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In this article, we explore monolithic vs microservices architecture. After examining the pros and cons, you'll know which system will be best for your business.

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Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture: Pros, Cons and Which to Choose

Posted by Angela Davis on October 9, 2023

In 2023, businesses face a choice of monolithic vs microservices architectures for application development. While monolithic architecture has been the standard choice for a long time, as the digital economy moves to a more subscription-based model, it’s starting to look outdated.

Nowadays, many companies are opting for microservices architecture for their application needs instead. Amazon AWS is one example of a company that has already adopted microservices, citing flexibility and ease of deployment as key benefits.

What does all this mean for you and your business? In this guide, we’ll illuminate the key features, benefits, and limitations of both monolithic and microservices architecture to help you choose the best option for your business.

An infographic illustrating the main differences between monolithic vs. microservice architecture.

Image source

Many companies are instead turning to microservices architecture for their application needs. Amazon AWS, for example, has already adopted this, citing flexibility and ease of deployment as key benefits.

What does all this mean for you and your business? In this guide, we’ll illuminate the key features, benefits, and limitations of each architecture to help you navigate the new microservices era.

What is monolithic architecture?

Monolithic architecture is the name for a specific software program form. The model is constructed in a single block (otherwise known as a “monolith”), with all components tightly coupled into a single, cohesive unit. A monolithic computing network will use one code base and runtime environment to create a single-tiered application. This means that multiple services, such as API’s, databases, load balancers, and more, will function as one large application organized into different layers. However, all the components, as well as any associated components, need to be present for the software to successfully run.

Monolithic architecture is generally considered a good choice for smaller programs that need quick and cheap deployment, however, they lack flexibility and can be difficult to scale. We’ll go into more detail regarding monolithic architecture pros and cons later on.

Monolithic architecture examples

A typical monolithic architecture application has a front-end user interface, a server-side interface, and a codebase (software-supporting database). If your needs are simple and you need a quick turnaround, monolithic is the obvious choice. 

An example would be if your business was a startup with plenty of great ideas but not a lot of resources. To launch your business, start scaling, and attract the attention of investors, you would need to get your product to market as quickly as possible.

In this case, monolithic architecture is your friend. You can put an app together rapidly, without expending too many resources. The monolithic architecture allows you to get your business up and running in good time, and you can take the time to optimize and improve your programs later on as you scale.

Monolithic architecture is also a good choice if you know your product won’t need a lot of future scaling. In this case, you can keep things simple and cost-effective without sacrificing quality.

What is microservices architecture?

Microservices architecture is an alternative approach to the development of applications. Also known simply as microservices, this approach creates a larger application out of multiple, modular services that communicate via APIs. These loosely coupled, independently deployable services use independent databases and coding, as well as a specific business goal.

An individual team is typically responsible for each service used in a Microservices architecture. This allows for updating, testing, deployment, and scaling that is individual to each service and creates manageable complexity.

Microservices examples

Microservices have a lot of applications, but a common one is the restructuring of legacy systems.

Let’s say you’re a well-established company with an unwieldy legacy system. You want to modernize, move your systems to the cloud, change certain functionalities, or improve your digital systems in a more general way.

In this case, microservices can help you to optimize and improve incrementally, without too much downtime or resource expenditure at once.

Microservices are also useful if you need to do a significant amount of real-time data streaming and processing, such as the type streaming services, online banking, or eCommerce applications are known for doing. Microservices are far more capable of handling this kind of data load than monolithic applications.

Microservices vs monolith software

When it comes to microservices vs monolith software, some people might be tempted to assume that whatever is newer is better. However, it’s not quite that simple. 

Identifying your business needs and goals is always the key to unlocking your organization’s potential. While microservices allow greater scalability and flexibility, they also require more resources for service coordination and deployment management.

Taking a closer look at the differences between monolithic and microservices architectures will help you know which is best for your business.

Monolithic architecture pros and cons

Advantages of monolithic architecture

A good monolithic application has a lot of advantages. Here are just a few:

1. Simple development: Monolithic architecture is advantageous if you want to develop an entire application and get it to market quickly.

A small team can rapidly pull together and build an executable app using a monolithic system. This makes monolithic architecture ideal for startups without big software development budgets.

2. Easy deployment: Monolithic architecture is not as complex as microservices. It has fewer moving parts, so there are fewer components to manage and fix.

The self-contained nature of a monolithic app makes it easier to deploy, manage, and maintain than a microservices solution.

3. Uncomplicated testing and debugging: Because the application is fitted as a single unit and works together as a whole, you can perform monolithic architecture testing and debugging quickly and easily from a central logging system.

With microservices, all application parts need to be tested separately, from the software architecture to things like caching, dependencies, and data access. You also have to test that all the services work together properly. This can make microservices testing expensive and time-consuming before the debugging itself has even begun.

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Disadvantages of monolithic architecture

While you shouldn’t ignore all the advantages of monolithic architecture, it is essential to consider the drawbacks as well. If the following disadvantages of monolithic architecture would pose an issue for your business, then monolithic programs are not right for you.

1. Less scalability: Because monolithic architecture software is tightly coupled, it can be hard to scale. If you want to add new features or your codebase grows, you will need to take the entirety of the architecture with you.

Even if you only want to boost or alter a single function, the entire application needs changing. As well as being time and resource-consuming, this can also cause disruptions to continuous delivery.

2. Inability to adapt to new technologies: As mentioned before, monolith applications are tightly coupled. Take a music app, for example. The catalog is connected tightly to the purchase and play services.

While useful in some cases, this also means it’s hard to bring in new technologies or web services without dismantling the entire app.

3. High dependence between functionalities: Monolithic applications can also run into software engineering and downtime difficulties because of their tight dependency. 

Let’s go back to that music app example. Because the catalog, play, and purchase functions are so dependent upon one another, if one goes down, the others will go down with it.

While some people may only want to listen to tracks they already have in their catalog, meaning they aren’t using the purchasing function, if that function breaks, the whole app would be functionally unusable until the payment issue was fixed.

Microservices pros and cons

Advantages of microservices architecture

Microservices have a lot going for them. Here are a few reasons why many companies have chosen them to boost their business capabilities:

1. Independent services: In microservices architecture, each service is developed independently of the others, with the business logic spread over various platforms. This means workflows for one service don’t affect the development of others. Furthermore, resources such as development tools aren’t dependent on irrelevant functionalities.

Instead, each service gets the full attention of its own team. This enables quick and efficient independent development, followed by simply coupling the services together.

2. Enables agile development: As each service is developed independently, you can choose the tech stack and programming language that best suits each function. This means the best tools can be used for each particular service. In contrast, monolithic software architecture sometimes forces services into a one-size-fits-all approach.

This kind of agility allows applications to be developed more quickly and efficiently.

3. Scalable and reliable: We’ve spoken about how monolithic technology can be hard to update and scale. That’s not the case with hybrid cloud microservices. Because of each function’s loose coupling, it’s easy to optimize, test, debug, and fix functions independently of one another.

Rather than putting the whole app into downtime and scaling each service, you can instead tweak and upgrade independent services as and when needed.

This loose coupling makes microservice architecture services more reliable. One crashed service doesn’t bring down the entire app. If something goes wrong with an API gateway, the other services can still operate independently.

So, to return again to the music app example, even if the purchase and download functions crashed, customers would still be able to access the user interface and play music they already owned.

An infographic showing five benefits of microservices.

Image source

Disadvantages of microservices architecture

However, just like monolithic architecture, you must carefully consider the disadvantages of microservices as well. Here are the most noteworthy:

1. Time and resource-consuming: While the individual autonomy of each microservice can speed up development, it can also slow it down. It all depends on how complex of an app you want to make.

This is because while developing an individual microservice is usually quicker and more efficient than developing the same service in a monolithic context, implementing lots of different microservices and putting them all together can take a substantial amount of time.

Furthermore, while microservices allow you to use the optimal tools for each service, putting individualized tech stacks together can require a lot of resources and expertise.

2. Complicated deployment: Once you’ve developed each microservice, they need to be integrated into a functional app before they can be deployed. This can be a complicated process.

For a start, cross-cutting (in which each microservice needs validation or authorization to proceed) can be difficult. With monolithic architecture, tight coupling means an authorization for one service usually works as authorization across the board. That’s not the case for microservices, and to make it so you need to perform complicated linkage work.

All in all, deploying a microservice architecture isn’t always easy, and it gets harder the more complex your app is.

3. Complex testing: Every service in a microservice application has to be tested individually. Once all the individual service tests have been completed, you need to test how they work as a whole.

It’s important to test before releasing any product to market (and then to run regular functionality tests for as long as the product remains in circulation). If you want these tests to be as quick as possible, microservices may not be for you.

Should you update monolithic software to microservices?

As monolithic architecture is the older program model, many businesses started their software development journeys with this architecture, and have stuck with it as it is known for being stable and reliable. However, businesses that have grown and evolved may now be constrained by their monolithic services. So, is migrating to microservices the right solution? These are the factors you should consider before making the jump: 

Business goals

Before choosing a software program architecture, you will need to assess your business goals. While monolithic architecture has its advantages, it can become complex and difficult to manage as businesses grow. Microservices provide agility and scalability, as well as the ability to independently develop and deploy services and easily add new features. 

If your business is aiming for significant growth, the benefits of microservices, such as faster development cycles, better fault isolation, and improved scalability, will outweigh the costs and complexities of migrating from a monolithic architecture.

Application complexity

Evaluate the complexity of your current monolithic application. If it is small, well-structured, and adequately meets your current and future requirements, a migration to microservices may be unwarranted. There’s no need to upgrade if it doesn’t suit your needs, however, if you want to enjoy some of the benefits of microservices, a hybrid migration to microservices could help your business grow without completely abandoning the benefits you’re still gaining from your monolithic architecture.

Resources

Moving from a monolithic architecture to microservices involves significant changes to software infrastructure, including breaking down an application into independent services, defining service boundaries, implementing communication mechanisms, and updating deployment and monitoring processes. 

You will need to ensure you have the necessary technical expertise, as well as the time and budget to successfully carry out your migration strategy.

Costs

Migrating from a monolithic architecture to microservices can be complex and time-consuming. It is also not without risk. 

Migration may involve rewriting or refactoring parts of the codebase, updating infrastructure and deployment processes, and ensuring proper integration and coordination among services. Make sure that the long-term benefits of microservices will outweigh the disruptions to your business that the migration process will cause.

 

An infographic showing a typical microservices architecture for eCommerce applications.

Image source

Modernize your monolithic application with OpenLegacy

OpenLegacy can bring your monolithic applications into the future without the need for expensive overhauling or bulky middleware. With OpenLegacy’s hybrid, cloud-native architecture, you can add new digital services, expand your Cloud strategy, modernize your legacy architecture, and more - maintaining all the benefits of your monolith architecture while incorporating the advantages of microservices as well!

Find out how OpenLegacy can support your business’s digital transformation journey and help you adapt to meet the demands of the future today.

 


FAQs about monolithic applications

Is it possible to use a hybrid of monolithic and microservices?

The short answer is yes, a hybrid approach, which combines the benefits of both monolithic and microservices architectures, is possible. 

In a hybrid architecture, certain parts of the application are designed and implemented as microservices, but the core functionality remains within a monolithic structure. This allows businesses to enjoy the benefits of both monolithic and microservices architectures.

How can we modernize monolithic applications?

While monolithic architectures have their place, they’re increasingly being superseded by microservices. Many businesses want to gain the flexibility of microservices but feel unable to modernize due to relying on their current monolith applications. 

OpenLegacy’s hybrid approach combines the flexibility of microservices with your legacy monolith systems. There’s no need to switch off your system and commit to a complete overhaul, or patch in a lot of bulky middleware.

We create single functions as microservices, APIs, or other endpoints, which can be automatically connected to elements within your legacy system. These split up system processes and functions, enabling greater modularity and flexibility.

Are communications between microservices secure?

The security of communications between microservices depends on the implementation and configuration of the communication mechanisms. While the communications between microservices are not inherently secure, measures can be implemented to protect data and guarantee security. 

Some key considerations for ensuring secure communications between microservices include authentication and authorization, encryption, secure communication protocols, network segmentation, firewalls, and continual monitoring and auditing.

When choosing a migration service provider, consider the features that they offer to keep your microservice connections secure.

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