Support Layers in Microservices Topologies

​One thing I mention frequently in the daily emails is the fact that microservices require a lot more operational support and development support than a monolith does.

In a monolith, once you’ve got your CI/CD set up; it’s set up. Production-wise, you only have to worry about your application server and your database server (and any reverse proxy), and the most complex your architecture gets is when it includes a load balancer and a web farm.

All in all, not relatively complex at all.

Now, Microservices are not synonymous with containerization; but generally microservices end up being containerized for ease-of-deployment.  You can also containerize your monolith (which I generally recommend as a forcing function to make it seamless for new developers to get started in your system), and so containers aren’t just a microservices fad, though they work nicely with microservices.

If you think of microservices as self-contained applications that each need deployment, operational support, and scaffolding to make it easy to develop a new microservice, then you start to realize there are lots of repeated problems you have to solve when developing Microservices:

  1. How do we add new microservices in a uniform way so that we don’t have twelve different ways to do logging, or healthchecks, or monitoring, or authentication or authorization?
  2. How do we make scaffolding that makes it easy to have a generated container image for a new microservice that has all the business and industry specific stuff we need? For instance, if you work in the US government space, you’re going to hear two phrases a lot: “STIGged” and “FIPS-140 compliant”. Your industry may have its own terms, but it’s the non-functional part thatevery application needs to have that you’d rather bake in than worry about doing it each time.
  3. How do we make tooling that makes it easy to generate contracts when new microservices are made?
  4. How do we provision new hardware (when in a private data-center) or provision new instances (when in a public cloud setting)?

Susan Fowler talks about these four types of problems in her book Production Ready Microservices​​, which talks about the ways that you get a microservice from development to production in a sustainable and scalable manner.

Susan mentions four ‘support’ layers you have with Microservices that you don’t have in a monolith (or if you have them, they were already solved long ago and you don’t need to worry about it now).

Layer 4: Microservices
Layer 3: Application Platform
Layer 2: Communication
Layer 1: Hardware/Host*

*I’ve modified layer 1 to be Hardware/Host (because like it or not, a docker image is a host, and has its own patch cycle).

For a development organization, here’s the sort of things you typically need to worry about in those layers:

Layer 1: OS updates; OS library updates; the actual hardware (if in a private datacenter); Virtual Instances staying up to date; local Docker registry
Layer 2: Message contracts; event queue infrastructure; scaffolding for generated types; OpenAPI tooling; Thrift/gRPC tooling
Layer 3: (if in .NET): private nuget (package) registry maintenance and tooling; Keeping .NET up to date;  CI/CD for each microservice, development tooling; internal tooling to make development easier; (above scaffolding for generated types can also be in this layer); logging and monitoring for microservices;making the application systemd compatible
Layer 4: tools to generate microservice-specific configurations; SSL certificates for each service (if needed); environment files; and any tooling that we’d need to apply to a specific type of microservice.

If you have these four support layers in place; then a developer simply has to create a new microservice and go; this tooling takes care of the rest.  This can look like all of the scaffolding being generated for them by internal CLIs.

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  It is. But whether you automate it or make your development team do it manually, it still all has to be done, and is a cost to adopting microservices.

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