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Why Run Your Microservices on a PaaS

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Microservices can be understood from two angles. First, the differential: teams that take a microservice design approach divide business solutions into distinct, full-stack business services owned by autonomous teams. Second, the integral: microservice-based applications weave multiple atomic microservices into holistic user experiences.

Unfortunately, traditional application delivery models and traditional middleware infrastructure do not address microservice-specific demands for on-demand provisioning, dynamic composition, and service level management. On the other hand, the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model addresses these demands perfectly. Running microservices on a PaaS fabric decreases solution fragility, reduces operational burden, and enhances developer productivity.

To understand why, we’ll first review how microservices separate concerns from both business and object-oriented design perspectives. Second, we’ll consider how microservice-based design can complicate deployment as applications scale dynamically. Third, we’ll focus on how
a PaaS environment helps to solve many of the problems both addressed and introduced by microservices-based architectures — in other words, why PaaS and microservices are a match made in heaven.

Microservices: Separating Concerns By Business Solution

A microservice approach decomposes monolithic applications according to the single responsibility pattern. In a microservice solution, each microservice interface delivers discrete business capabilities (e.g. customer profile, product catalogue, inventory, order, billing, fulfillment) within a well-defined, bounded context. The atomic microservice interfaces reside on separate and distinct full-stack application platforms that contain separate database storage, integration flows, and web application hosting. By separating concerns onto separate full-stack platforms and not sharing database instances or web application hosts across services, every team is free to choose different runtime languages and frameworks for its own microservice. Also, every team is free to evolve its data schemas, application frameworks, and business logic without impacting other teams.

Because microservices are a relatively new design approach, many development teams may have the misconception that creating a microservice-based solution requires simply deploying small web services in containers. But this doesn’t cut quite deep enough. The correct approach is to evolve your monolithic design by applying service-oriented principles (i.e. encapsulation, loose coupling, separation of concerns) in conjunction with domain-driven design techniques and dynamic runtime application composition.

For example, in a typical ecommerce scenario, a development team applies the bounded context pattern and single responsibility pattern to refactor a monolithic application into units distinguished by business capability (see Figure 2). By creating a user experience from loosely coupled services instead of tightly coupled native-language business objects, teams have more independence to develop, evolve, and deploy each business capability separately. Obviously, the microservice design approach works best for (a) greenfield projects or (b) modernization efforts where teams focus on refactoring monolithic application assets.

The Microservice Execution Trap

Although a microservice approach decouples development dependencies and speeds up development iterations, microservices also create a challenging environment for high-performance scaling and reliable runtime execution. More complex, loosely coupled, and dynamic environments distribute business capabilities over the entire network. Even a task as simple as responding to a single web application page request may spread out across several microservice instances residing on a distributed network topology. Martin Fowler and Stefan Tilkov (both microservice proponents) warn teams that successfully implementing a microservice approach requires choosing platforms that decrease solution fragility and reduce operational burdens.

What Platform-as-a-Service Offers

Platform-as-a-Service environments reduce microservice operational burdens when infrastructure-as-code and declarative policies are used to eliminate all manual actions and increase runtime quality of service (i.e. reliability, availability, scalability, and performance). The appropriate PaaS environment will automatically deploy, provision, and link full-stack microservices.

In a microservice architecture, teams want to rapidly release new versions and perform A/B testing across versions. When teams define instance dependencies, scaling properties, and security policies as PaaS metadata or code scripts, the runtime fabric can reduce manual effort and increase release confidence. With a DevOps- friendly PaaS, the team can experiment with new service versions and safely rollback to a prior stable release if a problem arises. Because microservices are full-stack silos *1* that can be composed of multiple server instances (e.g. web server, database, load balancer, integration server), a PaaS can reduce deployment complexity by automatically spinning up and linking all instances. Linking may require discovering instance locations, dynamically initializing network routes, and auto-configuring connection strings based on service version or tenant.

A traditional application will compose business functions and user experience by statically linking class files and shared object libraries. In contrast, microservice- based applications use service composition to connect available microservices endpoints and realize a fully functional application. While many microservice proponents promote microservice-based interactions by “smart endpoints through dumb pipes, ‘ effective service composition requires smart infrastructure building blocks to bootstrap and maintain connections between services and consumers.

The right PaaS solves these problems. Infrastructure building blocks will register service endpoint locations, associate metadata and policies, connect clients, circuit break around failures, correlate inter-service calls, and load balance traffic. A microservice-friendly PaaS will provide service registries, metadata services, discovery services, and service virtualization gateways. In the pipe, circuit breakers will automatically route traffic on failover or overload.

Smart endpoint code will dynamically connect with microservices based on discovery service responses and negotiated quality of service parameters. Rather than being hard-coded to a specific service hostname and URI, endpoint code will query for microservice location based on security assurances, performance guarantees, traffic load, service version, client tenancy, or business domain. When services are unavailable or underperform, smart endpoints will follow the tolerant reader pattern and gracefully degrade experience or proactively recover. A few recovery options include reading from local caches or circuit tripping to backup service endpoints. In conjunction with smart endpoint actions, a smart PaaS will spin up new microservice endpoints and full-stack instances based on service level management metrics.

By following microservice architecture best practices, teams create anti-fragile applications that not only withstand a shock, but also improve performance and quality of service when stressed or experiencing failures. To drive this non-intuitive behavior, the underlying platform environment must be ready to scale, repair, and reconnect services. PaaS service level management components will create more resilient and anti-fragile microservices by monitoring performance, elastically provisioning instances, and dynamically re-routing traffic.

Scaling an anti-fragile microservice is more difficult than scaling a web application. The PaaS should distribute microservice instances across multiple availability zones and dynamically adjust traffic to reduce latency and response time. Because transient microservice instances will rapidly start, stop, and change location, the service management layer must be completely automated and integrated with routing services.

A PaaS environment will deliver the service level management, dynamic service composition, circuit breakers, and on-demand provisioning functions required to overcome the complexity inherent within a distributed microservice-based application architecture. Running microservices on a PaaS fabric will decrease solution fragility, reduce operational burden, and enhance developer productivity. If you are pursuing a microservice design approach, make sure you choose a microservice- friendly PaaS. 


The Cloud Zone is brought to you in partnership with Internap. Read Bare-Metal Cloud 101 to learn about bare-metal cloud and how it has emerged as a way to complement virtualized services.

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