Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cloud microservices make their play

 by Kevin L. Jackson

Cloud computing seems destined to be the way enterprises will use information technology. The drastic cost reductions and impressive operational improvements make the transition an unstoppable trend. The “What is cloud computing?” question now, however, seems to be morphing into “Where is cloud computing going?”

While software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers see their market rocketing upward as the easiest and quickest path for cloud adoption, infrastructure-as-a-service providers are suffering as their high-capital-cost commodity business transitions to a profit margin race to the bottom. This unsettling paradox, driven by increased competition between major infrastructure players, portends a near-term shakeout as smaller players either fail, exit or get gobbled up.

Cloud services brokerage, still struggling to be even recognized as a real market, is being seriously threatened by open-source approaches from giants like Booz Allen Hamilton’s Jellyfish and the European Commission-funded CompatibleOne open-source broker. So what about platform-as-a-service? Seen by some as the most profitable segment, this also seems to be where most of the confusion resides. Unfortunately PaaS is still struggling to deliver on the promise of universal software interoperability. So what’s next? With all due deference to Mr. McGuire in “The Graduate,” two words: microservice architecture.

Microservice architecture, or simply microservices, is a new software development method that is, for many developers, rapidly becoming a preferred way of creating enterprise applications. Because of its scalability, this architectural method is considered ideal when there is a need to enable support for a range of platforms and devices — spanning web, mobile, the “Internet-of-Things,” and wearables.

Although no standard, formal definition of microservices exists, it is generally characterized as a method of developing software applications that uses a suite of independently deployable, small, modular services in which each service runs a unique process and communicates through a well-defined, lightweight mechanism. How the services communicate with each other depends on your application’s requirements, but many use HTTP/REST with JSON or Protobuf.
Microservices architecture contrasts with the traditional monolithic development styles in that the latter approach is always built as a single, autonomous unit. In a client-server model, the server-side application is a monolith that handles the HTTP requests, executes logic, and retrieves/updates the data in the underlying database. The challenge with this approach is that all change cycles usually end up being tied to one another. Microservices are also better aligned with more modern agile software development approaches.

Dell, traditionally an infrastructure company, is even noticing the importance of this trend. On this, the observation of James Thomason, CTO of Dell Cloud Marketplace, is of note:
Already, Docker (and others) are working on various new forms of service discovery, in order to solve the infrastructure dependency injection problem, and consequently the “awareness” of dependencies between application components on different servers and infrastructure.
The recent love affair with infrastructure containers like Docker and VMware’s surprising investment in Linux containers through the release of Photon has now opened the door for a rapid adoption of microservices and the isolation of containers to one process or service.

This containerization of single services or processes makes it very simple to manage and update these services. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the emergence of frameworks for managing more complex scenarios will be next. Open-source projects like Kubernetes, Maestro-ng and Mesos are now springing up to answer this need. Stay tuned.

(This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. For more on these topics, visit Dell's thought leadership site PowerMore. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don't necessarily represent Dell's positions or strategies.)

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