Are Microservices The Same Old SOA?

Are microservices the same old SOA (Service Oriented Architecture)? Isn’t it just a rehash of the SOA hype? Let’s discuss the similarities and differences.

While microservices and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) are two architecture patterns that deal with services, they have some differences. In fact, despite all the attention you see being given to microservices there are a couple use cases where SOA is the better choice.

So What Is a Microservice?

A microservice a stand-alone process that communicates with its clients using a lightweight mechanism, usually HTTP. Its datastore is a database of some sort. The service is the only application that interacts with its datastore. So let’s say for example you have a CustomerService that reads from and writes to the CUSTOMER table and any related child tables. Only the CustomerService performs SQL actions on those tables; any other services that do something with Customer information must go through the CustomerService using its published interface.

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Design is Important, But…

Spending time on software design is important because it helps you solve the big problems up front. Without this effort, developers can get bogged down, or worse, build something that doesn’t meet an important customer requirement. What you want to avoid is spending too much time in the design phase. After all, our objective is to deliver working software to our customer early and often. At some point we need to “get on with it”. The trick is to recognize that point

When do you know when to take a break from design and start building something? Well, one clue is when you find yourselves bouncing back and forth from one design option to another. Ask yourself, might this vacillating be due to a lack of information? If you’re speculating on what may be important to the customer, talk to them. Clarify what their needs are. Ask them what would exceed their expectations, and what would disappoint them.

If you have design options that would equally satisfy your customer, are you lacking some technical information? Specifically, how well do the capabilities of the technology stack support each of your design options? If this is the case, then it’s time to see what will work. Decide what metrics are important enough to help you decide on a design, then go and make a prototype. Take one of your design options, and build it out enough for you to benchmark it. Show it to your customer and get their feedback. Then take your other option, benchmark it, and get customer feedback. Repeat this for a
third option if you have it. Now you have some empirical data to help you with your decision.