Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture: What To Choose For Your Product?
Feb 2, 20229 min read
Senior full stack developer and CTO at Ideamotive.
Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture: What’s the Perfect Pick for Your Product?
Many businesses out there keep coming across a puzzling choice of monolithic vs microservices architecture, which is perfectly understandable. The underlying architecture can make or break the software’s success - that’s why it’s crucial to settle with the foundation tailored specifically to your product’s needs instead of following trends or competitors’ traits only. Remember - each software product is unique.
But in order to pick the most suitable architecture, one must first get the big picture of major architecture formats. Ideamotive is here to assist you with that by guiding you through all the necessary details of both approaches. Let’s dig in and see what makes them the way they are.
What is a monolith?
As an older and more conventional way of building applications, a monolithic approach is about creating an application whose structure literally resembles a single big block, hence the name. A Monolith acts as an inseparable unit that forms a uniform layer and is usually composed of three interconnected elements and modules - a relational database, a server-side application, and a client-side user interface - while having only one yet extensive codebase.
Alternatively, microservices require the application to be split into a set of more condensed independent small services, each with its own function, database, codebase, and lifecycle. Each part of the microservices-based structure is developed and maintained separately and is later connected through a fitting API. This newer approach is proven to be more complex and arduous yet in some cases more adaptable due to the whole “brick-laying” approach.
What is their Scope? What problem(s) do they solve?
The software development industry is always on the lookout for scalability and efficiency - from making sure teams are properly organized to delivering projects faster yet still scrupulously. By choosing either of these approaches, both monolithic and microservices developers strive for streamlining their internal process, software scaling capabilities, and time-to-market terms.
Why choosing between them is important?
In the monolithic vs microservices debate, it all comes down to context. Each project has a different team structure, different requirements, and limits (be it functional, budget-related, or otherwise). The amount of experience of each team member, as well as deadlines and specific budget, all have to be put into consideration when choosing the right type of architecture for your particular case.
Are they in demand?
Nearly 70% of profiled companies have now implemented the microservices approach in one way or another in the development process or production. Half of them are medium-scale organizations that focus on boosting the frequency of their product releases.
Even though these stats show the rapidly growing popularity of microservices, monolith still stands the test of time and should not be discarded - some even think it’ll still be relevant in the future (as opposed to a more common conception of monolithic architectures gradually becoming totally obsolete). Right now, we can safely say that both approaches can do excellent if used correctly, and our next focus should be on what sets them apart.
What Is the Underlying Difference Between Monolithic Architecture vs Microservices?
The most obvious difference is the architecture itself. Monolith gets the database, the user interface, the front- and backend, and the business logic incorporated under a single codebase while microservices get them subdivided and operated independently. In the former, testing and deployment processes are swept under one line. By contrast, the latter scatters them across various databases and adapters.
Let’s see what else is different.
Point of contrast
Might be more challenging in a big app, but it's much easier to start when working on a new app.
Has numerous tech stack options and loose coupling, however, requires more profiled knowledge.
Simple - one script to test the entire system.
Complicated - each part is tested separately
Might be slower, but it's also easier to deploy one app vs changes across multiple services.
Continuous development and deployment are achievable since each service is implemented individually.
The bigger the application, the more challenging it is to scale it.
Each part is scaled independently with less fuss.
One source code and one channel equals straightforward monitoring.
More API connections mean more security work and observation.
Bulky and cumbersome.
Uninterrupted and don’t slow down the entire system.
A single bug or error might disrupt the entire system.
Bug in one service only affects that very service and can be fixed topically.
Pros & Cons of Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture
Some of the advantages of choosing monolith for your project are:
Simplicity - one code in one place makes the developer’s life easier with standardized processes and the maturity of the approach;
Easy testing and debugging - that single codebase comes in handy once again by relieving the stress of having to test and debug multiple smaller units;
Steady performance and undemanding deployment for only a single application you’re working at, instead of changing multiple parts, plus it’s only using one API call as opposed to numerous requests.
On the flip side, the following are considered the most common disadvantages of monolithic architecture:
Gets increasingly difficult to manage when the application gets too extensive - both effectiveness and speed may suffer due to the need to update the whole system whenever the small change is needed;
Lack of flexibility - difficult to add new programming languages or other tech ingestions without having to reorganize the entire application;
Hard to manage if you have a large team working on a longstanding continuous project.
For a microservices architecture, the benefits are:
Flexibility and simple updates - each part gets adjusted faster and the independent scaling adds a lot of horizontal “free-ranging” while also reducing the average time-to-market;
A sizeable team can have each of its members working on their own parts of code without meddling (check out the picture below);
No need to limit yourself to only one technology - for instance, one microservice can be done by Java developers while Dotnet specialists are handling another, and so on.
Capping off our monolith vs microservices pros and cons comparison are the downsides of microservices:
Debugging hassle - each microservice needs its own testing cycle and it can be hard to find out which part needs debugging;
Performance - amidst multiple API requests as a result of numerous units interacting with each other, there’s a greater chance of hold-ups due to possible communication problems;
Security - the higher the number of individual microservices, the more access points the application has, therefore, more effort is needed to secure each entry.
How to Approach the Development of These Types of Architecture?
While many of the important considerations of going monolithic vs microservices are mentioned in our previous chapter of pros and cons, it is crucial to discuss what is essentially needed in terms of resources and effort to turn either approach into a successful project in the long run.
What roles and resources are needed?
Here’s what to consider when choosing monolith:
As long as an application is on a simpler and smaller scale, the involvement in the process shouldn’t be too intrusive - management and navigation are usually by default, however, that does severely limit the project’s options.
Your team has to have an up-to-date application framework as moving to a newer one in the middle of development can be quite challenging - the same goes for programming languages. Any change to the technology stack might mean rewriting the whole thing.
Any onboarding after the development kicks off is demanding on both developers and managers alike.
As long as you stick to the original resources and requirements for all the components without expanding, the development shouldn’t be too expensive. Yet costs can pile up whenever major changes appear.
At the same time, microservices require you to count for the following:
Each microservice and module calls for its own central processing unit and runtime environment - hence, you might be looking at a higher amount of basic expenses and operational costs.
Although depending on the traffic for each microservice, you may have a chance to cut costs if there are any lesser-needed modules in your application.
You may need to give extra time for the development team to assemble all the connections between modules and databases.
A typical microservice project needs several teams of different skills and expertise - without having at least DevOps, domain modeling, distributed design, or Containers specialists to navigate all the parts, the system as a whole may flop.
The choice of monolithic vs microservices is also affected by how much and how exactly the architecture will impact the product as a whole (during development and deployment) and how will users perceive any of such changes.
The impact of a monolith
Modules being hosted in one place represent the original simplicity of development. All the deployment parts, as well as any updates, come as one package - this facilitates the delivery and ensures easier monitoring.
Testing, though, can take more effort if there are too many bugs present, considering you have to scan the entire application from the start. Another negative impact that comes from a single failure is that the whole product can be compromised and users will definitely notice.
The impact of microservices
One of the best examples of the positive impact of microservices is eCommerce with its array of small yet important parts, operating as one but managed individually. This approach opens new horizons for business owners that want to expand and up-scale their projects.
The continuous delivery and the fragmentation of several services in an application helps customers not to feel any discomfort due to the product being taken down for repair - even if there’s any mistake in any part of the code, the maintenance process gets usually unnoticed by the user.
When Should You Use Them?
Another major factor when deciding to go monolithic vs microservices is the architecture’s suitability to your product. To illustrate - here’s when it’s more advisable to choose Monolith:
When the application is on the smaller side - that way, a Monolith will work faster and more effectively;
When you have a middle-sized team and you’re not planning on expanding it in the middle of the project;
For start-ups that don’t have a fully developed product yet;
If you need to design a minimum viable product to test the ground.
And here’s when it’s much better to go for a microservices-based application instead:
When you have a bigger budget and can manage multiple teams of specialists - from UX/UI designers to various types of developers;
When you want a substantial and complex application with multiple sides, modules, and features;
You require various data sources and business logic components in your application;
If your business already has or will have increased web traffic, plus will need a lot of flexibility.
At what stage of company development is it worth starting to implement them?
Usually, new market exploration-focused projects are done as cheaply as possible, and monoliths are definitely cheaper. If that kind of project grows to a size, where it's feasible to split the development team (let's say more than 6 developers), then it'll be easier for them to also split the app. It doesn't have to start with a complete overhaul - it can be just one component split from the rest of the app and transformation into microservices can progress when there's good business (or team size) reason to split out new fragments of the app into a new, separate service. Remember, that it's not only developers that need to be doubled - business analysts, dev-ops engineers, testers - everything needs more time and more people when going with microservices.
For whom are they meant?
Those are definitely meant for bigger teams. It's infinitely easier for one-two devs to work on one code-base instead of switching between multiple projects, while when the team grows it might become hard to handle so many people working on one codebase and constantly changing things.
What type of businesses usually implement them?
There's no specific type of business that is more suited for microservices than other. Almost every web app has at least some parts that can be made into its own microservices, e.g. user accounts handling, payments, etc.
Are they fit for start-ups, scaleups, enterprises?
Start-ups usually have a constrained budget, so it'd be reasonable not to choose anything more complicated than a monolith for those. Even enterprises can build simple projects that are better suited for monolithic applications, but big budgets can be also used to future-proof apps a bit and start with micro-services from the scratch. Scaleups can start to split out some services from their main monolithic app when their team grows to a size that allows them to manage multiple projects efficiently.
For which type of application and company are they a better choice?
Apps that do a lot of loosely connected things will be better suited and easier to split into services, but every mid-size to big app can probably be built in at least 'monolith with services around' architecture, if not a full microservice one. If a company has previous experience working with one type of infrastructure, then it should build a new project using the same type.
The Future of Software Development with Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture
Although it’s almost impossible to predict the future and list what trends are coming our way next, there are definitely as many people as there are opinions. Some think we shouldn’t beat a dead horse and still use monolith in our applications while others believe the opposite.
Regarding Microservices, there are a few trends worth mentioning. First, multiple microservices and the multi-cloud environment - utilizing several cloud environments will bring better optimization and database management. Apart from that, serverless architecture will also help avoid the necessity of large initial investments.
Real-life Monolithic vs Microservices Examples
And last but not least - a few monolithic vs microservices examples to showcase how both these architectures fit right in.
One of the most well-known companies using this approach is the web version of Facebook (Meta) with its monolithic PHP backend and the choice to upscale it rather than fragment it into smaller services.
Other examples include Reddit with its original database and Instagram’s server app. To get the gist of the variety of regular Monolith applications, check out this list of more than fifty open-source projects on Github using the monolithic architecture.
The most popular examples of big companies employing the advantages of Microservices include:
Netflix - one of the first adopters of this approach that have assembled their architecture on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The company's app is now counting more than 500 microservices.
Amazon - beginning from service-oriented architecture, they have now created AWS and Apollo - their own microservice solutions that are currently helping other companies. Read more about their story here.
Uber - their deployment issues have led them to switch to microservices to improve their updates process and the platform’s reliability.
So which one should you choose for your product after all? If it's the multiple-block-like architecture you're after and not a single brick, we advise you to start right away with the microservices approach instead of switching to it from monolith along the way.
However, if you're opting to build a smaller application and manage its nicely structured monolithic architecture, it can also be a great option in the long run. Whether you pick microservices or the monolith - nothing is set in stone. Pun intended. And whatever path you'll choose or if you’re still not sure, our team at Ideamotive is here to help you with it.
Dawid is a full stack developer experienced in creating Ruby on Rails and React Native apps from naught to implementation. Technological superhero, delivering amazing solutions for our clients and helping them grow.