Microservices: The latest twist in distributed computing

We've always been trying to break down the monoliths, but now it's more urgent.

There's a new wave of technology -- especially microservices and containers -- which seeks to break down all the monoliths and silos that have sprung up across enterprise systems over the years. But is this really a new mode of computing, or simply, as they say, old wine in a new bottle?

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Photo: Joe McKendrick

This and other questions were explored at a panel, convened at the recent Voxxed Days Bristol conference, that looked at the issues and opportunities in today's IT environment.

"There's been this big movement toward decomposing monoliths into microservices, and sticking them into containers, or sticking them out into cloud," said Dan Hardiker, chief technical officer at Adaptavist.com and moderator of the event. "It looks like the future is .. more of this stuff. But aren't we just swapping one set of problems we're familiar with with one set of problems we're not?" he asked.

To Simon Ritter, deputy CTO for Azul Systems, microservices and containers are "just another distributed computing environment," with the added "novelty" of the "circuit breakers" in microservices.

"A lot of the problems you're going to have in microservices are the same as the problems we've always faced in computing," said Ritter. "Such as, how do you deal with reliability? All those microservices are cool because they make things smaller and easy to many chunks.. different pieces. However, when you push the balloon on one side and it bulges out the other side."

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Still, we're living and working in a different IT world than even existed a few years ago. "It's still the same old things were trying to solve," agreed Paul Jenkins, product manager for IaaS offerings for Oracle. "What has changed is that the technology and the infrastructure underneath that support it has taken on a lot of this stuff that you had to worry about before... It's actually about functionality and value add -- actually iterating and getting functionality."

Kate Stanley, software engineer at IBM UK, also sees a different world emerging that is quite different than the typical IT landscapes just a few years ago. "There are definite motivators for this -- including cloud," she said. "We are moving to cloud and pushing things into someone else's data center rather than our own."

Add to that the complexity of today's systems, combined with pressure to deliver. Previously, enterprises had to weigh the costs and aggravation of taking on the complexity of highly distributed systems versus the potential benefits of agility and flexibility. "The thing we haven't seen before is we're seeing more and more people iterate faster and deliver faster," said Stanley. "It's no longer a case of bring something new out every year. You need to bring out every week or every hour even. Maybe the complexity the system added wasn't worth the reward that it got for me to move faster. Now the rewards are greater. So it's worth taking on the complexity."

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