Digital transformation for grocers is now easier and more affordable than ever with headless commerce, microservices and APIs
Microservices Architecture for Modern Commerce: The Key to Success
A microservices architecture for modern commerce is key to your business’ flexibility and scalability.
DZone states that "the long-term benefits of microservices can be a huge competitive advantage to companies that need to grow quickly and remain flexible." And when business requirements grow complex and change, the old-style monolithic applications are inefficient and don't adapt easily to new needs.
Modern commerce and technology
Modern commerce requires technology–a trend that has only accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the pandemic has changed users' relationship with online shopping, forcing businesses to pivot and adapt their business models. Demand has grown exponentially, and people have embraced technology like Alexa (voice commerce) or cell phones to complete their purchases. Such a rapid change makes it difficult for businesses with a boxed commerce software to meet their customers where they are at.
A business's technology should adapt to its markets and opportunities, not the other way around. It should be able to make rapid technical changes when facing new situations. That calls for an agile software approach, not one that lumbers on and can't change direction.
What is a microservices architecture?
A microservice is a self-contained, independently deployed software unit that isn't a complete application. It carries out one task, or a small range of tasks. This means that applications or other microservices invoke it to meet particular needs, and it may rely on other microservices.
A microservices architecture is an autonomous system –there’s a clear separation between view and execution. The user interface communicates with the business logic only through the API, and can execute tasks without another service to complete it. That's a well-defined protocol for establishing authorization, making requests, and getting responses. Interaction with the user is the concern of higher-level code; the API separates the way users interact with the applications from the underlying business logic.
Microservices can be containerized. Software containers have a wide range of benefits: They provide developers with predictable deployment environments, enabling continuous deployment, multi-cloud support, and isolation of code to name but a few. This allows for faster deployment of code and therefore making new features available sooner to customers. In conjunction with technologies such as Kubernetes they also offer other benefits such as zero downtime and fast, simple and elastic scaling of computing power. They are less prone to deadlocks or a single point of failure unlike monolithic software stack hosted in the cloud. If you want to learn more about containers, you can learn more about them here.
The advantages of microservices for modern commerce
There are many reasons microservices work better for modern commerce than monolithic software stacks deployed in the cloud.
Ease of updating
Updates are an important part of any technology. However, updating requires retesting everything an application does –even a small change can cause unexpected bugs. A microservice, as the saying goes, "has just one job." As long as it keeps doing it correctly, other units of code are unlikely to break –it’s fault-tolerant. For example, the customer can continue to use the search interface while one small system is updated in the background. Any problems found will be localized and relatively easy to fix, and you can test your updates without shutting down the whole system. Thanks to the loosely coupled nature of microservices, if there's a serious problem, rolling back just one part is less of a headache than rolling back a whole application.
An update can expand the API and offer new capabilities. This should affect only clients that take advantage of the new features. Others will simply work the way they did before.
If a monolithic application bogs down under heavy demand, the only option is to replicate the entire stack to a more powerful machine. It’s hard to execute, time-consuming, and costly. This type of scaling takes planning and can’t be done on a whim. If the demand peak is brief, such as a holiday season, this is a wasteful use of the marketing budget without seeing a return on investment.
However, a microservices architecture is more scalable. When demand goes up, it's usually necessary to scale just some components. Thanks to the automated and containerized nature of microservices, this is easier to do and less wasteful. And if it's a short-term requirement, getting extra computing power for the duration is an option. Cloud microservices allow effectively unlimited scalability, done in half the time at a fraction of the cost.
Reusable among other applications
A business may have applications that perform related tasks but need different user interfaces. Different microservices may have identical low-level needs. In cases like these, several clients can share a microservice –it just needs to be written once and deployed where it's needed. The reusable nature of microservices means that changes are easy to make and don't require rebuilding. There's less redundancy and more consistency.
All software architectures face security issues. However, microservices are protected from public access with state-of-the art authentication and authorization., This makes them less vulnerable to cyberattacks. Plus, gaining access to one microservice is an isolated event; this does not mean access is granted to the entire application. A good microservices architecture for modern commerce plans for security from the beginning, instead of adding it on as an afterthought. And it ensures that if any malware gets past front-line defenses, it won't easily be able to use the microservice.
Avoiding vendor lock-in
Mixing microservices from multiple vendors is common. When a service publishes its API, other vendors can create their own services using the same API. This means a customer can switch from one to another, in order to switch to a different database, or get better performance. Customers can even mix cloud services and combine components that run on different platforms.
The complexity of an application grows faster than the number of lines of code. Everything has to work with everything else, and a change in any part may have unexpected effects. A microservice is a relatively small unit that interacts with other units, only through APIs. The chances of unexpected side effects from a change are smaller, and easier to find and fix if they happen.
Separation of user interface from functionality
The way an application interacts with users is a separate matter from how it processes its data. There's often a need to change one without affecting the other. Sometimes the goal is to change the look of a website without modifying its basic capabilities. And sometimes it's to reorganize the database without affecting the user experience.
Microservices handle data operations without caring how the user sees the information. This means that developers can change different parts of the software, even at the same time, without worrying about what the other teams are doing. As long as everyone uses the API correctly, it keeps working.
Headless commerce platforms and microservices
Large-scale modern commerce businesses benefit greatly from headless platforms. They aren't the same as microservices, but the two concepts work together well. A headless platform is an application that is separate from the user interface. The UI developers have complete freedom to create what they want and invoke the platform to carry out the work.
A headless platform may be little more than a gateway to a set of microservices. File management, searching, database access, analytics, and all the rest can be separate services. The purpose of the platform is to give the front end one API to communicate with, rather than having to manage connections with each piece.
Set for success
Businesses, whether B2B or B2C, need to keep up with changing needs. A microservices architecture makes doing that far easier. Components can be updated with minimum disruption, compared to the trauma of upgrading a huge application.
A business with multiple brands and websites can have a common set of microservices behind its various front ends, keeping software redundancy down. Access to software from multiple sources also makes it easier to expand an application's capabilities.
The Emporix digital commerce system is based on headless and microservice architecture to make sure it will fit your current and future needs. Thinking about moving to a microservices-based approach? Contact us using the form below.