Monoliths vs. Microservices: What’s the Difference?

Written By
Cortex

Digital transformation means enterprises have to embrace new ways of thinking—from how they structure their teams to their application architecture. But it’s no easy feat to build an application; the decisions you make at the beginning can affect you years down the line. 

Fortunately, enterprises have options when it’s time to choose the architecture for their next innovative application; it all depends on your needs.

To make the right choice for your company, you need to understand the differences between monolithic and microservices architectures, including their pros and cons. 

What is monolithic architecture? 

Traditionally, all applications were built with monolithic architecture. Designed as a single unit, monolithic applications come in one big piece. If you want to make any changes to your code, you have to change the entire platform at once. 

Monolithic architectures are better for small teams that have fewer engineers on staff. It’s also better if you have a simple application that you don’t plan on updating or upgrading very much in the future. You can always convert a monolithic application to microservice at a later date, but keep in mind that this requires a migration. 

Pros

Although monolithic architectures are more traditional, they still have some benefits.

  • Easier debugging. Because all of your code is in one place, it’s easier to sift through and find issues. Microservice architecture requires digging through separate modules, which can take more time. 
  • Faster deployment. Need to get your application out fast? You might prefer monolithic architectures if you need to get an application out quickly because it’s simpler to build. 
  • Standardized development. Monolithic architectures are the standard, which means your engineers and developers will already have a good understanding of how it works. That makes it easier to crank out monolithic applications more efficiently with internal talent.

Cons

Although monolithic architectures may be faster and simpler, they’re not always the right approach for your enterprise. They do have some significant detractors:

  • Scalability. Monoliths just can’t scale to fit the needs of an enterprise over time. As you add more code to the application, it becomes unwieldy and difficult to understand. You can only scale the entire application instead of individual components, which makes this a mammoth process at scale. 
  • Code edits. Because all of the code is contained in one place, every change affects the entire application. This means your developers have to tread very carefully any time you make changes. You’ll need to spend more time on user testing and development to catch errors. 
  • Tech stack lock-in. Do you want to use the latest technology in your application? Monoliths won’t give you the flexibility to change with the times. 

What is a microservice? 

Microservices are a more popular, modern alternative to monolithic architectures. They’re often more future-proof than monolithic architectures. Enterprises like Google and Amazon are migrating away from huge monolithic applications in favor of more agile, scalable microservices. 

Microservices break large monolithic applications down into separate units for each service. The application still carries out the same functions, but separately. Every module has its own logic and database, communicating with other modules through APIs. 

Pros

Microservices architectures require team expertise because it’s more complex. However, it’s a smart choice if you want to scale your enterprise application to add more users or features over time. There are plenty of benefits of microservices for your enterprise:

  • Isolated features. If you have a bug, it’s less likely to take down your entire application. It’s much easier to fix bugs because you can look at the particular service that’s causing the issue, instead of the application as a whole. 
  • Independent deployments. Your team is free to operate each service separately with microservices. Build it once and it scales with you as you add more users and features. 
  • Tech stack. Microservices change with the times. If better technology comes out, you can simply swap it out in each service module, which gives your development team more freedom. 

Cons

Microservices architectures can streamline a lot of problems, but they aren’t without challenges, too:

  • Increased complexity. Because you’re separating the application into individual services, everything is distributed. It’s much more complicated managing every service and the connections between them. 
  • Longer testing times. A microservice architecture is more complex, which means you need to invest in more thorough user testing to ensure everything is firing correctly. 
  • Barriers to bulk changes. Monoliths are easily adjusted with just a few changes. But if you want to make sweeping changes to all of your services, you’ll need to do it manually. It’s entirely doable, but it does require more development time. 

Making the choice that’s right for you

Many enterprises still use monolithic architectures, and sometimes that works in their favor. But it’s often worth the tradeoff in complexity to upgrade to a microservices approach instead. 

Microservices scale with your enterprise’s changing needs. You can always start with monolithic architectures to build a proof of concept before migrating to a more robust microservices architectures. 

Not sure what’s right for your application? Book a demo of Cortex to see how we can help you understand and improve your service architecture. 


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