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Book Review - Building Micro Services

Jun 16, 2015 - 5 minute read - Comments

I picked up pdf copy of Sam Newman’s book, Building Microservices. Since I’ve had some experience with SOA and microservices I thought I’d take a look. I’m really glad that I did, it’s a great book! The following are some quotes from the book and my thoughts on the subject.

“With micro-services, we can make a change to a single service and deploy it independently of the rest of the system.” — If multiple services rely upon a single service, you can’t just change it inside a vacuum, deploy it and expect dependent systems to never have problems.

Instead what you might be creating is a deployment architecture where all your micro services must sync their releases and testing together across multiple teams. This requires non trivial cross team collaboration. This indicates a need for oversight management controls and testing to ensure releases happen consistently and without incident.

My take on how this could be avoided is by following one simple rule. NEVER change a currently deployed API. Once an API has been deployed NEVER make disruptive changes, additive changes can and should be allowed, but previous functionality should always be preserved. (See the Versioning chapter in the book for more ideas)

One other remedy to avoiding the oversight nightmare is each service needs a comprehensive suite of performance and contract functional tests. However, even with these tests mistakes will be made and contingency plans (such as rollback) must be put into place when deploying. Dependent services MUST be informed of a pending release and given a chance to test against the new release before going live.

“So you should instead think of micro-services as a specific approach for SOA in the same way that XP or Scrum are specific approaches for Agile software development.” — This is a fantastic way of thinking about micro-services. Just because waterfall made your job a nightmare doesn’t mean you stop developing software. You just need a new perspective on the methodology of developing software. Apply this to SOA and micro-services and altho things look the same the result can be very different.

“I should call out that micro-services are no free lunch or silver bullet, and make for a bad choice as a golden hammer. They have all the associated complexities of distributed systems, and while we have learned a lot about how to manage distributed systems well (which we’ll discuss throughout the book) it is still hard. If you’re coming from a monolithic system point of view, you’ll have to get much better at handling deployment, testing, and monitoring to unlock the benefits we’ve covered so far. You’ll also need to think differently about how you scale your systems and ensure that they are resilient. Don’t also be surprised if things like distributed transactions or CAP theorem start giving you headaches, either!” — So this is why I REALLY like this book, it doesn’t sugar coat the problems. Micro-service architecture brings many advantages, but don’t imagine you can make any design decision now and think it won’t come around a bite you in the butt a few months or years from now. No joke, Distributed systems are HARD but the alternative is…. just as hard or worse. The name of the game is de-coupling, and even if you decide to make a domain specific monolithic service you should decouple within the service to avoid many of the problems the book calls out around monolithic code bases.

One of my favorite chapters is Orchestration Versus Choreography. The author does a marvelous job of laying out the merits and pit falls of each. But my interest in this topic comes from years of being surprised at how different philosophies and personal strengths influence how designers approach problems. Orchestration implies a more authoritative philosophy while choreography implies a more democratic philosophy. I’ve have many heated discussions in the past about architectural design not because of technical merit, but because of a mental block a philosophy has on an individual.

This personal philosophy also spill’s over into how your teams think about solving their part of a larger problem. Careful consideration must be made when orchestrating processes that cross many micro-services and thus different teams, which all might solve problems differently.

This book is sprinkled tons of insightful gems of knowledge through out, which makes the book fun and interesting to read. This flies in the face of the notorious SOA conglomerate of books which often leave the reader sleepy and bored out of this mind. In contrast this book is a no nonsense implementers guide to doing micro-services the right way.

If I had one critique I would say the lack of detail related to data joins is unfortunate. One of the achilles heels of distributed data is having to join data sets across a network. The book makes small mention of this problem under the Scaling for Writes subheading, where he describes setting up an additional data store where the joined data is duplicated and then queried from. However I feel this is such a reoccurring problem that it deserves it’s own subheading if not it’s own chapter.

Despite this minor short coming the book is very solid and if your interested in bringing micro-services to your organization or are starting green field. This is a great book to have, the author demonstrates a deep knowledge of the benefits and problems and the many common solutions designers and developers make when building services.