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What is a microservices architecture?

What is a microservices architecture?

August 19, 2021

A microservices architecture is a modular approach to application development that allows developers to deliver large, complex applications reliably and swiftly.

Applications—such as those for customer management, charging, or billing—consist of many interconnected sub-tasks that work in tandem to deliver the desired business outcome. In the past, applications were designed as one whole piece—aka a “monolith”—with tightly coupled components. This means that for an application to work, all the interdependent components have to work to perfection. Monolithic architectures are, by nature, rigid, slow, and difficult to change. Applications using this architectural approach tend to be massive, fragile, expensive, and complex.

A microservices architecture takes monolithic applications and breaks them down into multiple independent and loosely coupled core functions called microservices. Each feature, from search to chat to billing, is built as a standalone microservice and each microservice can be independently developed, deployed, and maintained. 

Microservices perform one function and only one function. Each microservice is designed to run its own individual process and has its own database, database management models, and light-weight communication protocols. This independence ensures that each microservice can function or fail without impacting any other service, making the application speedier, more fault-tolerant, stable, and robust. Also, by breaking an application down into its most basic functions, you can deliver the best results for each individual business capability.  

So, a microservice is a core function that runs independently of other functions and a microservices architecture is a framework for the loose coupling of an application’s core functions. Microservices architectures play well with DevOps and continuous development and integration cycles. 

Put it all together and you’ve effectively transformed the way engineers develop applications and the way organizations integrate new features, allowing them to iterate easily, iterate flawlessly, and scale rapidly. 

Benefits of a microservices architecture

When you replace monolithic architectures with microservices, you simplify the technology stack and make your applications agile, fast, and responsive to changing business needs. You also reap the advantages of distributed development, vastly reducing the time to market. 

A microservices architecture imparts:

  • Agility — Microservices allow businesses to quickly pivot in response to rapidly changing customer preferences and market forces. The modularity of a microservices architecture allows developers to quickly and easily launch features, check assumptions, gain insights, and improve services. 
  • Business focus — Microservices are purpose-built for specific business outcomes and owned by cross-functional teams tasked with achieving business objectives.
  • Ease — New features can be added, code can be updated, and services can be tweaked without disturbing the entire application. 
  • Flexibility — The most appropriate tech stack and programming language can be used for each service.The entire application doesn’t have to be built using the same stack or language. 
  • Scalability —You can choose to scale only those microservices that are in high demand, without having to invest time and resources in scaling the entire application. 
  • Resilience — Because you can update microservices rapidly, frequently, and on-demand, you can easily rectify errors, making the application more secure and resilient. 

Microservices are a way to build business-responsive IT systems that allow operators to identify changing user preferences, develop new functionality, and experiment to stay ahead of disruption. Using microservices, telcos and other types of companies can roll out new services rapidly based on the data they collect in their customer management systems and effectively engage subscribers to drive growth.

At the application level, a microservices architecture breaks down the complexity of the 5G ecosystem into individual components and makes it easy for individual functions to communicate with each other in single-digit milliseconds. This empowers operators to identify real-time opportunities and monetize new services quickly. At the system level, a microservice-based 5G network, because of its lightweight and small-footprint nature, can support billions of services and make it possible to add and update services in a matter of days, not weeks or months. 

There’s a catch, though. Because microservices architecture breaks down network functions into independent services, it is difficult to have a single version of the truth in dogmatic implementations adhering to microservices having their own databases. Microservices being deployed in containerized environments causes the system to have unpredictable failures. This means for the data to be safe, correct, and fail-safe, it needs to reside in a platform that can scale to serve multiple network functions without degradation in performance. This data platform needs to reside as a separate resilient layer of its own.

Why a modern data platform is key to 5G monetization

5G monetization requires microservices to work in tandem with other technologies, such as edge computing, event-driven architectures, and digital twins, to deliver real-time intelligence and power business agility. 

Edge computing reduces latency by processing data as close as possible to where it’s created and thus eliminating unnecessary round-trips. This doesn’t only support quicker decision-making, it increases the modularity and flexibility of the entire system. 

An event-driven architecture enables asynchronous communication between microservices, supports data consistency, and speeds up in-event decisioning. 

Digital twins can be used to run real-time simulations, anticipate changing business needs, and predict system performance. This digitization also helps to eliminate problems and enhance operational performance.  

All these solutions need to act on data the moment it’s created and before it loses its value. This requires a data platform that monitors events as they happen, aggregates streaming data from multiple processes and sources, applies business logic, compares the data against predefined norms, and flags anomalies—all within single-digit milliseconds. 

Modern applications rely on modern data platforms that support predictable low-latency decisioning. A unified data platform equipped with an in-memory, NewSQL database is an ideal choice to deliver data services to a multitude of microservices in single-digit milliseconds while also providing strong ACID transactions support and boosting performance. Legacy systems simply can’t keep up with the scale, latency and transaction consistency levels made possible by 5G.

VoltDB—a 5G-ready NewSQL database 

VoltDB is a built-for-5G data platform equipped with a high velocity decisioning engine that handles in-flight data in real time. We  enable service providers to evolve their business and marketing infrastructures away from batch-based integration of systems to enable real-time, revenue-generating personalization and fraud prevention based on event triggers.

Get started with VoltDB today and empower your applications to make rapid, nuanced, safe, and personalized decisions with consistent low latency at scale. 

Future-proof your customer management, revenue assurance, billing mediation, IIoT, policy control, and online charging applications. Read our SQL vs. NoSQL vs. NEWSQL paper to learn why NoSQL (and SQL) mostly fall short for 5G.

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