The article discusses the monolithic vs microservices pros and cons and gives advice on choosing an architecture type for your future software product

Monolithic vs Microservices Pros and Cons Explained

The rapid advent of Industry 4.0 caused across-the-board digitalization of a whole range of industries – from insurance and education to retail and healthcare. The rivalry between companies spread into the digital realm as well, where their software products began to compete for the consumer, trying to win them over with exquisite design, swift performance, and smooth functioning. Yet, the ultimate business success of a solution is largely conditioned by the right choice of monolithic vs microservices architecture it runs on.

Monolithic vs Microservices: A Glimpse into History

Before we dig deep into the difference between monolithic vs microservices, it makes sense to clarify the very notion of software architecture. This term describes the principle of design and organization of a software product’s components, the way they integrate and interact with each other and with the environment they operate in. While deciding on the architecture for their future solution, forward-thinking software architects go even further and ensure its evolution potential and ability to upscale.

In the middle of the 20th century, when the IT sector was in its infancy, the monolithic principle of software elements’ organization was the only one available to web development teams. The technological progress in the domain has changed Hobson's choice situation by ushering in a viable alternative – the microservices approach. During the first decade of its existence (2011-2021), it has won universal acclaim, causing 85% of enterprise-size companies to switch from monolithic to microservices in their professional products. However, monolith survived, with many major-league brands still relying on it and even migrating there back from microservices (like Prime did).

If you are just starting your digitally powered business journey, you should make a pivotal choice between monolithic vs microservices architecture for your high-tech solution, and this article aims to help you with this dilemma. Let's discover the essence of each architecture type and find out the merits and demerits of microservices architecture vs monolithic.

Meet Monolithic Architecture

This is the software architecture classics. Monolithic products exist as a single-block structure that relies on a universal codebase across all modules. The number of these modules can be different, depending on the scope of the project and its features. As a rule, monolithic solutions consist of the server-side unit, a client-side UI, and a database, with all their functions served in one place.

We can mention Facebook as a monolithic example. The social media platform's top priority is handling its enormous traffic created by 2+ billion active users. The monolithic architecture, where all code is kept in a single module, allows the site to adequately react to traffic spikes without breaking down. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this type of software component organization?

Discovering Monolithic Architecture Pros and Cons

First of all, let's focus on the fortes of the monolith.

  • Straightforward development. Working with a homogeneous chunk of code is always easier. All tasks related to it (like change tracking, application monitoring, or source code management) are a cakewalk for experts in the field.
  • Foolproof deployment. It is also a breeze. Monolithic products are deployed as a single file or directory.
  • Fast performance. The shared access memory monolith relies on makes the performance of solutions utilizing this architecture lightning-fast.
  • Swifter testing and debugging. When all elements are stored in a single virtual place, quality assurance and bug elimination proceed faster.
  • Minimal cross-cutting problems. Since all monolithic components are hooked up together, they run as a single system, where their logging, caching, and performance monitoring go hand in hand.
  • Smaller OPEX. Since monolith doesn’t require load balancing, service detection and registration, interservice communication, and other operations you have to pay for, the development of such solutions is more affordable.

Now, we will speak of the shortcomings of monolithic architecture.

  • Resistance to modifications. If you want to upgrade, upscale, or rebuild one of the monolithic solution's elements, it is next to impossible. All changes, updates, third-party integrations, etc., that developers introduce to them must be sustained across the entire codebase, which is extremely effort-, time-, and resource-consuming.
  • Single point of failure. A malfunction in one element causes a hiatus in the operation of the entire solution, which can resume working only after the problem is fixed.
  • Longer downtime. When you plan product upgrading or maintenance measures, it should be put out of operation totally, which can spell tremendous financial losses for your business as long as it lasts.
  • The complexity of code. When spread out throughout the system, multiple code layers and dependencies it covers become rather complicated and unwieldy. That is why understanding and managing monolithic code (even if properly documented) is a tough row to hoe.
  • Language constraint. Monolith allows for one programming language to write code in. Naturally, you can’t integrate into such solutions units or elements that “speak in a foreign language.”

Introducing Microservices Architecture

This software organization pattern is everything monolith is not. All solution modules are developed and function independently, running every process as a standalone service. They communicate via APIs, but each unit in the collection possesses its own database, scope, and operational logic. You may say that they are independent software products since microservices are conventionally organized not by technical characteristics but by their business capabilities.

Being present a little over a dozen years in the IT market, microservices actually aren’t that young since they may be considered a variation of service-oriented architecture (SOA) that dates back to the late 1990s. Thus, in fact, we should rather speak not of monolith vs microservices opposition but of monolithic vs microservices vs SOA architecture comparison. What is the difference between SOA and microservices?

While both structures prioritize a modular approach to software architecture, SOA is more coarse-grained and aimed at resource sharing, in contrast with more fine-grained microservices, whose purpose is to exclude dependencies and provide a resilient infrastructure. That is why SOA is honed for enterprise-scope projects, whereas microservices stay at an application level. Created with a single responsibility principle in mind, microservices products can’t handle multiple tasks where SOA excels.

Still, microservices architecture is more flexible and scalable than SOA, which answers the question of why it is slowly but steadily ousting monolith. The best testimony to its success is the huge number of blue-chip companies (Google, Netflix, Spotify, Uber, and Etsy, to mention a few) whose software products can serve as microservices examples.

Let's have a look at the upsides and downsides of this architecture type.

Zooming in on Microservices Pros and Cons

Among the advantages of microservices, we should mention:

  • Independence of modules. The ability to develop and deploy each architecture element independently translates into the scalability and flexibility of the solution.
  • Foolproof bug detection. The procedure is held for each standalone module since bugs it contains stay within it and, therefore, are easier to spot.
  • Failure resilience. Thanks to the containerized nature of microservices, where the boundaries between modules are hard to cross, the malfunction of one element doesn’t bring the whole system down. If a microservice fails, it doesn’t trigger a cascading fault since the request is rerouted to a backup service, and the product keeps running.
  • Transparency of structure and code. The system's straightforward organization makes it (and the code within each component) easy to understand and handle.
  • Unlimited choice of tech stack. Developers can employ different technologies to build different modules. Moreover, they can change a tool, language, or framework when they need to upgrade any unit, and it won't affect other services.
  • Development flexibility. You can entrust creating various models to different vendors, finding the best-in-class teams of specialists that excel at UI/UX design, third-party integrations, frontend development, backend development, etc.
  • Shorter time to market. You can deploy standalone containers of your microservices product as soon as they are ready and start getting ROI immediately. Moreover, the whole solution can be created much faster with different teams working on various functionalities simultaneously. Finally, the containerized nature of microservices enables leveraging the best DevOps practices during SDLC, with the well-established CI/CD pipelines becoming powerful productivity boosters.
  • Minimal downtime. Maintenance or upgrading of each module can be performed without shutting down the whole system, whose healthy units continue operation unhindered.
  • Adjustable security. Each module can be equipped with a different security mechanism that suits this very unit to a tee, which allows developers to adopt a flexible security strategy for the microservices solution. If a penetration nevertheless happens, the threat is isolated within the affected module and doesn’t breach the security perimeter of others.

Alongside weighty assets, microservices architecture has certain drawbacks.

  • Limited application. The tasks in some apps and other software products can’t be containerized.
  • Cross-cutting concerns. You should pay close attention to health checks, logging, externalized configuration, and other aspects of software creation.
  • Providing reliable connections. Developers should ensure the modules play well with each other and set up stable links between them.
  • Additional pain points. Here belong tool incompatibilities, data consistency across the services’ disparate databases, selecting the relevant microservices pattern, handling multiple languages and frameworks, and other issues developers should learn to deal with.
  • Slower operation. The loading speed of a microservices solution is adversely affected by the distribution of tasks between the components and the complicated network of interconnections the product relies on. You can offset the latency by implementing asynchronous communication between modules and performance orchestration. However, such a measure reduces service interdependency and may result in some unpleasant consequences.
  • Longer QA and debugging. Since each unit has to be checked individually, it takes quite a time. The only measure to accelerate the process is to implement automated testing of modules.
  • Development sprawl. If the standalone units are created by different teams, their cooperation and communication management come to the forefront. In case it is inadequate, the project will drag along at a snail's pace.
  • More security threats. The greater the number of elements, the more potential pathways for hackers and malware to penetrate the product’s security contour. Consequently, you must spend more time and effort reinforcing cyber protection measures.
  • Increased memory consumption. Microservices' containerized nature entails the possibility of running multiple instances of the same service. As a result, more memory space is necessary to guarantee the solution's seamless operation.
  • Greater amount of paperwork. Since each module has its own documentation, its volume is much larger than the one you will prepare for the monolith. And the necessity to update it increases that amount exponentially.
  • Questionable ownership. If different teams create services, the problem of responsibility for their support and maintenance may become a challenge for the product owner. And since such a necessity usually comes well after the microservices solution's deployment (sometimes when project participants aren't available), owners have a real headache trying to remember who to contact.
  • Lack of standardization. With the multitude of languages, underlying technologies, logging patterns, monitoring routines, etc., a universal microservices product utilization or upkeep roadmap is unattainable.
  • Greater expenditures. Module-by-module deployment (typically in the cloud) makes a microservices product a big-ticket item liable to severe overheads if its infrastructure, monitoring, and testing costs aren’t properly controlled.

Evidently, each software architecture type has its own strengths and weaknesses. How should you choose the one that will be a perfect fit for your use case?

When to Use Monolithic Architecture vs Microservices: EXB Soft’s Advice

First of all, you should realize that you can’t use the words “better” or "worse” regarding any architecture type. Instead, you should consider your business needs and the organization's goals while deciding on microservices vs monolithic application.

As an experienced IT vendor with numerous completed projects in our portfolio, we know that monolithic architecture is preferable for small or medium-scale software products with tight integration between elements, whose requirements are simple and straightforward. As a rule, these are apps launched by cash-strapped startups where scalability or flexibility are of little importance and which can do without superior business logic. Or, they may be products built by medium-size companies whose in-house IT department lacks the expertise to handle microservices.

If you are an enterprise-size business that needs a scalable and more complex solution with multiple modules, functionalities, and user journeys, think microservices. Of course, you will have to ensure smooth communication in all senses of the word – both between the units of the microservices product and across different development teams engaged in the software development pipeline.

Whatever type of architecture you will eventually opt for, the success or failure of the software piece is ultimately determined by the quality of its implementation. Competent and certified professionals of EXB Soft have relevant skills and experience to deliver a monolithic or microservices solution of any scope and complexity within time and budget. Drop us a line to take the first step on the road to a smoothly functioning solution with a sleek design whose excellent performance and affordable price tag will impress you.

To Sum It up

Monolith and microservices are two types of software architecture that form the bedrock of all IT products today.

In monolithic products, all units are tightly coupled and have a universal codebase, which streamlines development and deployment, accelerates testing and debugging, and improves performance. On the flip side, such solutions are notorious for their complex and often confused code, resistance to modifications and upscaling, and incompatibility with innovative technologies.

The microservices model relies on a collection of loosely hooked modules communicating via APIs. This organizational pattern makes such products failure-resistant, susceptible to new integrations, upgrades, and development tools, and faster to market. At the same time, they are harder to build, slower in performance, more expensive in development and maintenance, and consume more memory space.

To select the most suitable architecture, you should assess your needs and wallet size. For small companies on short commons that don’t have an in-house IT team and want to obtain a fairly simple app, monolith will be a better choice. Enterprise-size businesses that bargain for a more complex and scalable solution containing multiple modules will benefit from opting for microservices.

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A software program created as a cohesive, independent and self-contained unit is referred to as having a monolithic architecture. A monolith architecture for software design isn't far from what the name "monolith" is frequently associated with: something massive and glacial.

In software engineering, a monolithic application is a single-tiered software application in which the user interface and data access code are merged into a single program from a single platform.

The advantages of a monolithic architecture are:

  • Simple deployment – Easy deployment only requires one executable file or directory.
  • Development – It is simpler to develop an application that uses a single code base.
  • Performance – In a consolidated code base and repository, one API can frequently carry out tasks that several APIs with microservices must carry out.
  • Simplified testing – End-to-end testing may be completed more quickly with a monolithic program than it can with a distributed application because it is a single, centralized unit.
  • Simple debugging – Finding an issue is simpler when all the code is in one place and can be followed.

The disadvantages of a monolith include:

  • Slower development speed – Large, monolithic applications have a tendency to be more difficult and take longer to develop.
  • Scalability – Individual components cannot be scaled.
  • Reliability – The availability of the entire application may be impacted by a bug in any module
  • Technology adoption roadblock – Any changes to the framework or programming language have an impact on the entire application, making modifications costly and time-consuming.
  • Lack of adaptability – A monolith is limited by the technologies it presently employs.
  • Deployment – Redeploying the entire monolith is necessary when making even minor changes to a monolithic application.

The main benefit of monolithic architecture development is rapid development speed because it is straightforward to have an application with a single code base.

An application architecture known as a "microservices architecture" is one in which the application is created as a group of services. It offers the framework for autonomously creating, deploying, and maintaining microservices architectural diagrams and services.

The adoption of microservices is partly to blame for the great success of some of the most cutting-edge and successful enterprise organizations in the world, like Amazon, Netflix, Uber, and Etsy. These companies gradually removed their monolithic applications.

The advantages of microservices are:

  • Agility – Promote agile working practices for small teams that frequently release.
  • Flexible scaling – New instances of a microservice can be quickly deployed to the associated cluster to help relieve pressure if it hits its load capacity. Our customers are now dispersed over many instances, and we are multi-tenant and stateless. We can now support instance sizes that are significantly greater.
  • Continuous deployment – Our release cycles are now more regular and quick. We used to provide updates once a week, but we may now do so up to two or three times every day.
  • Highly testable and manageable – Teams may try out new features and roll them back if they don't work. This speeds up the time it takes to sell new features and makes updating code simpler.
  • Independently deployable – Since microservices are standalone entities, independent feature deployment is quick and simple.
  • Flexibility in terms of technology – Microservice designs give teams the option to choose the tools they want.

The disadvantages of microservices can include:

  • Development sprawl – Since there are more services in more locations built by more teams when compared to a monolith design, microservices introduce more complexity. If development sprawl is not effectively controlled, it slows down development and has negative operational effects.
  • Exponential infrastructure expenses – Each new microservice may require its own test environment, deployment playbooks, hosting environment, monitoring tools, and other resources, all of which may be priced separately.
  • Additional administrative burden – Teams are required to work even harder to coordinate changes and interfaces.
  • Challenges with debugging – Because each microservice has its own set of logs, debugging is more difficult. Additionally, a single business process may execute on several computers, which makes debugging even more challenging.
  • Lack of standardization – Without a shared platform, a variety of languages, logging conventions, and monitoring techniques may proliferate.
  • Lack of distinct ownership – The number of teams managing services increases along with their introduction. Over time, it gets more challenging to identify the resources a team can use and who to contact for support.

Being as flexible as possible allows microservices to overcome the drawbacks of monolithic systems. In its most basic form, they aid in the development of applications as a collection of quick-to-deploy tiny services, each of which runs in its own process.

A monolithic application is created as one cohesive unit, whereas a microservices architecture is made up of a number of smaller, independently deployable services.

Compared to applications that use microservices, monoliths can frequently be developed and deployed more quickly, and they may also be easier to manage. However, when an application grows more complicated, monolithic ones may also experience problems with scalability and maintaining a single codebase.

In comparison to an application that uses microservices, monoliths are frequently easier to manage and quicker to design and deploy. A lack of scalability and the difficulties of maintaining a single codebase as the application gets more complicated are further drawbacks of monolithic applications.

Single jar/war file deployment makes deployment simpler. Comparable to microservices architecture in terms of ease and simplicity of development. Comparatively speaking to a microservices architecture, network latency and security issues are rather minor.

It is simpler to develop and maintain complicated programs when distinct architectural components may be managed as independent services. Small groups can split up responsibilities and construct infrastructure at the same time.

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