How a microservices-based architecture can reimagine enterprise software

This is a guest blog post by Savinay Berry, VP of Cloud Services at OpenText

Microservices are an increasingly important way of delivering an alternative to traditionally large, complex and monolithic enterprise applications. With a microservices architecture, applications can be broken down and developed through a collection of loosely coupled services that allow continuous development without having to redeploy the entire application. It is essentially a variant of service-oriented architecture (SOA).

Think like IKEA

For a simpler way to think about how a microservices architecture works, take the example of how the making and buying of furniture for the home has evolved. Traditionally, if someone needed a sofa or a dining room table, they would go out to a furniture store and buy the item for a few thousand pounds. They would get good use out of it and might buy a maintenance plan to cover any repairs.

Then along came Ingvar Kamprad, a 17-year-old Swedish boy who started a business selling replicas of his uncle Ernst’s kitchen table. That company became IKEA and broke the traditional model of buying furniture as a complete product that was already assembled. Instead, each item of furniture was broken up into easily assembled pieces that people could put together themselves. Manufacturing became cheaper as a result, and there was no maintenance or ongoing cost. The customer gets the modern dining room table or bookshelf they wanted, but at a fraction of the cost compared to a traditional furniture store. Efficiencies also resulted for IKEA; the modular design meant that operating logistics were simplified, making things cheaper at the back end.

The same is now happening with software. Traditional on-premises software is expensive, plus there is the cost of ongoing maintenance and support. Like in the IKEA analogy, software is instead broken up into easily consumable services, at a lower cost model.

Adoption of microservices, and cloud microservices in particular, is growing fast. Research and Markets predicts the global cloud microservices market will grow from $683.2m in 2018 to $1.88bn by 2023, driven largely by digital transformation and the retail and ecommerce sector, where customer experience is a key competitive differentiator.

A way to unleash the power of data

How does a microservices architecture work in the real world? Take the example of a large insurance company that provides homes and buildings insurance.

Previously, documents, insurance contracts and financial paperwork would be taken from the content management system and emailed to the builder. The builder would complete them and email them back. The insurance administrator would then print the email, scan the documents and put them into the content management system. This was happening on a daily basis, thousands of times a year.

Using a microservices approach, the insurance company was able to digitise the entire process. The administrator can now share documents by just clicking a couple of buttons, the builder can edit the documents, and have them automatically sent back into the content store. There is no longer a need to print or scan documents. This is what digitising businesses means in the real world. It’s not just a high-level, abstract IT industry concept. It’s a real application that saves time and money for enterprises.

Another example is a company in the utility sector, which will be able to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help maintenance crews search for parts. If the crews are searching for a part they get prompted with similar or related searches to what they are looking for, similar to Amazon’s recommendation engine approach. It is about leveraging the power of data stored in your own systems. And while the algorithm is important, it’s not the key factor. What really matters is the data – that’s the true differentiator.

Enabling innovation and transformation

But microservices isn’t just about making things easier to build and maintain, and cheaper to deliver and run. It’s also about what microservices enables enterprises to do. This approach provides the platform for businesses to completely reimagine applications and, in doing so, transform the customer experience.

A microservices architecture is more resilient and reliable. If one service goes down, the rest of the application will still be available to the customer. Microservices are also more scalable and can easily be configured to automatically scale up and down to meet peaks and troughs in demand, ensuring the customer experience is maintained without holding on to excess capacity.

Microservices also enable faster innovation, development and deployment. Developers have more freedom, because code for different services can be written in different languages. It allows for easy integration and automatic deployment of services and accelerated time-to-market for new services and products, or the ability to easily make enhancements to existing ones.

Microservices are a key enabler in the world of cloud and digital. But it’s not just about developers, code and technology. As with the cloud, it’s not simply a deployment model change – it’s a mindset and cultural change. And that’s what true digitisation provides – while inspiring new ways to work.

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