Monthly Archives: January 2016

Microservices 101 – What I have learned so far

lego-252602_960_720It is kind of difficult to walk the DevOps circles without hearing the word Microservices being mentioned again and again. I have sat through a bunch of conference talks about the topic and only recently came across a couple that were practical enough that I took things away from that have applicability in my normal project work. The below is heavily influenced by the talks at this year’s YOW conference and the talks at the DevOps Enterprise summit of the last two years.

What are Microservices?

Microservices are the other extreme of monolithic applications. So far, so obvious. But what does this mean. Monolithic applications look nice and neat from the outside, they behave very well in architecture diagrams as they are placeholders for “magic happens here” and some of the complexity is absorbed into that “black box”. I have seen enough Siebel and some SAP code that tells me that this perceived simplicity is just hidden complexity. Microservices make the complexity more visible. As far as catchy quotes go, I like Randy Shoup’s from YOW15: “Microservices are nothing more than SOA done properly.” Within this lies most of the definition of a good Microservice: It is a service (application) that is for one purpose, it is self-contained and independent, has a clearly defined interface and isolated persistence (even to the point of having a database per service).

An Analogy to help:

“This, milord, is my family’s axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y’know. Pretty good.”

This is what Microservices do to your architecture…

What are the benefits of Microservices?

Over time everyone in IT has learned that there is no “end-state architecture”. The architecture of your systems always evolves and as soon as one implementation finishes people are already thinking about the next change. In the past the iterations of the architecture have been quite difficult to achieve as you had to replace large systems. With microservice you create an architecture ecosystem that allows you to change small components all the time and avoid big-bang migrations. This flexibility means you are much faster in evolving your architecture. Additionally the structure of Microservices means that teams have a larger level of control over their service and this ownership will likely see your teams become more productive and responsible while developing your services. The deployment architecture and release mechanism becomes significantly easier as you don’t have to worry about dependencies that need to be reflected in the release and deployment of the services. This of course comes with increased complexity in testing as you have many possible permutations of services to deal with, so automation and intelligent testing strategies are very important.

When should you use Microservices?

In my view Microservices are relevant in areas that you know your company will invest in over time. Areas where speed to market is especially important are a good starting point as speed is one of the key benefits of Microservice where dependency-ridden architecture get bogged down. This is due to many reasons from developers having to learn about all the dependencies of their code to the increasing risk of component to be delayed in the release cycle. Microservice wont have those issues. Another area to look for is applications that cannot scale vertical much longer in an economic fashion, the horizontal scaling abilities of microservices specific to those services increases the possibilities to find economic scaling models. And of course a move towards Microservices requires investment, so go for an area that can afford the investment and where the challenges mentioned above are providing the burning platform to start your journey.

What does it take to be successful with Microservices?

This will not surprise you, but the level of extra complexity that comes with independently deployable services which then also might exist in production in multiple versions, means you need to really know your stuff. And by this I mean you need to be mature in your engineering practices, have a well oiled deployment pipeline with “Automated Everything” (Continuous Integration, Deployment, Testing). Otherwise the effort and complexity in trying to maintain this manually will quickly outweigh the benefits of Microservices. Conway’s Law says that systems resemble the organisational structure they were build in. To build Microservices we hence need to have mastered the Agile and DevOps principle of Cross-Functional teams (and ideally they are aligned to your value streams). These teams have full ownership of the Microservices they create (from cradle to grave). This makes sense if the services are small and self-contained as having multiple teams (DBAs, .NET developers,…) involved would just add overhead to small services. As you can see my view is that Microservices are the next step of maturity from DevOps and Agile as they require organisations to have already mastered those (or being close to at least).

How can you get started?

If your organisation is ready (which similarly to Agile and DevOps is a prerequisite for the adoption of Microservices) go ahead and choose a pilot and create a Microservice that adheres to the definition above and is of real business value (e.g. something that is being used a lot, is customer facing and is in a suitable technology stack). Your first pilot is likely not going to be a runaway success, but you will learn from the experience. Microservices will require investment from the organisation and the initial value might not be clear cut (as just adding the functionality to the monolith might be cheaper initially), but in the long term the flexibility, speed and resilience of your Microservice architecture will change your IT landscape. Will you end with a pure Microservice architecture? Most likely not. But your core services might just migrate to an architecture that is build and designed to evolve and hence serve you better in the ever changing marketplace.

Now – over to you. Let me know what you have learned by using Microservices, whether you think the above is true or did you have different experiences. Looking forward to hear what the current state of play is in regards to Microservices.

Last but not least some references to good Microservices talks:

Randy Shoup

James Lewis

Jez Humble

Why our DevOps maturity has not improved as much as I expected 15 years ago

PrintOne thing that continues to fascinate me is how after so many years I can still walk into IT organisations and see basic practices not being followed (e.g. Software Configuration Management or Continuous Integration or …). Shouldn’t we all know better?!? I recently came across some slides from the late 90s and early 2000s that pretty much read like something that comes from a DevOps conference today. So I wonder what is it that has prevented us from being better today and I think I found a feasible answer to my question.

For illustrative purposes I have used the Accenture DevOps maturity model, but feel free to use any other model here as the tendency would be similar. I believe that as an industry we used to be better than we are today (of course all generalisations are dangerous, including this one). While it is hard to find hard evidence for this, let me try to justify my perspective.

DevOps Journey

More than 10 years ago we had much more custom development to solve the big problems and most work was done onshore in collocated teams. The only way to be more productive and reduce cost was to have better engineering practices and leverage more automation, hence companies invested in this. We used to be on the mature end of consistent in many places. Then two trends caused us to regress as far as engineering practices are concerned:

  • Offshoring – With the introduction and mastering of offshore delivery, the industry had an alternative to automation and good engineering practices as labour arbitrage was providing a quick fix to cost reduction. It was potentially cheaper to do something manually offshore than maintaining or introducing automation onshore. Of course this couldn’t last as the labour cost offshore increased steadily. Some organisations stayed the course of engineering practices and automation others lost maturity along the way. This trend is similar to the same trend in manufacturing where manual labor became so cheap that automation wasn’t a critical element to cost reduction anymore. Those companies who went offshore did not sufficiently focus on automation and good practices as it was harder to oversea this with across locations and cost reductions were easy to achieve.
  • Packaged and proprietary Software – As we leveraged more and more packaged and proprietary software we relied on those vendors to provide the solution to our productivity challenges. This led over time to island solutions, which supported specific packages, but are not open enough to integrate into the IT ecosystem. How do you baseline an enterprise wide software package when configuration management is hidden in a package or worse still configuration is only possible through a graphical user interface with no access to the underlying source code/text files? The pre-packaged software was a quick fix to get functionality, but again the good engineering practices were lost out of sight. And many organisations make so many customisations that they should really treat the original “COTS” just like any other application with the same rigor. The other problem that packaged software introduced is that the people customising them are often considered or consider themselves not to be programmers (which means they don’t have to worry about those practices that the custom application developers use), a dangerous mistake in my view.

“Speed is the new currency of IT and businesses”

This was all well and good when cost as expressed by the cost of a day of labor was the main driver for optimisation in organisations. This paradigm has shifted and nowadays speed to market is driving incentives and behaviour. Organisations across the globe are trying to find ways to speed up their delivery processes without risking quality. But how do you now revert the trend that many organisations followed – your IT organisations is mainly outsourced and/or offshored, you have an application architecture that is a mix of packaged software, proprietary solutions and custom elements and you lack the engineering experience and skills to fix it.

This is where we need to acknowledge that DevOps is a journey that is different for every organisation. Of course there are the engineering driven organisations like Etsy, Amazon and Facebook that have engineers/IT people in their C-suite of executives who intuitively understand the importance of application architecture and good engineering. I believe they won’t ask you for a business case for what is ultimate an optimisation for speed and flexibility – they understand how important good IT is – at least I believe that to be the case. They will also consider which applications to introduce into their ecosystem and making sure that those are open products for which good engineering practices can be employed. In other organisations the adoption of DevOps practices needs to be supported by business cases that are often difficult to create (especially in the middle maturity levels where the pain is not at mission-critical levels and the full benefit of highest maturity is not yet in arms reach). Organisations that are on this journey with the majority of us in the industry need to acknowledge the sometimes intangible nature of improvements. Speed to market and other cycle time measures should be the guides for your journey.

“Everyone is on the DevOps journey, whether you know it or not”

The question whether “you are doing DevOps or not” is not valid in my view. We are all on the DevOps journey, it’s the journey of improving delivery of IT solutions. DevOps is a broad field and provides us with an ever growing toolkit of practices and tools. All of us IT Executives are on the search to improve our organisations and our delivery capabilities. What label we use for that doesn’t matter as long as we keep moving forward and keep experimenting. Is there a goal to this journey? No, I don’t think there is concrete goal, a state when we declare we are done. I think the best of us will keep pushing forward no matter how good we are getting at it and from what I have seen during my travels there is still plenty of road in front of me that I can see and I don’t need to worry about getting “there” anytime soon in any case. Join me on the journey and may our paths cross to share stories of our adventures on the road.

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