When people talk about cloud native application development, microservices are a hot topic, and for good reason. 

Microservices architecture is a structured manner for deploying a collection of self-contained and independent services in an organization. They are game changing compared to some past application development methodologies, allowing development teams to work independently and at cloud native scale.

Let’s dive into the history of application development, characteristics of microservices, and what that means for cloud native observability.

Microservices architecture vs. monolithic architecture

The easiest way to understand what microservices architecture does is to compare it to monolithic architecture. 

Monolithic architecture 

Monolithic architecture, as the prefix “mono” implies, is software that is written with all components combined into a single executable. There are typically three advantages to this architecture:

  • Simple to develop: many development tools support monolithic application creation. 
  • Simple to deploy: deploy a single file or directory to your runtime.
  • Simple to scale: scaling the application is easily done by running multiple copies behind some sort of load balancer.

Microservices architecture

Microservices are all about small, self-contained services. The advantages are that these services are highly maintainable and testable, loosely coupled with other services, independently deployable and developed by small highly productive developer teams. Some service types for a microservices architecture may include the following examples.

  • Client
    Client-side services are used  for collecting client requests, such as requests to search, build, etc.
  • Identity provider
    Before being sent to an API gateway, requests from clients are processed by an identity provider, which is a service that creates, authenticates, and manages digital identity information.
  • API gateway
    An application programming interface (API) is the intermediate system that allows for two services to talk to each other. In the case of microservices, an API gateway is like an entry point: It accepts requests from clients, collects the services needed to fulfill those requests from the backend and returns the correct response.
  • Database
    In microservices, each microservice usually has its own database, which is updated through an API service.
  • Message formatting
    Services communicate in two types of ways: synchronous messages and asynchronous messages.
    • Synchronous messaging is for when a client waits for a response. This type includes both representational state transfer (REST) and HTTP protocols.
    • Asynchronous messaging is for scenarios where clients don’t wait for an immediate response from services. Common protocols for this type of messaging include AMQP, STOMP, and MQTT.
  • Static content
    Once microservices have finished communicating, any static content is sent to a cloud-based storage system that can directly deliver that content to the client.
  • Management
    Having a management element in a microservices structure can help monitor services and identify failures to keep everything running smoothly.
  • Service discovery
    For both client-side and server-side services, service discovery is a tool that locates devices and services on a specific network.
A comparison of microservices and monolithic architectures

The monolithic model is more traditional and certainly has some pros, but microservices are becoming more and more common in cloud native environments. The following are the most defining differences between the two models.

Benefits of a microservices architecture

Microservices are showing lots of success in modern cloud native businesses. Businesses benefit from using this structure for a number of reasons.

Flexibility: Because each service is independent, the programming language can vary between all microservices; although it’s prudent to standardize as much as possible on one modern programming language.

Faster deployment: Not only are microservices easier for most developers to understand, but they’re also faster to deploy. Change one thing in the code for a monolithic structure, and it affects everything across the board. Microservices are independently deployed and don’t affect other services. 

Scalability: If you run everything through one application, it’s hard to manage the massive scale of services as an application grows. Instead, a microservices architecture allows a team to modify the capabilities of an individual service instead of redeploying an entire system. This even applies to the scale of each service within an application. If a payment service, for example, is seeing more demand than other services, that microservice can be scaled as needed.

Isolated failures: With a monolithic architecture, a failure in one service can compromise the entire application. Microservices isolate each component, so if one service fails or has issues, the rest of the applications can still function, although likely in a degraded state. 

Ultimately, microservices architecture saves teams time, offers more granular modifications to each service and scales with the need of every individual service and interface as a whole.


Microservices are incredibly useful, but they do come with some of their own challenges.

Increased complexity and dependency issues: The design of microservices favors individual services, but that also increases the number of users, the variety of user behavior and the interactions between services. This makes tracing individual traffic from front-end to back-end more difficult and can cause dependency issues between services. When microservices are so independent of each other, it’s not always easy to manage compatibility and other effects of different versions and workloads.

Testing: Testing can be difficult across the entire application because of how different and variant each executed service route can be. Flexibility is a great element of microservices, but the same diversity can be hard to observe consistently in a distributed deployment.

Managing communication systems: Even though services can easily communicate with each other, developers have to manage the architecture in which services communicate. APIs play an essential role in reliable and effective communication between services, which requires an API gateway. These gateways are helpful, but they can fail, lead to dependency problems or bottleneck communication.

Observability: Because microservices are distributed, monitoring and observability can be a challenge for developers and observability teams. It’s important to consider a monitoring system or platform to help oversee, troubleshoot, and observe an entire microservices system.

Should you adopt microservices architecture?

Sometimes a monolithic structure may be the way to go, but microservices architecture is growing for a reason. Ask yourself:

What type of environment hosts my applications?

Because most cloud native architectures are designed for microservices, microservices are the way to go if you want to get the full benefits of a cloud native environment. With applications moving to cloud-based settings, application development favors microservices architecture and will continue to do so moving forward.

How does your team function?

In a microservices architecture, the codebase can typically be managed by smaller teams. Still, development teams also need the tools to identify, monitor and execute the activity of different components, including if and how they interact with each other. Teams also need to determine which services are reusable so they don’t have to start from scratch when building out a new service.

How flexible are your applications?

If you have to consistently modify your application or make adjustments, a microservices approach is going to be best because you can edit individual services instead of the entire monolithic system.

How many services do you have and will that number grow?

If you have a lot of services or plan to continue growing — in a cloud-based platform, you should expect growth — then a microservices architecture is also ideal because monolithic application software doesn’t scale well.

Chronosphere scales with microservices

Microservices architecture is designed to make application software development in a cloud native environment simpler, not more difficult. With the challenges that come along with managing each individual service, it’s even more critical for teams to have observability solutions that scale with the growth of their business.

Chronosphere specializes in observability for a cloud native world so your team has greater control, reliable functionality, and flexible scalability at every level of your application development. Monitoring microservices with a trustworthy and flexible platform greatly lowers risks, helps anticipate failures, and empowers development teams to understand their data. 

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