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What digital leaders need to know about the difference between MACH and Composable

Today’s digital landscape moves quickly, and if organizations want to remain competitive, they need to stay digitally agile. That means adopting flexible digital commerce solutions that allow them to continuously improve the customer experience – rolling out new features, adding new services, and ensuring that customers’ needs and expectations are met across a range of channels and devices. 
In regards to the software architecture that is adopted to realize these goals, two terms that often appear, and get confused for one another, are Composable and MACH (Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, Headless).

However, while all MACH solutions are composable, not all composable solutions adhere to the necessary characteristics of MACH. Those that don’t, miss out on a lot of benefits.

Unfortunately, there are also occasions of technology vendors and partners “MACH-washing” their services – adopting the terminology of MACH when the service on offer, on closer inspection, falls short. This can have serious business implications, missing some very valuable benefits made available only when following the true principles of MACH.

Luckily, there are some useful red flags to look out for that will give digital leaders the information they need to make an informed decision when investing in composable architecture. Let’s take a look at them, but first, some more information on composable and MACH.

New opportunities when going composable

The term ‘Composable’ was first coined by Gartner in 2014, referring to a new trend in which digital architecture could be based on a modular ‘building blocks’ approach. This allowed businesses to select best-of-breed services and features and incorporate them into a custom-built solution, rather than deal with the limitations of a one-size-fits-all “monolithic” platform.

With composable architecture, it is possible to orchestrate and manage the interactions between modular services, identify and re-use them easily, and combine them in various ways to create different applications or services. Crucially, services in a composable environment can function independently of one another, so they can be swapped out, updated, or replaced without the need for costly downtime.
The composable approach gained popularity because it recognized that no single digital platform can meet all the unique requirements of every organization. Instead, it promotes the use of specialized, independent modules such as a cart, product catalog, or checkout, that can be combined and orchestrated to create tailored customer experiences.

Composable emphasizes the use of APIs to connect and integrate these components seamlessly, ensuring that organizations can leverage the best solutions in the market while maintaining flexibility and agility. In doing so, composable architecture changed the landscape for digital commerce, opening up a world of new opportunities.

MACH architecture is a more recent approach to building software systems that does everything composable does, but brings even more to the table. MACH is more of a philosophy, or overriding set of principles that, when adopted, create the perfect environment for digital flexibility, scalability, and growth. MACH’s four key principles are: Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless. All four characteristics must be in play for a solution to be truly MACH. The following instances represent scenarios to look out for where this is not necessarily the case, even though they are still ‘composable’. 

On-Premise Deployment

This refers to the installation and operation of software and extensions at a physical location, typically within an organization's premises. This is the exact opposite of “cloud-native”, so while on-premise may still qualify as composable when leveraging APIs to build a headless solution based on microservices architecture, the fact that it is on-premise and not in the cloud negates its adherence to MACH. And by not being cloud-native, users are missing out on the associated benefits.

On-premise deployment lacks the advantages of availability, scalability, and cost-effectiveness offered by outsourcing infrastructure operations to public cloud providers. Most enterprise organizations no longer justify on-premise operations in their total cost of ownership calculations due to the burdensome nature of upgrades and the missed growth opportunities they entail. Cloud-native should be non-negotiable for the most future-proofed and least burdensome solution. And while a solution may include elements that are in fact ‘cloud-based’, unless they are fully born in the cloud and focused on continuous integration and orchestration using container engines such as Docker or Kubernetes, then they are not cloud-native.

Single Tenancy Offerings

Single tenancy means that the software, database, and infrastructure serve a single customer, while multi-tenancy allows multiple customers to share common components. MACH-certified vendors provide multi-tenant options, which offer cost savings, easier maintenance, and better API-level connectivity. However, vendors that solely offer single-tenant cloud solutions without multi-tenant options may be limited by their monolithic software components, hindering their ability to transform into cloud-native microservices architectures. This results in longer setup times, increased maintenance overhead, and potential vendor lock-in, making it difficult and expensive to switch to a different vendor.

Versioned APIs

In a composable digital environment, APIs play a crucial role in connecting different tools and technologies to ensure smooth processes and workflows. MACH-certified vendors operate on an API-first basis, which includes providing versionless APIs, allowing development teams to rely on consistent and stable interfaces when creating new functionality or automated processes. On the other hand, vendors with versioned APIs impose maintenance overhead on their customer’s  internal development teams, increasing the risk of connectivity issues and downtime. Versioned APIs often indicate a monolithic architecture, where changes in one part of the API require updates across the entire interface, introducing errors, inconsistencies, and often the need for downtime.

Monolithic Deployment

A monolithic deployment model requires deploying the entire application as one large unit, while a modular deployment model allows individual components to be deployed separately. Monolithic deployments pose challenges due to increased costs, longer deployment times, higher failure rates, and significant operational overhead. In contrast, MACH deployments support frequent code releases throughout the day, empowering organizations to respond to changing circumstances and drive growth in digital channels. Additionally, monolithic deployments lack cost-efficient scalability since resources must be scaled vertically to meet peaks in demand, resulting in idle resources and unnecessary costs.

To learn more about these four key differences, the MACH Alliance has provided further details. This not-for-profit industry body is vendor-neutral and offers best practice advice and resources to support the industry in moving from legacy infrastructure to composable approaches. To discover the digital commerce options provided by Emporix and created under the MACH principles, get in touch here.

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