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Microservice architecture - The only choice for IT in Manufacturing

There are numerous choices for software development architectures in the industry. One that clearly stands out to me, with respect to the Manufacturing sector, is the Microservice architecture.

Microservice architecture is a “style” of software development where big, complex software is broken down, developed and deployed as small services. Let me give you an example. Imagine you want to build a Procurement Software for your organization. Softwares, usually, require pre-defined workflows which are not prone to many changes. And this is why IT in the Manufacturing sector is different from other sectors. Your organization may(and will) deal with innumerable vendors and their components. Each vendor will have its own business style. Each component will have its own specification. In fact, the same component can have different specification headers depending on the vendor. As if this wasn’t complicated enough, all OEMs keep releasing new components in the market which you might be interested in. All these facts make designing the workflows and development of this Procurement Software extremely difficult. This is where Microservice architecture absolutely outshines other architectures.

I will not dive deep into the other architectures as I want to keep the article short. However, “Why Microservices” can not be fully appreciated without acknowledging “Why not other architectures”. Let’s review some well-known architectures(also known as Pattern):

  1. Layered Pattern: Here data flows through various layers such as: 

    1. Data Layer

    2. Application Layer

    3. Business Layer

    4. Presentation Layer

Best suited for software where the flow of data and functionalities is well-defined but complex, example: e-commerce websites

  1. Client-Server Pattern: Data flow from Server to Client. Best suited for File servers, CDNs, etc where the flow of data is well-defined and simple

  2. Microservice Pattern: Data flows between various small components, server to client or client to server. Best suited for software with high complexity where data has many sources and consumption points. Ex-Google Maps, Netflix, etc

Most architectures address software with well-defined functionalities and direction of the flow of data. Let’s take Layered Pattern as an example. The flow and processing of data are divided into layers and each layer is integrated with another. 

Although this architecture makes the whole application somewhat manageable for developers, it is not devoid of flaws. 

  • Since each layer is tightly linked with another layer, any change in a particular layer can trigger cascading changes in the whole application

  • Even the simplest of data flow needs to go through all the layers. This means redundant and time-consuming tasks. Moreover, this makes the application slow

  • Scalability is hindered as the format of exchanging data between layers is fixed. This creates issues when implementing new data formats/processes

  • Testing and debugging the whole application becomes challenging.

All the above challenges make it extremely difficult to accommodate software requirements which are not consistent with one another. You might tend to choose other software development patterns such as Event-based, Monolithic or simple client-server. However, none of them can overcome the challenges effectively. This is where Micro-service architecture shines. This architecture works well for complex workflows and assumes that the functionalities must be broken down into many small pieces(also called components). Each component might work independently and all of them can be connected through APIs(Application programming interfaces). 

Businesswire - a Birkshire Hathway Company published an article on how the architecture is transforming the Manufacturing Industry globally. It is even more effective when you want the flexibility to evolve a highly complex application by allowing us to focus on a particular component rather than upgrading the whole application. Delloite, in their white paper “US Microservice and APIs”, very aptly points 

“Microservices offer efficient scaling of systems by allowing components/services that cause performance bottlenecks to be scaled instead of a wholesale scaling of the entire application.”

Another critical but underrated point is the growth of the Microservice architecture market. In their forecast, Market Research Future - a UK-based global research firm, estimates that the industry of the software design pattern will grow with a whopping 18.66% CAGR from 2022 to 2030. How does it matter, you ask? Well, trust me, you don’t want to use technologies which are obsolete. You would want to use the latest conventions in your software so that you don’t spend time finding relevant human resources and support. After all, your core business is Manufacturing and not Software Development. One famous example of Micro-service architecture is how Netflix implemented it. 

The streaming platform giant has millions of monthly active users with billions of screen time. Their developers wanted an architecture which allows high scalability along with a high degree of experimentation.

They broke down the functionalities into numerous smaller components such as Streaming, Client-side applications, Data operations, Elastic Load Balancer etc. Since they were independent of each other, it was easy to remove, add, upgrade and find bugs in a particular component. Moreover, developers could create an entirely new service to replace the existing one. This allowed maintenance of this highly complex application easy. Furthermore, Netflix was able to conduct experiments by adding and removing features easily thus giving them a great advantage.

A Procurement software can be even more complex than a streaming platform owing to numerous data sources and processes. There is only 1 pattern which is designed specifically to cater to complex systems i.e Microservice pattern. 

Procurement software's problem also extends to just any other software in the industry such as Invoice Management, Component Management, etc. There are just too many workflows and data points to handle. Unfortunately, even choosing the right development pattern will only partially solve the problem. However, it definitely lays down a solid ground for future success and scalability.

The next crucial step is to have a solid technical Project Manager in your organization, which I will discuss soon. Stay tuned!!

Wilson Tiru

Jul 13, 2023


Microservice architecture - The only choice for IT in Manufacturing

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