One of the great things about working at Oracle is the high calibre of one's coworkers, and one of the best is my colleague Manfred Riem. Manfred shared this UJUG recording of Neal Ford's talk at their March meeting: <>. This blog post covers my notes and impressions of the session.

Introduction: What came before Microservices

Microservices cannot be divorced from the engineering practices, such as DevOps.

Contrast Microservices with what came before: SOA. Microservices is a label not description. Contrast to SOA: which is gargantuan.

SOA: abstract enterprise-level coarse-grained services.

Implementation of these services: reusable as possible. Enable the business users to compose the services because the services have been written so well to be reusable.

Some one-off services as well: authentication, identity, etc.

Message Bus: really important to enable this reuse.

Why build these? "Resume driven development"? Goal: maximize reuse. Maximize canonicalitym aka DRY. Aside: this appears to be a manifestation of Eric Evan's UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE concept.

Constraints of SOA: incremental change is hard with SOA. The context in which SOA grew up. Predated Open Source. Everything was proprietary. OS were very heavyweight: resources and licenses. Operation was very complex.

"Architecture is an abstraction until you operationalize it."

I like how he explicitly called out that a key aspect of the architecture is how it interacts with the environment around it. Analogy of taking the deployed system, unplugging it, putting it in the closet, waiting a year, and plugging it back in. This brings in the dimension of time (2D -> 3D -> 4D) to the architecture. This is what he means by operationalized.

What problem are we trying to solve with Microservices?

Plug for Evans DDD and Vaughn Vernon Implementing DDD.

Defines the Bounded Context idea. It's a business process, such as "customer checkout". No one outside the context is able to know the impl details of the inside. Combine this with Humble and Farley (Continuous Delivery) and you get the Microservices Architecture.

Diagram that shows API layer. This is optional, but acts as a facade that imposes the bounded context boundary. It is not a part of an ESB. This is where he delivers the "everyone provides their own persistence" requirement.


Monoliths vs. Microservices. Difference in how the achieve scale. Monoliths, everyone shares the same stuff, so you achieve scale through clustering. In Microservices, how you achieve scale is to add more instances. This is a manifestation of the importance if putting things in the right place. In the SOA: scaling is an architectural problem. Really, it should be an ops problem.

Products, not Projects. This is the Conway's law thing. You build it, you run it. Teams do not span products. Teams maintain the same product for their lifetime. This responsibility makes people confront the consequences of their actions. It eliminates the ability to externalize costs. He notes as an aside that propogating model changes across services is very hard, though.

"Inverse Conway Movement" Organize teams by bounded contexts, rather than skillset. Accept Conway's law as a fact of life, build teams accordingly.

Smart endpoints and dumb pipes. REST or messaging (what about gRPC?) Whatever you choose, you do have to standardize on it. Embrace polyglot solutions where sensible. (Plugs Sam Newman's book).

Aside on the challenges of "everyone provides their own persistence" ACID vs. BASE (CAP Theorem). "We have made our users think that transactions are a natural part of the universe, but they are not." Starbucks example. ATM example: batch reconciliation. He takes pot shots at the need for transactions, saying "maybe seats on an airplane" need them. I disagree. Transactions are useful in any case where there is a lot of contention: event tickets, auctions, manufacturing automation and more. But, with Microservices, you want to try to avoid transactions. That I agree with. When defining bounded contexts, when you get to the point when you say, "if we get any smaller than that, we'll have to do a distributed transaction," that's when you stop and take a step back and that's where you have a boundary. This is more reliable than your class diagram.

Decentralized governance: an aside that you can change your persistence within a bounded context and no-one outside it cares. Without this, because everyone shares everything, we have to choose an RDBMS that works for the aspect of the system that has the hardest problems, while the rest of the system may not need that much power. Same for all aspects (MQ, etc). Everyone is suffering from the maximum complexity. Microservices allows more fine grained rightsizing.

Brief plug for CICD.

Microservices tries to avoid having something like a "customer service". Rather, each service has its own notion of customer. It turns out this is not as bad as you might think, because the right decomposition of bounded contexts means that the notion of customer can be conveyed as messages, without defining a customer as a service.

"The more resuable code it is, the less usable it is." In other words, the more cases it serves, the less it is for one case. Mentioned the old IBM San Francisco Project, which gave birth to J2EE. Neal felt it was the stupidest idea ever. Well, I don't know about that, but the idea did have very big consequences.

Service orchestration. This is necessary because we don't have transactions. This is Chris Richardson's saga concept.

Benefits of Microservices

Maximize easy evolution. Make changes without breaking stuff. Microservices is the first architecture style developed after the acceptance of continuous delivery (aka DevOps). Also allows you to optimize only what matters.

Tends to be asynchronous from birth. This allows amazon to stay within their boredom threshold, the point where users will lose interest and go somewhere else, which is lost money. "Prefer timely partial over slow complete".

Integration vs. disintegration. "Complected deployments" to intertwine things. Components are deployed and features are released. This allows us to monitor traffic and see which features are actually needed, allowing empirical determination of which features you can safely disintegrate. (Economically, because features are teams, this also means which employees you can lay off because they are not delivering value. I argue this is a more compelling reason for companies.)

How big? The more services you have, the lower you drive down your risk per service release. But this does not address the complexity tax of having all those services.

Engineering Practices

Design for failure, monitoring. Monitoring is harder in Microservices, but at least there is good tool support: ELK, etc. This includes log aggregation.

Mention of "synthetic transactions". This plus monitoring is how you debug.

Mention of "correlation ids". Again, debugging.

Release It! "Everything in this book is considered bible in this world" Circuit Breakers, bulkheads, timeouts.

Engineering consistency. Share nothing except: how the services integrate (REST vs message bus vs. RPC). The other is actual system services technologies: monitoring, logging, identity. This is the "service template" idea. Dropwizard or SpringBoot help with this.

Testing. The testing pyramid. Unit, Integration, Component, End-to-end, exploratory. Unit testing: sociable (real live objects) and solitary (mocks). Integration testing: gateway, protocol level. Database integration. Component testing: build a diagnostic mode into your services. Inproctester or plasma. Consumer Driven Contracts: Each endpoint defines the contract that the other side must adhere to and codifies that into a test, which is a release gate for the other endpoint. This appears to be the microservices equivalent of an IDE alerting you that when you change the signature of a method all the callsites that now break. Pact, Pacto, Janus. Implicit assumption that you have sufficient engineering maturity. Eveyone is good at writing tests, keeping the build green, etc. End-to-end testing: focus on personas and user journeys.

Deployment technologies. As advanced as Docker containers or as simple as executable jars.

Don't let changes build up, get things into production as quickly as possible. With all the other CD stuff, deploying is actually anti risky, since you have feature toggles or routes.

Service discovery: Consul, etcd, zookeeper. Why service discovery? Neal says it's for elastic scaling. I would have liked to have seen more on this.

Service visualization: Spigo, from Netflix.

Tools: Plug for

Neal asserts you must be doing all the things in Humble and Farley before you even attempt microservices. He enumerated what can happen if you attempt it before mastery of Humble and Farley. "If you get sloppy, it gets bad fast". (A rescue consultant's dream) See Simon Brown's Modular Monoliths and Adam Bien's Java EE Microservice for some things you might want to look at before taking the jump to Microservices. In both cases, the question, "if you can't build a monolith correctly, what makes you think that Microservices are the answer?" is implicitly asked.

Is there a middle ground between SOA and Microservices? Yes: service based architectures. You have much fatter services. The "every service has its own persistence" rule is relaxed. Integration hub: the mere introduction of an ESB to a system.

More migration paths. Partitioning along natural boundaries. Use tools like xray or jdepend to anaylze your monolith to see how to start decomposing. Look at the transactional boundaries to see the bounded contexts. If your system relies heavily on transactions, it may not be a good candidate for Microservices. Maybe consider service-based. Start with a small number of larger services first. Get the low hanging fruit.

Trotted out the example from Newman. A great example but I won't cover it here.

Efferent coupling: first time I've heard this term since college. I must be two deep inside OS, language and runtime vendors. Having low efferent coupling means having a minimal number of dependencies.

Neal's new book: Evolutionary Architecture.