:

Pros of Microservices:

  • Scalability: Microservices applications are tremendously scalable, since each component can be scaled independently of the rest. Unlike monolithic applications, the microservices architecture can gracefully handle spikes in users and resources.
  • Independence: Each component in a microservices architecture is independent of the others, with communication happening via an API gateway. Bugs and crashes in one component don’t bring down the rest of the application. This independence also makes it easier for developers to modify and add new features to different components.
  • Flexibility: Monolithic software applications have a single code base and operate as a single unit, so they need to select a single programming language and tech stack that may not be optimal for the entire application. During the microservices development process, however, developers are free to choose the tools, technologies, and programming languages that make the most sense for each language. 

Cons of Microservices:

  • Development: Since you are building many small applications instead of one large application, microservices software development is necessarily longer than monolithic software development. In addition, most developers are more familiar with the traditional monolithic approach, and may require a period of adjustment before they can efficiently develop microservices applications.
  • Cross-cutting concerns: In the microservices architecture, cross-cutting concerns such as logging, caching, and performance monitoring are more difficult to deal with, due to the complex web of connections between each microservice.

With all that said, which situations and use cases are best suited for microservices and monolithic software?

Monolithic applications are better suited for:

  • Smaller development teams
  • Teams without microservices experience
  • Teams that need to build a relatively simple application

Microservices applications are better suited for:

  • Teams with microservices experience, as well as expertise in related practices and technologies (such as DevOps and containers)
  • Teams building a complex application that must be highly scalable

Agility and Flexibility with APIs and Microservices: Monolithic vs Microservices

In choosing between Monolithic vs. Microservices, you’ve decided that a microservices application is the best fit for you—but you already have a monolithic software application running in production. How can you migrate from monolithic to microservices?

API gateways are here to help. Using an API gateway is like putting an application programming interface in front of the various microservices that make up your application. To the end user, the API gateway appears as a API, while you enjoy the benefits of the microservices architecture behind the scenes.

So what is a microservices API gateway exactly? Like APIs in general, API gateways provide a “blueprint” for how external software and services can interact with the application hidden behind the API. Rather than a single application, however, API gateways conceal multiple disparate applications in the form of microservices.

Microservices API gateways are API gateways that sit at the front end of your microservices application. They act as “traffic controllers” ensuring that requests are routed to the correct microservice. This makes life easier for everyone involved: microservices developers can simplify and streamline their software architectures, while external users don’t have to worry about using separate protocols in order to access each microservice.

The benefits of microservices API gateways include: 

  • Easier development: Microservices API gateways allow developers to spend less time worrying about the various microservices protocols in their application, and more time actually developing the software and fixing errors.
  • Robust feature set: Depending on the vendor, API gateways may include features such as authentication, cache management, load balancing, and security policies.
  • Better insights: API gateways can collect statistics and metrics about the usage of various microservices. Collecting these insights allows the API gateway to act as a digital “bodyguard”—for example, by blocking an external user trying to access one of the microservices if there are too many requests originating from that user.

Important technical considerations when implementing a microservices API gateway:

  • Adding a microservices API gateway to your software architecture will add extra time and complexity to your project. In addition to creating the gateway, you also need to configure it for optimal performance.
  • Using a microservices API gateway adds another potential point of failure for your application. For example, if the server on which the API gateway is hosted goes down, external applications will not be able to access or interact with any of the microservices behind the gateway.
  • All of the traditional drawbacks and concerns when using the microservices architecture also apply to microservices API gateways. For example, developers need a robust solution for dealing with the problem of network latency between the gateway and the various microservices.

Key Takeaways from Monolithic vs Microservices

Despite these potential issues and concerns, a growing number of organizations are finding that microservices API gateways are an intelligent, effective addition to their existing microservices architecture. In particular, microservices API gateways can help organizations as they begin the long and arduous processes of converting their monolithic applications into a more flexible, scalable microservices architecture.

One example of a highly effective microservices API gateway implementation is Netflix’s Zuul API gateway. Zuul serves as the mediator between external requests and the various components of Netflix’s microservices architecture under the hood. The Zuul gateway is capable of routing requests from more than one thousand device types, directing them to the appropriate microservice depending on their hardware and software.

Conclusion: Monolithic vs Microservices

More and more organizations are switching from a monolithic architecture for their software applications to a microservices-based model. Yet making this migration is easier said than done. Understanding how to break down a monolithic application into microservices requires a great deal of technical skill in order to extract maximum performance while ensuring minimal disruption.

That’s where API gateways come in. By placing a single API “face” over your various microservices, API gateways make microservices applications more flexible and easier to work with, letting you focus more on development and less on technical issues.

Looking for a powerful API management solution for your own application and comparing Monolithic vs. Microservices? Give DreamFactory a try. We offer an enterprise-grade “API as a service” platform that is available both in the cloud and on-premises. Whether you’re modernizing your legacy monolithic applications or developing cutting-edge mobile apps, you’ll get up and running in no time with DreamFactory’s user-friendly, no-code API management platform.

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