Monolithic Architecture vs. Microservice Architecture: Which Software Architecture Is Best for Your Business?

You’ve likely seen a headliner like microservices vs. monolithic architecture far less often than you’ve heard talk about competing software frameworks and programming languages. 

However, deciding between microservices vs. monolithic architecture is one of the very first decisions you’ll have to make before building any software product.           

While monolithic architecture has been a classic software design pattern since the origins of the industry, microservices architecture often proves to be more effective for meeting business objectives. 

O’Reilly, a leader in modern technology insights, found that 92% of those who adopted microservices had success. Many respondents, in fact, claimed to “own” their software development life cycle. 

Microservice architecture is quickly becoming the preferred structural style for software development, if it isn’t already. Even the likes of Netflix and Amazon use microservices to their benefit. And you can too.

Learn more about microservices vs. monolithic architecture right here!

What Is Microservice Architecture?

Microservice architecture, or microservices, is a software development architectural type where an application involves several linked services.

Microservices emphasizes a modular schema for building and deploying applications. In this way, a singular application is composed of multiple services that are connected via application programming interfaces (APIs)

The microservices architectural type is a subset of service-oriented architecture (SOA). SOA is a structural method of software design that uses services to address consumer needs.

The SOA manifesto, which mirrors the format of the agile manifesto, prioritizes the following principles:

  • Business value over technical strategy 
  • Strategic goals over project-specific benefits
  • Intrinsic interoperability over custom integration
  • Shared services over specific-purpose implementations
  • Flexibility over optimization
  • Evolutionary refinement over pursuit of initial perfection

Each service in software-oriented architecture is tied to specific functionality. To add, services are self-contained and do not rely on external resources to function properly. 

For that reason, perhaps the most important benefit of SOA is loose coupling. In software development, loose coupling denotes that interconnected components have few dependencies

SOA operates as a black box of sorts whereas users do not have to see or understand the internal mechanisms of the technology to take advantage of the services it offers. 

Naturally, microservice architecture has similar benefits. Before the emergence of microservices, the default software architectural design was monolithic. 

The primary difference between monolithic vs. microservice architecture is their build. Monolithic applications are a large entanglement of related software that cannot be deconstructed. 

As a result, functions and features in monolithic applications are irreparably intertwined. This makes them less adaptable to new changes and more difficult to decipher as a whole. 

In contrast, microservices are failure-resistant and fault-tolerant. Developers build each service within the sole context of its corresponding operation. Thus, modularity and efficiency are intrinsic advantages. 

Prominent software engineer Martin Fowler also defines microservices by characteristics such as continuous delivery, having fine-grained interfaces to complement each independently deployable service, and business-driven and/or domain-driven design.

What Are the Strengths of Microservice Architecture?

The strengths of microservices will help you better understand how you can apply microservice architecture to your next project. The following characterizations are where microservices succeed.

Strengths of Microservice Architecture: decentralization; modularity; business capability

Decentralization

Some believe that a strong central government is key to a well-managed state apparatus. But politics aside, this mode of hierarchy is easy to bring down. 

Centralizing logistics to one place means when one thing goes wrong, everything else falls apart. 

Decentralizing governance allows for specialized teams to handle different responsibilities in an organized manner. 

Using microservice architecture, developers can work more autonomously, and take a cross-functional approach to software development.

There’s also more flexibility all around. For example, you can employ numerous tech stacks in one application. By doing this, you can choose the most effective tech stack to build a certain service. 

Scaling is a simpler process as well. Your scalability goals can be service-dependent instead of standardized across the entirety of the application. And so there’s more room for tailoring updates from one service to the other.

In addition, the concept of bounded context in domain-driven design reinforces the boundaries of data allocation. 

Essentially, this implies that objects, functions, services, and other software constituents are beholden to particular data. 

Allotting data to modules is conceptually more straightforward than defining and redefining boundaries in a monolithic application to accomplish the same goal. 

Decentralized data management in microservices by nature elicits a stronger correlation between services and context boundaries. 

Modularity

Of course, modularity is the name of the game when it comes to microservices vs. monolithic architecture, and why people choose the former. 

While monolithic applications layer and embed software procedures on top of each other, microservices enforce healthy compartmentalization. 

The immediate advantage of this organizational strategy is not tangible. It's mental. Similar to object-oriented programming, fragmenting processes into comprehensive pieces is generally a more intuitive way to discern code. 

Even outside of any cognitive relevance, there are very real perks to utilizing microservice architecture. 

For one, testing and debugging your software will be immensely easier than otherwise. An error in the code cannot cause discrepancies beyond a single service. 

Ergo, you will know exactly where to focus your attention when a problem arises. 

Likewise, application development and maintenance are more efficient too. Managing service independently promotes rapid application development

Business Capability

Last, but not least, microservices are organized around business capabilities. Fowler himself asserts that microservice architecture allows developers to build products instead of projects

Service-oriented architecture encourages developers to concentrate on building services towards business activity and functionality, rather than merely writing code. 

Microservices do not restrict developers based on a programming language, framework, or database. In lieu of these constraints, your developers can organize around the variety of services your product extends. 

What’s more, one team does not have to finish their part of the project for another team to start their part. Microservice architecture permits that teams work and collaborate alongside each other, but not interdependently. 

Since services are so modular, these are assets in and of themselves. Developers can easily make amendments to any service and reuse them for different purposes. 

What Are the Weaknesses of Microservice Architecture?

The weaknesses of microservice architecture are a bit harder to stand out. That said, you’ll want to be sure of whether microservices are right for you before employing the architecture in your business. 

Complexity

Communication between one service to another can be complex. APIs foster this communication and are typically put to use to connect different software platforms. 

In an external environment, an API may connect your Amazon Echo to your TIDAL account, for example. But with microservices, APIs connect the modularized chunks of code in a microservice architecture. 

Again, having established that these services are independently deployable and self-contained, note that each service exists as a unique unit. That is unless a handy API interferes, linking them to other services in an application. 

But APIs aren’t always plug-and-play. Microservices developers will be responsible for painstakingly handling requests from one module service to the next. 

This involves setting up connections between modules and databases and actually doing the work of deploying these services independently. 

Some situations require writing extra code to ensure that everything runs smoothly.  The more services in a microservice architecture, the more complicated things will get. 

These are innate concerns that arise when working with a distributed system and you should take them into consideration. 

Network Demand 

The aforementioned communication between modules occurs over a network. High network usage is the cost of using microservices. 

Network latency is less of a concern, and more of an expectation at this point given the sheer mass of remote calls that need to happen. 

There’s also a higher security risk. You can think of the networks services use to interact with one another as a bridge of sorts. 

But although bridges can take you from point A to point B, they also leave you vulnerable to outside hazards. 

In early bedtime stories, these might have been trolls. In real-life scenarios, thieves are more likely. 

Well in software development, bridges, or networks, are vulnerable to malicious attacks that will threaten your application’s security. 

Monolithic applications have an advantage here. A centralized architecture suggests stronger security protections. 

Resource Capacity

Microservices are composed of isolated services which are packaged as a unit in a container along with all the service’s dependencies. Thus, each container or service calls for a computer processing unit (CPU) and runtime environment. 

If you choose to use microservice architecture, keep in mind that this will be a resource-intensive endeavor. 

Expect an increase or multiplication in the number of cloud technologies, APIs, servers, tech stacks, and other tools that your business will manage. 

Your resources for development and maintenance will face the same fate as each individual service should have its own system of organization. 

When To Choose Microservice Architecture?

Microservice architecture is best suited for large, multi-talented teams who have expertise in DevOps and containers. 

Microservices is a complex model to adjust to and you cannot hold just any team responsible for its management. 

Without a team of highly skilled software engineers readily available to build APIs, handle requests, address network lag, and tackle any other microservices-related duties that emerge, you’re not well-equipped to use microservice architecture at all. 

Similarly, the application you plan to build should be fairly complex and scalable. Using microservices for a small and simple app will only drain your resources and complicate development. 

What Is Monolithic Architecture?

Monolithic architecture describes software built as a single, interconnected unit. This was the classic software architectural type of the industry before microservices came along. 

Unsurprisingly, ‘mono’ refers to one, hinting at the greater significance behind monolithic architecture. In this way, monolithic applications are intrinsically antagonistic to microservices. 

Therefore, you can understand monolithic architecture vs. microservice architecture by examining them in comparison to one another. Here is how monolithic applications differ from microservices. 

First, in a monolithic application, all code must be written within the internal structure of a unified codebase. 

This by definition intimates that monolithic applications tend to be tightly coupled, with dependencies toppled atop other dependencies. 

Generally, monolithic applications are layered, but this is not the equivalent of having a distributed system like microservices. 

Instead, monolithic applications are composed of three central parts — a client-side user interface (UI); business logic existing on the server-side of the application; and a data interface for accessing the database. 

Microservice architecture, to compare, would have a foremost UI, with manifold branches of business logic and data access layers. 

Needless to say, monolithic applications do not consist of various independently deployable services. 

In monolithic architecture, the sole codebase of an application is interdependent to the code it hosts, and executing the program deploys every element of the code simultaneously.

These limitations prompted the industry to move to microservices for contemporary development, although monolithic architecture does have its advantages. 

What Are the Strengths of Monolithic Architecture?

Though microservices are becoming increasingly popular, monolithic applications still have a purpose. These are some of the reasons why some businesses choose to use monolithic architecture for software development.

the-strengths-of-monolithic-architecture.jpg
Strengths of Monolithic Architecture: simplicity; cross-cutting concerns

■ Simplicity

For small to medium-sized applications, monolithic architecture is simpler to develop, deploy, and scale. 

Being the more traditional software design pattern, most integrated development environments (IDEs) and other development tools support monolithic architecture. 

You can’t just jump right into an IDE and start building services and APIs for microservice architecture. 

On the other hand, a monolithic application is virtually the default setting for the majority of software tools.

Whereas microservices require skilled developers, a monolithic application is one Youtube tutorial away. 

End-to-end testing is also far easier when working with only one, compact codebase. Similarly, deployment takes place with a single jar/war file. 

■ Cross-Cutting Concerns

Cross-cutting concerns, or aspects, reference software essentials that influence other concerns. Others define aspects as concerns that affect the entirety of an application. 

To clarify, in aspect-oriented software development, concerns are separated between the data layer, business layer, and presentation layer. Respectively, these correspond to the database, back-end, and front-end. 

Separating concerns makes for a more manageable development process. But cross-cutting concerns penetrate every layer of aspect-oriented development. 

Cross-cutting concerns include fundamentals such as logging, exception/error handling, performance monitoring, security, caching, and more.

Monolithic architecture will greatly reduce the stress involved in managing such tasks. This is because microservice architecture would require that developers address cross-cutting concerns for each and every service. 

With monolithic applications, this process is streamlined, saving you time and making business operations, on the whole, more productive. 

What Are the Weaknesses of Monolithic Architecture?

Unfortunately, monolithic applications have many weaknesses that deter people from using monolithic architecture. If you’re thinking about using monolithic architecture, keep these constraints in mind. 

■ Scalability Potential 

The potential for scalability for a monolithic application depends entirely on its size. As established, small and medium-sized applications scale quite well with monolithic architecture. 

However, this is not the case if you intend for your application to be more complex. Scalability will be a large concern as it will become more and more difficult to manage a heavy-duty software project under a single codebase. 

The lack of modularity translates into less reusability overall. And besides just your application, your business may lose momentum without the convenience that reusability provides. 

Your development team will suffer too. The type of coordination that is necessary for building and maintaining monolithic applications prevents teams from working independently. 

Self-organized, specialized teams are able to scale software applications quickly but monolithic architecture slows down operational agility. 

■ Adaptability

Monolithic architecture can be pretty rigid when it comes to being flexible. 

For example, monolithic applications expect long-term commitment with your current tech stack. Changing your tech stack, even incrementally, can prove to be exhaustive or frankly impossible with monolithic architecture.

You will have to rewrite your application to accommodate the technologies you wish to implement, which may be more effort than it’s worth. 

Microservices are more free-spirited, and using a variety of programming languages and frameworks is quite common while using microservice architecture. 

Making new changes in a monolithic application is just as cumbersome. Understanding how each change will affect the entire application is more strenuous than you might think.

Likewise, any bugs, errors, or bottlenecks that could very well jeopardize the performance of your application will be applied holistically within a monolithic architecture. 

And since you can’t nitpick which parts of your application you want to deploy, you have no choice but to deal with the consequences. You can blame all this on tight coupling. 

Even if you do manage to make the change, consider that you have to re-deploy your application for every new change in order for the update to take effect.

When To Choose Monolithic Architecture?

After learning the difference between monolithic architecture vs. microservice architecture, the former may seem a bit outdated, if not simply obsolete. 

Yet, monolithic applications still take up the mainframe of most software development tools and humble software projects. 

It’s clear that monolithic architecture has some benefits. Implementing monolithic architecture would be right for your business if you have a small-scale application with finite features. 

Monolithic architecture is also a good choice if you have a specific tech stack that you’d like to use and don’t plan on making many adjustments in the future. 

Likewise, if you can’t manage to hire highly skilled developers for your project or for some reason do not want to, monolithic architecture will come in handy. 

In general, monolithic architecture is most suitable for organizations that favor simplicity over complexity. 

Monolithic Architecture vs. Microservice Architecture: How To Choose the Best Solution?

Once you know how monolithic vs. microservice architecture differ, choosing which one is the best solution for your business is just a matter of time. 

You should start by carefully thinking about the application you plan to build in size, scale, and complexity

In addition, taking account of your budget and timeline is imperative. Sometimes your ideas don’t quite align with what you actually have the capacity to do. 

And on that note, you should check in with important stakeholders too. They have just as much right to be part of the decision-making process. 

Given these factors, it should be fairly easy to decide which solution is best for you when it comes down to enlisting microservices vs. monolithic architecture. 

Conclusion

Comparing microservice architecture vs. monolithic architecture should inform you of the strengths and weaknesses different software architectural types can supply. 

For instance, microservices empower developers to modulate software development creating and connecting a variety of self-sufficient software services. The services come together via APIs.

This modularity promotes flexibility and focuses business intentions, but at the cost of complexity. 

In turn, monolithic applications are simpler to build, as they come packaged as a single unit, but they often fail to scale organically. 

Deciding between microservices vs. monolithic architecture means truly understanding what you mean to build for your next software project and how. 

Consider consulting with Trio developers and recruiting them to deliver on your upcoming software product. Trio hires talented software engineers only to double down on their training. 

The result: you get a satisfactory experience integrating Trio software developers into your business. And your software goes beyond your expectations. 

Consult with Trio now to start your next project.   

Cordenne Brewster

Content Writer

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A tech enthusiast whose ardor is best expressed through the written word.

Frequently Asked Questions

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onolithic architecture describes software built as a single, interconnected unit.

Microservice architecture, or microservices, is a software development architectural type where an application involves several linked services.

Monolithic architecture is a good solution for maintaining simplicity during software development while microservices complements decentralization.