How Containers, Microservices and DevOps are Revolutionizing Enterprise IT Architectures and Processes
See how microservices and containers work together to help Agile organizations deliver better software to customers faster.
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Today’s business landscape faces a critical challenge: historically, organizations’ software services existed solely as a back-office function, important to the business but indirectly to its customers. The core services the company was producing and delivering were usually physical and in the real world. However, in today’s economy, businesses are increasingly delivering their core values digitally; software-based services are now strategic to the very core of a business; integral to the services they are selling to customers. Features and functionality must be delivered quickly, with high quality and with optimal user experiences. Lengthy, cumbersome app development cycles make companies non-competitive and risk disrupting not only a business’s customers, but also their bottom line. Simply put, in order to compete, organizations today require software architecture and development processes that resemble highly efficient factory assembly lines.
Microservices + Containers = The Perfect Match
In response to the demands of today’s competitive market, Microservices and DevOps methodology have emerged. Microservices, or cloud-native applications, represent a new application architecture that decomposes the large, monolithic applications of the past into a set of small, discrete functions or processes that are built and evolve independently of their peers. Each Microservice is self-contained; it does not share data with any other Microservice and is only accessible via its API. Microservices are also immutable (they are not updated, they are replaced while preserving the API) and they scale-out for each independent function. Microservices can enable organizations to thrive by delivering features, services, and solutions independently of each other on different delivery timelines. This design methodology makes it easier to develop systems with reusable component parts that can be used by multiple applications and services throughout an organization, saving software development and operations teams precious time.
Containers are frequently used to run each individual Microservice, serving as convenient, lightweight “envelopes” that allow software to be truly portable. As few or as many Containers needed for each Microservice can be dynamically created or destroyed based on load, so automation is crucial, as the rapid creation of Containers enables the scaling and high availability of Microservices. A Container will include all the required code to execute a particular Microservice instance, allowing them to break a problem into small pieces and create efficient, isolated and decoupled execution engines for each application and service. Some argue that virtual machines (VMs) can serve the same (or better) purpose as Containers, however, this discussion is frankly a red herring. VMs certainly have their own benefits such as security and isolation, however, Containers are a better fit for the Microservices dynamic due to their rapid provisioning and separation from the underlying operating system.
The Benefits of Containers and Agile Development
With Containers as the portable code envelope and applications decomposed into many Microservices that can be independently built and deployed, the final pillar of modern applications is DevOps processes. By encouraging rapid integrations, frequent communication between team members, and a continuous technology flow where development, QA and operations are interwoven in a precise and predictable way, an agile style of development is promoted that can lead to shorter release cycles, faster time-to-market for valuable new capabilities, less intrusive upgrades for customers, higher quality software and improved user experiences. DevOps methodology enables:
Continuous QA: Shipping software more rapidly, but in smaller doses via Containers and Microservices requires thorough and modular testing executed in parallel. Automation can enable continuous unit test and sandbox testing at the Microservice level, validating fine-grained small changes. It’s crucial to test early and often, when errors can be more easily diagnosed and resolved, and automation is essential for thoroughness and efficiency.
Staging Automation: Errors can often occur when operations teams move their work from staging to live deployment, especially when teams perform this process manually (remember the AWS S3 outage?!). By fully embracing DevOps, operations teams should automate the move from staging to production and implement Blue/Green deployments, a technique that reduces downtime and risk by operating two identical production environments running staggered versions (one before/one after an update), enabling rapid roll forward and roll backwards to recover from problems.
Performance Testing: Customers today prioritize user experiences – arguably above all else. If a change in the software makes a system slower or less responsive, organizations need to detect that as early as possible before it’s in live deployment and impacting customers. The end of a large release is too late to detect performance and usability problems. Teams need to evaluate the performance impact of small modifications when they are made and rectify when it is simpler to do so, thereby addressing any user experience and/or performance issues immediately.
The ROI of Microservices, Containers and DevOps can be profound, no matter an organization’s industry. Given that cloud-scale applications are no longer just background engines driving and coordinating a business, but also delivering the actual services customers are purchasing means delivering high quality, real-time user experiences is essential, and engineering, quality assurance and operations teams require iterative and independent development processes in order to keep up. By utilizing modern application software design and development process such as Container-based Microservices and DevOps methodology, organizations and their IT teams can produce new software capabilities and services more efficiently, while also continually testing and detecting for user experience anomalies before they ever run the risk of impacting a company’s customers or brand reputation.
For further reading on this topic, you may want to read a recent whitepaper on Next Generation Cloud Management Platforms I authored on the impact that microservices and containers will have on cloud management.
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