Imagine this: You’re out for dinner at an international conference with a group of colleagues from around the world. Everyone there is an expert at what they do. People are trying to communicate, but since everyone speaks a different language, no one understands each other.
For the event to really work – for it to be a single, cohesive unit – you’d need someone who knows each language to translate, to serve as the hub, so each member of the group could communicate with one another.
That’s essentially what middleware does: it allows various applications, systems and software to speak to each other, despite each not knowing each other’s respective languages. Developers sometimes call it “software glue” for this reason – it ensures that the individual systems that make up a microservices architecture don’t need built-in integration to stick together.
Managing microservices at scale with middleware
Middleware is essential for managing microservices at scale, giving you more application awareness and control precisely as the management of these microservices becomes more and more complex. Even relatively simple microservices deployments can include hundreds of microservices, with each one having multiple instances, and each instance having several versions. All that traffic between microservices must be routed efficiently, while failures must be handled quickly and quietly.
But not everyone needs middleware. Those still using legacy data warehouses with monolithic architecture, for example, won’t have much use for it (though they’ll likely have enough other problems to keep them occupied – traditional monolithic systems are slow, unreliable and difficult to scale or upgrade with new technologies).
A microservices-based system, on the other hand, is akin to smashing your monolithic system into dozens of tiny, efficient pieces: instead of one system for everything. Tasks are assigned to smaller, more specialized services within the larger system. This allows for more agile testing and development, and makes the entire system less prone to catastrophic failure.
Similarly, small organizations with very limited systems may not deal with the scale of data necessary in order to realize the true value of middleware. It also comes with relatively high development costs, which can be difficult for small businesses to swallow, and can also come with increased security risks.
But when companies need to scale their microservices, middleware can deliver a distinct competitive edge over rival systems without such connective tissue. It can provide increased efficiency and agility, setting the stage for increased innovation at your organization by shortening product development cycles.
Some of the benefits of middleware for organizations running microservices at scale are:
- Faster time to market: Services are converging, and users increasingly expect a consistent experience from one platform to the next. This can be challenging from a development perspective, especially if you’re just doing major software updates a couple times per year. But middleware combined with a microservices architecture model, which in turns supports a DevOps and continuous delivery model, supports these demands by facilitating faster time to market.
- Increased efficiency: Middleware can help automate processes that previously have been done manually, leading to increased business velocity.
- Lightning-fast innovation: A microservices architecture allows for simultaneous development and testing, leading to faster innovation and lower development costs. Many users of middleware at scale see such an increase in cost efficiency, they’re able to invest even more in innovation and new product development.
Potential pitfalls: a maelstrom of middleware
However, middleware can also sometimes cause as many problems as it solves if your organization doesn’t have a clear, consistent strategy for enterprise application integration (EAI). While middleware is important for microservices to work smoothly, the management can be extremely complex (especially as your system scales). Many companies perform integration on an ad hoc basis, which often results in several disparate kinds of middleware within one system along with brittle and expensive integrations.
Indeed, if not managed properly, middleware can become a multi-layered maelstrom that requires even more software – “middleware for your middleware,” as one commentator put it – to manage it all.
Which is why, as your microservices scale and management becomes more complex, it’s crucial to deploy on a cloud platform that has services and tools available to help manage what can quickly become an unwieldy mess.
GCP: the perfect platform for microservices
Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has a host of services that help with managing microservices. One of its most recent additions to its GCP family is Istio, an open-source service mesh that works in tandem with Google’s Kubernetes Engine, a container orchestration system that scales effortlessly. An Istio managed service mesh architecture essentially plays the role of a traffic cop – routing and encrypting traffic, performing tasks, handling failures and allowing or restricting access to various services – all while living at the application layer to ensure timely and reliable performance.
Pythian has deep expertise in all facets of GCP and related services and tools, from Stackdriver and Managed Istio to Kubernetes Engine. Its certified experts can help you unlock the value of GCP faster with proven expertise and boots-on-the-ground assistance including managed GCP operations, migrations, analytics, strategy, big data and automation.
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