Exploring the Microservices Architecture with Real-World Examples

Microservices architecture has come into the limelight over the past decade, especially in the wake of widespread adoption of cloud computing and architecture for software applications. Another reason for its popularity is that some of the leading companies like Amazon, Netflix, Uber, etc., credit microservices in part for the massive success in their IT investments. The microservices architecture approach to building applications has significantly improved the development process, making it more focused, productive, and streamlined. 

This article explains the basics of microservices architecture and delves into real-world microservices use cases, highlighting how companies have benefited from adopting this innovative application development approach. 

What are Microservices? 

Microservices represent an architectural paradigm in software development characterized by the decomposition of a complex application into a set of small, independent services. These services are designed to operate autonomously, each encapsulating a specific business functionality.  

The fundamental concept underlying microservices is the division of a monolithic application into modular components that communicate with each other through well-defined APIs. In a microservices architecture, each service is responsible for a specific set of functionalities and you can develop, deploy, and scale it independently of other services.  

This modular approach facilitates more agile and efficient development processes, allowing teams to work on different services simultaneously without interfering with each other’s work. Each microservice typically runs its own process and database, ensuring that changes or issues in one service do not propagate to the entire application. 

Communication between microservices often occurs through lightweight protocols such as HTTP/REST or messaging systems. This loose coupling enables teams to choose the most suitable technology stack for each microservice, fostering flexibility and adaptability. Additionally, microservices can be deployed using containerization technologies like Docker, further enhancing their portability and scalability. 

Why Do Companies Use Microservices? 

Some of the most successful companies of the 21st century attribute the success of their IT initiatives to adopting the microservices architecture. They took some time to do away with their monolithic applications and replaced them with a microservices-based architecture. They did this for good reasons. Microservices-based applications allowed them to scale easily, become more agile, and reap greater profits. We’ll be discussing these examples in this article. 

But first, let’s try to find out what actually made these enterprises shift from monolithic to microservices.  

Many companies started (and some still do) by developing a monolithic application or a set of tightly linked monolithic apps for their business. These apps are built to perform many functions, and their programming code resides in one app code. Since the code of various functionalities is in one place, it becomes very challenging to untangle it.  

This is one of the greatest drawbacks of monolithic applications: you cannot add or remove a single monolithic application feature without possibly disrupting the entire app code. Hence, upgrading a monolithic application is nothing short of a headache for developers, not to mention how time-consuming and expensive the process can be. Every time you upgrade the application, you make the code more complex until a point comes where you just can’t upgrade it anymore. 

Since scalability is critical to business success and monolithic apps may hinder it, many companies convert monolithic apps into microservices-based applications 

Building Microservices-Based Applications 

When faced with the shortcomings of monolithic apps, developers have two options: either divide the monolith’s functions into loosely coupled microservices or create a new microservices app from scratch. Which option they choose depends on how tightly coupled the monolith is, how much time it will take to untangle the functions, and whether a new app will be quicker and easier to build. 

If your team decides to build the app anew, make sure they know about the top architectural design patterns for microservices.
Here are some of the things you need to consider when designing a microservices application.

Designing a Microservices Application:

  • Properly understand the functions your existing monolithic app performs. You should begin by identifying the services and component functions it performs. This is often challenging since services are tightly coupled and, thus, confusing. Nevertheless, this is still the first thing your DevOps team should work on if they want to convert the app into microservices. 
  • Next, your team should develop each app function as an independent microservice. The general principle in a microservices architecture is that each microservice is designed to handle a specific business capability or functionality. This means that a microservice typically addresses a single concern or function. This approach allows for better modularity, independence, and scalability. 
  • Once the microservices have been developed, use API gateways to integrate them such that they work in tandem to form the whole application. Every microservice collaborates with others to deliver essential functions. Each segment is flexible and adaptable, and you can modify or eliminate it with minimal or no impact on the remaining components of the application.    
  • You should also assign system resources and leverage container orchestration tools such as Kubernetes to oversee the allocation of system resources for individual microservices. This process aids in maintaining organization and ensures the cohesive functioning of the entire system. 

Real-World Examples of Microservices Architecture

Let’s discuss some real-world applications of microservices-based architectures. 

1. Amazon 

Today, Amazon has become a household name. But back in the early 2000s, it had humble beginnings, and the structure of Amazon’s retail website back then resembled a singular monolithic application. 

The intricate dependencies within and between the multi-tiered services constituting Amazon’s monolith posed challenges for developers. Updating or scaling Amazon’s systems necessitated meticulous disentangling of dependencies, incurring substantial costs and time investments.  

While the monolith model initially proved effective for Amazon, the burgeoning codebase, exacerbated by an influx of developers, led to an influx of updates and projects, negatively impacting software development efficiency. Faced with declining productivity, Amazon sought an alternative approach.  

In 2001, confronted with development delays and service interdependencies hindering scalability, Amazon opted to overhaul its system. The shift involved breaking down monolithic applications into small, independently operable, service-specific applications, marking a transition to microservices and transforming the company’s operational dynamics.  

Amazon’s methodology:

involved scrutinizing the source code, extracting units serving singular functional purposes, and categorizing them into microservices. Despite the initial complexity caused by intertwined code, the developers diligently separated the functions into distinct sections.  

These sections were encapsulated into web service interfaces. For instance, a single service was created for the Buy button on a product page and another for the tax calculator function. Each function was isolated, allowing Amazon to delegate ownership of independent services to specific developer teams, facilitating granular troubleshooting and more efficient resolution of challenges.  

Amazon’s pioneering “service-oriented architecture” laid the groundwork for what we now recognize as microservices. This transformation prompted Amazon to develop solutions supporting microservices architectures (Amazon AWS and Apollo). Had Amazon not made the switch to microservices, they would not have been able to achieve the tremendous business growth that we’ve witnessed all these years. 

2. Netflix 

 Amazon isn’t the only pioneer of microservice. Netflix, too, stands out as a trailblazer in the realm of microservices, leveraging this architectural paradigm with interconnected APIs to achieve remarkable business success. 

Parallel to Amazon, Netflix embarked on its microservices journey in 2008, predating the widespread adoption of the term. In 2007, Netflix initiated its movie-streaming service, but the following year, it ran into serious service disruptions and scalability issues, resulting in a three-day inability to ship DVDs to members. 

Netflix thus faced challenges in serving its customers effectively as it operated within the constraints of physical DVDs. The monolithic design proved insufficient beyond a certain threshold, and the concept of microservices architecture had not fully materialized. 

According to a Netflix Vice President, the impetus for transitioning to the cloud arose in 2008 after a significant database corruption incident. The realization that vertically scaled single points of failure, like relational databases, were not viable led Netflix to move towards highly reliable, horizontally scalable distributed systems in the cloud. Amazon Web Services (AWS) became the preferred cloud provider due to its scalability and comprehensive set of services. 

Starting in 2009, Netflix started converting its monolithic architecture into microservices, one service at a time. By 2012, they had finally converted all their customer-facing systems into microservices. This helped them overcome issues of scalability and service disruptions, not to mention cost reductions, thus enabling them to achieve stupendous business growth. 

3. Uber 

Although Uber was launched in 2009, it really gained worldwide traction in the mid-2010s. Uber, too, began with a monolithic architectural design. And as with our other examples, Uber also started facing scalability issues with its monolithic design.  

Developers found it very challenging to fix bugs, launch new app features, and integrate global operations. To add to that, Uber had a very complex monolithic design structure, necessitating developers to have in-depth knowledge of the system before making even the most minor of updates to it. The design seemed inadequate and inefficient in the wake of Uber’s rapidly growing popularity. They had to make the switch to stay competitive. 

They started breaking down the monolith into cloud-hosted microservices, with each microservice dealing with a specific app function, like trip management, etc. Uber, just like Netflix, also used an API gateway to connect its microservices. The company eventually developed global standards for its microservices. Although this was a tedious process, it was totally worth it for the business.  

Once it became a microservices-based platform, Uber faced little to no difficulties in scaling its operations to meet the growing customer demand. 

4. Walmart 

The theme with all our real-world microservices examples is, by and large, the same: scalability issues leading to a refactoring of the monolithic design. Walmart made the switch to microservices in 2012, following issues in meeting high customer demand during the peak season. Their inability to meet the high demand adversely impacted their revenue figures. 

This prompted Walmart to initiate a comprehensive overhaul of its system, refactoring its core services into microservices. This enabled the company to redistribute the workload while streamlining the system workflow.  

Walmart benefited from significant reductions in its hardware costs, computing power used, and system outages during peak seasons. Moreover, a microservices architecture helped the company adopt a mobile-first approach, enabling it to increase its conversions manifold.  

5. Spotify 

Spotify is another prime example of microservices. With more than 574 million users, Spotify exemplifies the benefits of microservices-based apps. All Spotify users prioritize an enhanced user experience (UX), as do users of most other apps. 

Spotify offers this seamless UX to its customers thanks to its microservices-based application. Spotify’s approach to system architecture involves the segmentation of its infrastructure into autonomous. And self-contained microservices, each serving a singular purpose. The company has assigned dedicated teams to manage each microservice, ensuring a focused and goal-oriented approach.  

Each microservice is tailored to address a specific objective within the system. For instance, functionalities like the search engine, autogenerated playlists, and content tagging are handled by individual microservices. This modular arrangement reduces interdependence between services, promoting consistency in customer service. Furthermore, the isolated nature of these microservices allows continuous refinement without disrupting the overall service.  

The segmentation also proves beneficial in issue resolution. As any emerging problems are confined within a specific microservice effects on the entire system. This approach enhances system robustness and facilitates targeted troubleshooting and updates. 

 Wrap Up 

The microservices-based architectural design is sure to replace most, if not all, monolithic applications. That is because in our rapidly evolving technological landscape. Which is teeming with dynamic shifts in customer wants and demands. Scalability is key not only to success but also to survival. Companies are being compelled to move to scalable microservices-based applications. 

Are you looking to build a microservices application or convert a monolithic app into one for your business? You’ve come to the right place. Xavor offers high-end microservices solutions that are tailored to meet your unique needs. Want to explore our microservices architectural solutions further? Drop us a line at [email protected] to book a free consultation session with our microservices team! 

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