In a very realistic sense, microservices is somewhat of a link between the technologies of
two generations. The concept has been explained in different ways. Tight coupling was
prevalent in the pre-SOA, or the Platform 1.0 era, which resulted in complications. The
progression to Platform 2.0 saw more loose coupling because there were larger services;
it included messaging, object orientation, the emergence of traditional SOA, and eventdriven
architecture (EDA). The concept of distributing computing moved to the next level in
what's referred to as Platform 3.0, which essentially contains the good features that came
from Platform 2.0 and the incorporation of next-generation middleware. With the evolution
in technology, microservice architecture (MSA) offers complete decoupling thus ensuring
agility of delivery and flexibility of deployment.
It's not a completely alien concept though; it essentially pulls all the SOA best practices
and then links them with modern application delivery and tooling, such as Docker and
Kubernetes, and technology like Puppet or Chef to carry out automation.
That aside, a common misconception among architects about microservices is that it's
about the size. However, when they design services they should instead consider how they
would scope out their services and eventually make it a proper set of microservices.
Figure 1 depicts a typical MSA reference architecture. While most architects are keen on
the inner architecture where you would write the microservices and deploy them, there's
an outer architecture too that would need to be considered. This involves the way in which
services get invoked, how the services are governed, how the services communicate with
each other, and the rest of the deployment would come beneath these.
The inner architecture refers to microservices and the runtime for hosting microservices, i.e.
the services component; the outer architecture is about additional middleware runtime(s)
that extend the microservices into an enterprise architecture pattern.
MSA has many features that focus on various aspects; however, the following (as explained
in a blog by James Lewis and Martin Fowler)1
could be identified as a key set of features
that MSA should contain.
Componentization as services - this basically refers to dividing large services into small
sets of services and theoretically they should communicate with each other independently
without going through a common messaging layer.
Organize around business capabilities - over time the concept of building systems across
business units has changed to meet today's requirements; now organizations operate as
pods with each business unit using their own technical capabilities to build applications to
provide functionality to their own consumers.
Smart endpoints and dumb pipes - this concept somewhat leans towards having a pointto-point
connection; however, given the potential complications that could arise with
connecting services to each other, a messaging layer can be used to address the same
Decentralized governance - this refers to the need to breakaway from having a common
set of practices and policies to solve varied and rapidly changing business requirements,
and to meet specific business stakeholder demands.
Decentralized data management - this concept will use different types of data stores
to store different data instead of having a centralized one. However, a challenge from
the business side is the need to have common data sets as well as models even if they
individually store different data stores.
Infrastructure automation - this is a key feature in microservice architecture and refers
to how you build solutions from dev, then take it to the testing phase and eventually into
production, and then how you could quickly spin up new instances based on runtime
Design for failure - this is not a new concept and you can write code using this crash only
concept. Yet, from a platform perspective, you would need some key features such as
devops-friendliness to spin up new instances in case one instance goes down. Moreover,
data and analytics is important as well to be able to monitor, predict, and take necessary
Evolutionary design - this concept focuses on avoidance of building a heavy solution and
rather using a concept like an MVP (most viable product) and improving this in an iterative
4. The Role of Enterprise Middleware
With the above key MSA features in place, the next step would be to ascertain what's
required in terms of middleware.
With regard to componentization as a service, the middleware should basically provide a
high performance functionality as well as support various types of service standards that
comply with RESTful service implementation standards like JAX-RS. It also needs to be lean
and use minimum resources in your infrastructure thus providing the necessary lightweight
and high-performance runtime to dynamically deploy the services.
For organizing around business capabilities, the middleware should include a platform for
business units to build services and expose those capabilities. While these small groups
would have the freedom to build applications, the middleware should also provide some
sort of governance as well as some standards to write applications on top of the platform.
Figure 2 illustrates a sample reference architecture that can be referred to as a platform for
digital transformation. The diagram shows different middleware capabilities, such as API,
integration, analytics, security, governance, etc. that have been provided as a platform and
how the various business units utilize these. There's also the concept of multi-tenancy that's
heavily utilized; each business unit will get a tenant and utilize it or some organizations may
opt for a federated deployment where the same platform can be duplicated and run with
different business units as well. However, what's important is that the platform will contain a
set of standards that will be inherited by all and used in their respective deployments.
In order to provide a product to the end-user, an enterprise should use different types of
technical capabilities, hence the middleware stack should offer a complete stack with endto-end
capabilities as explained in Figure 3.
The enterprise would require different types of capabilities to carry out various tasks. From
the source system of record to system of records, you would see all the storages that you
store and data access capabilities built on top of that; you may also need data virtualization
as there might be some non-compliances with the standards that you need as a data
model from your APIs; lastly, you would have all the SOA-related components and the API
would be the consumable unit of the service. On top of the services, you would have all
the APIs and all the delivery channels and applications you write for your consumers. Thus,
a business unit can create an application and then provide it if they have most of these
capabilities in their middleware platform as it will enable them to easily write a service,
build applications, and provide these to consumers. The devops and infrastructure-related
components too would come across the different architecture layers that are shown in the
In the case of implementing smart endpoints and dumb pipes, the middleware should
support the bus and broker architecture. Enterprise integration patterns would be useful
too as apart from the microservices, you would need to connect your legacy systems, i.e.
connecting the old world with the new world. Middleware capabilities such as an enterprise
service bus (ESB) and a message broker still play a vital role to accommodate connectivity
The concepts of API-driven and polyglot programming in Platform 3.0 will help to resolve
issues related with decentralizing governance. Platform 3 is a revolutionary way to do
development that many companies are trying to adjust to; in other words, it's a platform
for IT growth and innovation built on mobile devices, cloud services, social technologies,
big data analytics, and the internet of things. When an enterprise exposes everything as
an API they also provide freedom to app developers to write applications. Even though
these developers will use business functionalities via the API there is no risk as the APIs are
properly secured and the usage of the APIs are governed as well.
On the other hand, to decentralize data management, the middleware should provide or
support EDA; for instance, in case there are updates to data or a different set of data needs
to be refreshed, an event-driven nature enables eventing that will push these events and
make sure all sources that subscribed to the event will be updated and propagated to their
system. That way data-related functional capabilities, such as transaction management and
data security, can be implemented with the support of EDA.
In terms of infrastructure automation, the middleware platform would need to be devopsfriendly
and support functionalities like automation testing, continuous integration, and
containerization. It would also need to support devops automation like how devops scripts
are carried out and how middleware supports scripting and distributed deployment.
In terms of containerization and virtualization, you would spin up an instance and then
communicate with each and every node, such as hashing and throttling, to ensure proper
distributed deployment. The deployment should be able to support higher availability and
scalability as well. Lean, independant runtime is key in case dependencies will not allow
you to quickly spin up a new instance; what's required is the ability to quickly boot up the
runtime and make it a part of the existing cluster that's running already.
As discussed earlier, big data analytics is important to ensure design for failure. To meet
this requirement, the middleware platform should have a comprehensive data analytics
solution and should be devops-friendly. Moreover, it should support an iterative architecture
and implementation to maintain evolutionary design. To do this, the middleware should be
pluggable, i.e. you should be able to plug component without affecting the runtime, and it
has to be extensible where you can change the middleware based on your needs as well as
those of your domain.
To meet all of these requirements, an enterprise would need a complete middleware stack
that can support different types of platforms (Figure 4).
The middleware platform should be able to carry out all integration requirements and then
service writing, API management, analytics, and security. It should also be able to support
mobile and IoT needs as well as dashboard stores, and app development and management.
Lastly, it should have the capability to integrate with various systems like legacy systems
and Cloud-based systems as well.
Figure 5 maps WSO2's middleware capabilities with the MSA reference architecture
explained earlier (refer to Figure 1). The above diagram illustrates how WSO2 has created
some microservices as well as microservice-like architectures. For instance, WSO2 has a
lightweight, fast runtime and annotation-based programming model, WSO2 Microservices
Framework for Java, offering the best option to create microservices in Java with
container-based deployment in mind. WSO2 Message Broker is used to do messaging and
WSO2 Governance Registry is used for governance services of your APIs. To expose all
these services as a service gateway, you can use WSO2 API Manager to take care of the API
management component. For security and identity requirements you can use WSO2 Identity Server and capturing of
data analytics can be carried out with WSO2 Data Analytics Server. In order to connect the
old world with the new world, WSO2 also has a traditional enterprise service bus, WSO2
Enterprise Service Bus, which also supports technologies that come from Docker and
Kubernetes as a container as a service and then Puppet for automation as well. It's further
supported by WSO2 Gateway, an ultra high performance, lightweight and configuration driven
message gateway based on standard gateway patterns.
To create a platform for innovation as well as rapid application development, an enterprise
should build an API-driven architecture that's more consumer-driven. It can then utilize the
infrastructure and dynamically add to the platform based on runtime events; these are not
statically configured and everything works based on the runtime where the events will flow
and then based on those events you can make decisions.
While an MSA is the way forward, enterprises would need to strike a balance by
incorporating the good things in an existing architecture. It's important to not lose existing
applications as well as some key SOA principles. Middleware capabilities like integration
engines as well as tools that are being used, and distributed deployment with functional
containers should be included in the architecture built with microservices.
For more details watch our on-demand webinar on A Pragmatic Approach to Microservice
Architecture: The Role of Middleware.