Is integrating your digital asset management system with a DXP a good idea?
In today's digital world, organizations are constantly looking for ways to improve the experiences they provide to their customers. One way they can accomplish this is to integrate their existing digital asset management (DAM) system with a digital experience platform (DXP).
In this blog, we'll look at how a DXP and a DAM system differ when it makes sense to integrate your existing DAM system with a DXP and some of the benefits of this type of integration.
What is a digital asset management system?
A DAM system stores organizes, and manages digital content, including images, videos, graphics, and documents for use across an organization. DAM systems are typically used by companies that must control a large volume of digital assets while also remaining compliant with regulations applicable to their industries. DAM software securely stores and preserves data from loss while limiting access via workflows and user controls.
While DAM systems are great for protecting and storing critical digital assets, there often must be a way to seamlessly deliver these assets to customers on the front-end presentation layer. That's where the digital experience platform can make the difference.
What is a digital experience platform (DXP)?
A DXP software platform helps organizations create, manage, and deliver exceptional digital experiences across multiple channels. Composable DXPs enable organizations to integrate their existing tech stack, including their DAM system, into one platform to create more streamlined and seamless user experiences (UX).
A headless CMS is an essential component of the composable DXP because this decouples the back end from the front end so that each area can be developed separately. Yet, they can still communicate via an application programming interface (API) so that assets on the back end can easily be called up for delivery to multiple channels, including websites, smartphones, native apps, and social media.
When it makes sense to integrate a DAM system and DXP
While a DXP alone can serve as a central repository for storing and managing all types of digital assets, replacing an existing DAM system may sometimes be feasible. Or an organization may be unwilling to move large volumes of data from their DAM system to a DXP. However, while the DAM software securely stores digital assets with workflows and user controls, it only sometimes provides an easy way for organizations to leverage these assets to improve user and customer experience.
A DXP and DAM system integration can help an organization to centralize the management of its digital assets, improve the searchability and discoverability of these assets, and streamline omnichannel delivery while at the same time protecting assets from unauthorized use.
A DXP can be integrated with your full tech stack, including the DAM system, proprietary software, analytics tools, marketing automation, CRMs, and more. One of the excellent capabilities of a composable DXP is its modular and decoupled CMS so that apps and integrations can take place over time for seamless, uninterrupted user and customer experiences. This puts the organization in control of prioritizing when integrating each of its systems with the DXP and when to roll out new features and functionality.
While integrating your tech stack with a DXP can take some time, it's well worth the effort because it empowers organizations to keep up with customer expectations for more personalized and relevant digital experiences on all their channels based on real-time feedback.
The benefits of integrating DXPs and DAM systems
The integration of DXPs and DAM systems can provide several benefits for organizations, including:
Organizations can save time and resources by centralizing the management of digital assets. This is because they no longer need to maintain multiple asset management systems.
Improved asset management
DAM software provides powerful features for managing digital assets across teams, such as asset tagging, version control, and workflow automation. DAMs can help organizations to keep their assets organized and up-to-date.
Enhanced content delivery
DXPs can help content creators deliver content to various channels, such as websites, mobile apps, and social media. This can help organizations reach users on the device or channel of their choice and expand their audience.
Personalized digital experiences
DXPs can be used to personalize digital experiences for individual users by gauging user feedback quickly and using data from the DAM system to select the most relevant assets for these users. This can help organizations to engage with their customers on a more personal level.
Things to consider before making a decision
When choosing an integration solution, it is essential to consider your organization's unique needs. Some factors include the organization's size, the number of digital assets to be managed, and the desired security and compliance features.
Second, you need to think about your digital strategy. If you want to create and deliver personalized digital experiences, a DXP can help you, even if you already have a DAM system.
By integrating your existing DAM system with a composable DXP, you can enhance marketing automation and ensure your marketing teams can easily access your latest and greatest digital assets. Then, they can leverage them to create more engaging and personalized experiences for greater customer satisfaction.
Finally, you need to think about your budget. Integrating a DAM system with a DXP can be a significant investment. But if you're serious about creating and delivering outstanding digital and customer experiences, it's an investment that's worth making.
Here are some other essential things to consider before deciding to integrate your DAM system with a DXP:
Not all DXPs are created equal. Ensure your chosen platform is composable to integrate with your full tech stack, including your DAM system.
Choose the correct integration approach. There are several ways to integrate a DXP with a DAM. One standard method is to use an API. The DXP can use the API to access the DAM's assets and then deliver them to the desired channel. Another approach is to use a plugin. A plugin can be installed on the DXP to make it easier to integrate with the DAM.
Plan for the integration. Integrating two systems can be a complex process. It's essential to plan carefully and to involve all stakeholders in the process ahead of time.
Provide training. Once the systems are integrated, it's critical to provide training to your users. This will help them understand how to use the new system and how it can benefit them.
By centralizing the management of digital assets and improving the searchability and discoverability of those assets, organizations can deliver more personalized and relevant digital experiences to their customers by integrating their existing DAM system with a DXP. To learn more about our composable DXP, schedule a demo today.
The future of digital content: The API-first approach and its role in digital transformation
In today's competitive marketplace, businesses continually look for ways to innovate and bring products to market faster while providing an enhanced user experience. One of the key strategies to achieve this is adopting an API-first approach in software development. This blog post will explore the world of API-first design, how leading companies leverage its benefits for faster time-to-market and improved user experiences, and how your organization can benefit, too.What does API-first mean in software development?An API is an application programming interface. An API is a software intermediary responsible for seamless communication between two applications. APIs have been around almost as long as modern computers and have many purposes. They can integrate systems and software to support internal workflows and processes at organizations, boosting productivity and collaboration. They can help organizations integrate software with their partner to offer improved or expanded services and experiences to customers. Or they can be shared publicly so they are available to all.At its core, API-first development focuses on defining and developing the API contract or specification first, making it a priority rather than an afterthought.Developing with an API-first mindset means that the API is created before any code is written, which lets developers create consistent and reusable APIs. By taking this approach, developers can also ensure consistency, efficiency, and scalability throughout the entire development lifecycle.No wonder developers worldwide are adopting this technique to enhance their projects and deliver better user experiences.Significance and benefits of the API-first approachWhen comparing API-first development with traditional development methodologies, it's clear that the API-first strategy offers a range of advantages. These include the following:Faster time-to-marketBy starting with the API contract up front, development teams don't have to start from scratch when implementing a new feature or service. They can also work on various components of the application simultaneously. All this reduces overall development time, enabling businesses to bring their products to market faster.Better user experienceWith a clear API contract, developers can create consistent, reliable, and efficient user interfaces, improving user experiences. Improved developer experienceA well-documented API fosters better collaboration and understanding among development teams, leading to a smoother developer experience (DX) and higher-quality end products.ScalabilityAPI-first design is inherently more scalable, as it promotes using microservices architectures, allowing your applications to grow and evolve with ease.Smooth collaborationThe API-first design encourages seamless collaboration between teams and stakeholders in software projects, including front-end and back-end developers, UX/UI designers, and product managers.Real-world scenarios: When to choose an API-enabled vs. API-first strategyAPI-enabled strategies are suitable for businesses that have existing applications or systems that they wish to enhance with API capabilities. In contrast, API-first approaches are ideal for organizations designing and building new applications or systems from scratch, focusing on API-driven development to ensure a modern, scalable, and flexible architecture.Showcasing successful API-first implementations in leading companiesLeading companies have recognized the power of the API-first approach and have reaped the benefits of increased efficiency, scalability, and innovation.NetflixBy adopting an API-first strategy, Netflix was able to create a seamless user experience across a multitude of devices, from tablets to smart TVs. The company's API handles over 2 billion API requests per day, showcasing the power of its API-first design.SlackSlack, the popular communication platform, relies heavily on its intuitive API, allowing developers to create various integrations and applications that improve the user experience. Slack's developer-first approach has earned them a loyal following and contributed to their rapid growth.TwilioA leading cloud communications provider built on an API-first foundation, Twilio allows developers to easily integrate voice, messaging, and video services into their applications.StripeThanks to its robust and well-documented APIS, Stripe is now a global payment processing platform that focuses on providing a seamless DX.The future of API-first developmentIndustry experts predict that the API-first approach is here to stay, with more and more companies recognizing its potential to expedite development, streamline user experiences, and foster innovation.For instance, Randy Heffner, VP and principal analyst of Forrester Research, said, "API-first is becoming the de facto standard for how leading companies do application development."As technology evolves, the API-first approach is set to play an even more prominent role in software development. Some predictions for this evolution include:Increased use of API description languagesTools like OpenAPI, Postman, and Swagger will become essential for teams working with API-first development.Greater focus on API governanceWith the increasing use of APIs, the need for standardized approaches to API management will become more critical.The rise of microservices architecturesAs businesses transition to more agile methodologies, the adoption of microservices will skyrocket, further driving the need for well-designed APIs.More focus on developer experiencesCompanies will prioritize creating positive developer experiences (DX) by focusing on clear and consistent API documentation, fostering developer communities, and providing support.API-first development: How to get startedIf you're ready to join the ranks of companies taking advantage of the API-first approach, here are critical steps for getting started.Assess your current situation.Analyze the structure of your current processes and application landscape.Establish your API programDefine a clear API strategy, governance model, and goals for your organization, including instituting an API style guide to ensure consistency across APIs.Assemble an API-first teamBring together skilled and experienced development teams dedicated to your API-first strategy.Define your API contractCreate an API specification using an API description language like OpenAPI or RAML (RESTful API Modeling Language).Implement your APIFollow the API contract to build your API, ensuring it meets the required specifications.Develop and integrate applicationsEncourage your development teams to use the API as the foundation for new applications and update existing applications to utilize the API.Best practices and actionable insights when adopting an API-first strategyWhen taking the above steps, businesses should understand and follow these best practices.Create a clear API contractUtilize an API description language like OpenAPI or RAML to create a detailed, comprehensive contract for your API that outlines its functions, inputs, outputs, and any authentication requirements.Develop and maintain a style guideHaving a well-documented style guide in place helps maintain API contract adherence and sets expectations for development teams working with the API. This ensures consistency in design and allows developers to adhere to best practices.Establish API governanceImplement and document processes to maintain and manage your API program, from version control to access management and performance monitoring.Prioritize developer toolsInvest in high-quality documentation, sample code, and software development kits (SDKs) to ensure a smooth developer onboarding process.Embrace a microservices architectureThis architectural pattern promotes modularity, scalability, and flexibility, critical elements supporting your API-first approach.Iterate and improveContinuous feedback and improvement are cornerstones of successful API-first development. Solicit feedback from users and developers alike to enhance your API over time.The right platform can fast-track your API-first strategyAPI-first is the future of enterprise architecture, and a composable digital experience platform (DXP) like Contentstack can help organizations achieve their API-first goals faster. Contentstack is headless CMS and supports a modular framework powered by APIs that can integrate with your tech stack to help your organization achieve incredible velocity, expanded capabilities, and better customer experiences. However, this approach requires careful planning, technical expertise, and the proper support. Contentstack is a leading provider of composable DXPs. We offer comprehensive support, including onboarding, professional services, and support plans to ensure your team is successful. We also have a vibrant community of developers and partners that can offer insights and advice, as well as the Contentstack Academy, which offers extensive training and certification. By partnering with Contentstack, businesses can achieve the highest agility and flexibility in the evolving digital landscape.Schedule a free demo today.
Does your organization need a digital asset management (DAM) system?
Delivering excellent customer experiences in the digital age requires a lot of content in various formats. That's why businesses are generating and storing more content than ever before. However, organizing, managing, and assessing this content can become a real challenge with more volume.Digital asset management (DAM) systems can help organizations solve this problem. In this blog post, we will explain what a DAM system is and cover its essential components. We'll also explore the benefits of implementing a DAM system, how to choose the right platform, best practices for implementing DAM, and more.What is a digital asset management (DAM) system?DAM systems store, organize, and distribute digital assets, and they have features like tagging, version control, and history tracking for efficiently managing these assets. They serve as repositories for many different types of content, including images, videos, documents, audio files, presentations, and more. A DAM platform serves as a single source of truth for all the different teams in an organization, from marketing to business development, enabling collaboration between these teams.How does a DAM system differ from a content management system (CMS)? A traditional CMS only manages the content for your website. DAM software can manage content across your organization, allowing content to be used across multiple channels, not just your website.On the other hand, a DAM system can't publish content to your website or other channels. Your organization will still need a CMS or digital experience platform (DXP) to push digital assets to your website and other channels. To learn more about improving efficiency by integrating a DAM system with a DXP, read our blog, "Is integrating your digital asset management system with a DXP a good idea?"Again, the DAM system stores digital assets so they're easy to access and manage, while a CMS or DXP distributes them to where they need to be seen – for example, websites, mobile apps, and social media.Four main benefits of leveraging DAM softwareThere are many reasons why businesses need to have a well-organized and efficient DAM system.First, it can help improve content creation and collaboration efficiency. When all of a business's digital assets are stored in one centralized location, it's easier for team members to locate and access the assets they need for marketing campaigns and other initiatives. It's also easier to share these assets and collaborate about them with others in the organization. This can save time and resources, improve the quality of content, and optimize the speed at which it can be delivered.Second, a well-organized DAM system can help improve the search and retrieval of digital assets. When assets are correctly tagged, and metadata is managed effectively, it's easier for users to find the necessary assets quickly. This can save time and frustration and help ensure the right assets are used for suitable projects.Third, a DAM system can ensure consistent branding and messaging across all the business's digital assets. When assets are stored in a centralized location and tagged with consistent metadata, ensuring they all use the same branding and messaging is easier.Lastly, a DAM system reduces unnecessary duplication and wasted resources. When assets are stored in one central location, tracking which assets have been used and when they are more accessible can help prevent team members from creating duplicate assets, saving time and money.Essential components of DAM systemsAre platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive considered DAM systems? The answer is no. Even though these platforms provide some basic capabilities for managing digital assets, they need to have DAM platforms' robust features and functionality.Efficient DAM systems have several essential components. These include:Centralized storageA DAM system should provide a centralized repository for storing all digital assets across an organization, making them easier to locate and use when needed.Tagging and metadata managementA DAM system should allow users to tag and manage metadata for their digital assets. This makes searching and retrieving assets easier and helps ensure consistent branding and messaging.Version controlA DAM system should provide version control for digital assets. This means users can track asset changes over time and revert to previous versions if necessary.History trackingA DAM system should track the history of all changes to digital assets. This makes it easy to see who made changes to assets, when the changes were made, and why the changes were made.Search and retrievalA DAM system should have robust search and retrieval capabilities, enabling the assets to be located even without an exact filename.CollaborationA DAM system should allow users to easily collaborate on digital assets across many different teams in an organization.SecurityA DAM system should provide robust security features to protect digital assets from unauthorized access.ReportingA DAM system provides useful reporting features that can help businesses track how their digital assets are being used and how often specific assets are used. This can help to identify over or under-utilized assets.Choosing the right platformChoosing the right DAM system is essential for any business that wants to improve its digital asset management. Here are a few points to consider when shopping for the right system.Organizational needs and goals: What are the specific needs of your organization? What is the main reason for implementing DAM software? What plans does the business hope to achieve once the system is implemented?Features: What features does your organization require? Does it need a system with version control? Does the system need to integrate with existing software? Is this also an excellent time to upgrade your CMS or implement a new DXP?Scalability: How much growth do you expect in the future? Do you need a system that will evolve as your business scales or changes?Cost: How much will your company spend on a DAM system?Once you have considered these factors, it's time to narrow down your choices. Check out our Marketplace for DAM providers who partner with Contentstack.Implementation best practicesOnce you have chosen a DAM system, be mindful of these implementation best practices.Get buy-in from stakeholders. A successful DAM implementation requires the support of all stakeholders from the top down in an organization. Communicate the benefits of DAM to everyone affected by the system and gather feedback.Set realistic expectations. DAM is not a magic bullet. It takes time and effort to implement and manage a DAM system effectively. Expect to see results after some time.Be flexible. As your needs change, you may need to adjust your DAM system. Be prepared to make changes as required.Start small and scale up. Don't try to implement a DAM system that is too complex or ambitious for your organization. Start with a few assets and users, then gradually expand the system as required.Get help from a consultant. If you're unfamiliar with DAM software, consider seeking the advice of a consultant. A consultant can help assess business needs, choose a DAM system, and implement the system successfully.What to expect during implementationThere are four basic steps when implementing a DAM system:Configuring the DAM system. Once your organization has chosen a DAM solution, it must be configured to meet the specific needs of your business. This includes setting up user permissions, creating metadata fields, and configuring workflows.Migrating your assets to the DAM system. This is the process of transferring your existing assets to the new DAM system. It is essential to do this carefully to avoid data loss or corruption.Training users. Once digital assets have been migrated to the DAM system, users must be trained to use it. This includes teaching them how to search for assets, manage permissions, and create workflows.Monitoring and maintaining the DAM system. Once the DAM system is up and running, you must watch it to ensure it performs as expected. This includes monitoring the system's performance, security, and compliance.Measuring successHere is a sample of the metrics you can track to measure your DAM implementation's success and demonstrate a return on investment.Asset retrieval time: How long does finding and retrieving the necessary assets take?Collaboration efficiency: How easy is it for team members to share and collaborate on digital assets?Cost savings: How much money have you saved by implementing a DAM system?Productivity improvements: Have you seen any improvements in productivity since implementing a DAM system?Brand consistency: Are your digital assets more consistent with your brand guidelines than pre-implementation?Future Trends in Digital Asset ManagementDAM systems are constantly evolving. Here are a few trends to watch for in the future:AI-powered metadata tagging and auto-classification: AI can automate the tagging and classification of digital assets. This can save businesses time and resources.Integration with emerging technologies: Companies increasingly integrate DAM systems with technologies like AR/VR and voice assistants. This makes it easier for businesses to share digital assets with their customers and partners.Evolving role of DAM in a dynamic digital landscape: DAM is becoming increasingly important in a dynamic digital landscape. Businesses need to manage their digital assets effectively to stay competitive.Learn moreDAM systems can be a valuable asset for organizations of all sizes. Businesses can improve their digital asset management, productivity, and brand consistency by choosing the right DAM system and implementing it correctly. Schedule a free demo today to learn more about Contentstack's composable digital experience platform or how this can work with a DAM system to improve user experience.
5 best practices for improving customer satisfaction
Customer satisfaction, a measure of how much a company’s products or services meet or exceed its customer’s expectations, continues to dominate the business world. Customer satisfaction directly correlates with and translates to customer happiness, which is reflected in your business ratings. It is an important metric that helps measure how well a business is meeting the needs and expectations of its customers. Therefore, understanding and enhancing customer satisfaction is critical to ensuring long-term success for your business. Why customer satisfaction mattersWith more than 96% of customers claiming that customer service is essential to brand loyalty, it’s no secret that customer satisfaction is vital for your business's growth. It is the key to keeping your current customers and retaining new ones. Customer satisfaction directly affects customer loyalty, and it affects how customers may intend to associate with your brand in the future.Therefore, it’s crucial to ensure that your customers are happy with your products and services. Customer satisfaction provides insight into things that need improvement or ways to improve your services or product to serve your customers better. A high level of customer satisfaction shows that a business is providing quality products or services, meeting customer expectations and delivering an overall positive experience. In today's digital world, understanding the market from the end user's perspective is the need of the hour. For example, in a product-based SaaS organization, recognizing customer requirements, curating the product according to their needs, and understanding best practices for improving customer satisfaction can help you get an edge over your competitors.Top 5 best practices for improving customer satisfactionSo, what factors affect customer satisfaction? How do you improve it? Understanding what drives customer satisfaction is a must to improve it. Here are the top five best practices for improving customer satisfaction in your SaaS business:Provide convenience with in-app chat featuresConvenience lets customers use your products or services without hassle. There’s comfort in knowing that everything will be taken care of, no matter what.A virtual assistant or chatbot is one way to provide convenient customer service. The in-app product chat feature provides the easiest way for customers to connect with your support team or agent. Customers always look for an easy way to connect quickly with the support team in case they need help while using the product or if they have any feedback about a feature. However, there should not be limitations to reaching out to the support team or agent only via chat support; an email or contact number should be available to expedite the process.Deliver the human touch with personalization Delivering a personalized customer experience helps establish a strong emotional bond with your customers. Research suggests that 80% of customers are more likely to buy products or services from a brand offering them personalized experiences.Providing a human touch or lively experience is essential, which is not the case when implementing a chatbot for answering queries. Customers expect to get the most relevant answers to their queries with little back and forth. Most of the time, organizations implement a chatbot by designing it to provide the most appropriate answers to the questions asked by the customers. However, after a certain point, bots are not self-sufficient to answer these accurately. In such instances, a live customer support agent can interact with the client to gather the required information by probing for correct questions. This gives additional assurance to the client that the team is looking into their query and that they will get a resolution soon.Track response and turnaround times (FRT and TAT)The quicker the response to a customer’s complaint, the better it is for the customer and the business. First Response Time (FRT) and Turn Around Time (TAT) are the most critical factors in engaging customers. First response time (FRT) is a metric used to measure the time it takes for a business to respond to a customer's initial inquiry or request for assistance. For example, this could be a customer support email, phone call, or message on social media.FRT is crucial because it directly impacts customer satisfaction. Customers generally expect a quick response to their inquiries, and delays in response time can lead to frustration and a negative experience. A prompt first response time can help establish trust and build a positive relationship between the customer and the business.When customers reach out to the support team, they expect an initial reply or acknowledgement of their query. A prompt reply or acknowledgement assures customers that the organization is dedicated to understanding their problems and helps win customer trust and improve satisfaction. In customer service, turnaround time (TAT) is often used to measure the time it takes to resolve customer inquiries or complaints. This includes the time it takes to provide a first response (FRT) plus the time it takes to resolve the issue entirely. A low TAT generally indicates that a business can quickly and efficiently resolve customer issues, leading to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.Organizations should serve customer requests 24/7, across all time zones. It is important to share regular updates on specific cases, so use a unique reference number that can be shared with the client so that they can reach out for updates.Resolving customer-reported bugs in a timely manner helps unblock users and positively affects the organization. Once a bug is resolved and/or an enhancement is implemented, updating customers with a unique reference number is a key factor in improving customer satisfaction. Obtain customer feedback Obtaining customer feedback is essential for enhancing customer satisfaction as it helps businesses gain insight into their customers' needs, preferences and pain points. By acting on this feedback, businesses can make necessary changes to meet customer needs and expectations better, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.Feedback helps identify the gaps between customers and businesses. Understanding customer needs via feedback is very important so details can be discussed with the product team to implement them within the current functionality. A transparent approach to customer feedback collection ensures customers are heard, improving their overall experience. Ensure customer success with proper onboarding Earlier in the onboarding process, determining the customer's end goal for using your solution and defining milestones to achieve that goal improves your customer's experience and assures them that they are in the right hands moving forward. Connecting with customers is important. Schedule regular meetings to understand their workflow and hand-holding (when necessary) until they are fully live. This is usually done with dedicated customer success managers and solutions architects assigned to specific customers. It helps them achieve their use case, clear any roadblocks with the product and get technical guidance when needed. CSMs also help clients to expedite resolving the important features or bugs they may experience. A wonderful onboarding experience engages the customers better, making them less likely to churn and more likely to make repeat purchases. Also, a solid onboarding experience makes customers feel valued while increasing their product adoption.Final thoughtsThe right strategies and best practices can help improve customer satisfaction, propelling your SaaS product's trajectory toward reduced churn and increased business revenues. Investing in contemporary customer satisfaction strategies (artificial intelligence, visual tools and an omnichannel approach) enhances your ability to offer personalized experiences. Most importantly, increased customer satisfaction keeps your customers returning and is directly linked to growing your business' topline revenue.
From legacy systems to microservices: Transforming auth architecture
Contentstack receives billions of API requests daily, and every request must be validated to be a valid Contentstack identity. It is a common industry practice to achieve this using some sort of “identity token" for every request. Imagine having multiple types of identity tokens, such as session tokens, OAuth tokens, delivery tokens, management tokens, etc. The problem of securing billions of API requests daily can be challenging. We decided to address this by spinning up a new team that handles the complex problems of user authentication and authorization in a token-agnostic platform.Our transition journey Contentstack started as an API-first headless CMS platform that allowed content managers to create and manage content while simultaneously and independently enabling developers to use Contentstack's delivery API to pull that content and render it to create websites and applications. This means that Contentstack’s traffic increases proportionately to the traffic received by our customers' websites and applications.With increased traffic and usage, we catered to various new use cases by developing new features. These features were powered by a set of microservices, each catering to a particular feature domain and needing support for processing multiple identity tokens that had roles and permissions associated with them. The whole system had turned out to be quite complex, and performing auth had become a great challenge. This prompted us to redesign our auth architecture, which addressed the issues of being a token-agnostic and low-latency platform.Read on to learn more about this journey and how we have been able to:Transition from a monolith to a low latency microservices-based auth (authentication plus authorization) and rate-limiting architecture.Set up centralized authentication for multiple (any domain) microservices that are part of the same Kubernetes cluster.Set up decentralized and self-serviced, policy-based authorization for internal services and teams.Increasing feature sets increased domain microservices, which increased the complexity of performing auth.Monolithic auth architectureMonolithic architectures can be difficult to maintain, scale and deploy. In a monolithic architecture, user authentication and authorization are typically tightly coupled with the application code, making it difficult to implement and maintain robust security measures. Monolithic architectures often rely on a single authentication and authorization mechanism for the entire application, which can limit the flexibility of the system to accommodate different types of users or access levels.Performing auth in a typical monolithic architecture.In monolithic architectures, the steps involved in auth are the following:Users use their credentials at the client to generate a session token or use an existing identity token to generate other identity tokens.Users then use the generated identity token to perform a business operation by making a request to the application server.Once a request is received at the application server, the authentication middleware authenticates the token and forwards the request to the business module.The business module performs the business operation based on the authorization rules applied to the user identity.Problems with monolithic auth architecture:Authentication and authorization logic is mixed with the business logic.Changing the way an identity performs an operation on a resource involves a change in the associated auth-related logic.Each domain individually implements the authorization logic, causing a difference in implementation.Since authorization logic is deeply nested in business logic, we lack visibility into authorization rules applied to a resource.Shipping of new authorization logic requires a fresh deployment of the application image.New microservices require knowledge of various identity tokens and resource authorization rules to be applied.Microservices auth architectureMicroservices offer a more flexible, modular approach that allows for easier maintenance, scalability and deployment. With microservices, each service can be developed, deployed and scaled independently, allowing for faster time-to-market, improved fault tolerance, and better alignment with modern development practices. Additionally, microservices offer more efficient use of resources and better support for diverse technology stacks.AuthenticationWhy centralized authentication?Centralized authentication is a security model in which a central authority manages authentication, such as a server or service, rather than it being distributed across multiple systems or applications. There are several reasons why centralized authentication is commonly used and considered advantageous, including increased security, simplified management, improved user experience and lower costs. While there are some drawbacks to centralized authentication, such as the increased risk of a single point of failure and increased complexity in managing the central authority, the benefits often outweigh the risks. Centralized authentication and rate-limiting at the edge of the service mesh.The steps involved in the centralized authentication process are the following:Any incoming request to the Kubernetes cluster first lands at the Istio ingress gateway.The request containing the identity token is proxied to a central authentication gRPC service with the help of envoyproxy's external authorization filter.The central authentication service queries Redis with the identity token and metadata associated with the request.Redis responds with the identity associated with the token and the current rate-limit count based on the request metadata.The central authentication service responds to Istio with either of the following:Authenticated response with user context attached to the request in the form of request headersUnauthenticated responseRatelimit exceeded responseAn authenticated request containing the user context is then forwarded to the upstream service.Advantages over the monolithic architecture:Easier to onboard newer microservices to central authentication service by using label based istio-injection.All requests are authenticated and rate-limited at the edge of the service mesh, ensuring that each request entering the cluster is always rate-limited and authenticated.The request forwarded to the upstream microservice has user identity context attached to it in the request headers, which can be further used for applying authorization rules.Keeping centralized authentication eliminates the problem of multiple mutations performed by the upstream microservices on the identity of the token.Authorization Centralized authorizationWe tried a model where along with authentication and rate limiting, we also added authorization as a responsibility of the central authentication and rate limiting service. The service would first identify the incoming request’s identity from the token and apply rate limiting based on the request metadata. Once the user identity is known, authorization rules could be applied to the user’s identity, thereby performing the entire Auth at the edge of the service mesh. Problems with this model are the following:This model could only perform basic authorization at the edge based on the request metadata provided, such as validating organizations, stacks, etc. However, it could not perform fine-grained authorization, such as finding out which content types the logged-in user had access to.For RBAC, each domain has its roles and permissions associated with it; performing authorization for such requests requires knowledge of the upstream domain and leads to the addition of domain-specific logic in the centrally managed domain-agnostic platform.With newer domain microservice additions, this again would lead to the problem of lacking visibility into authorization rules applied to a resource.Distributed authorization with central authorization serviceWe then tried implementing a model where we distributed authorization to the upstream microservices where each upstream microservice makes a call to a central authorization service. The authorization service has access to all the roles and permissions of different domains and was able to give appropriate authorization results. Authorization could now be performed from the upstream service’s business module by making a network request using Kubernetes cluster networking to avoid making a call over the internet.Problems with this model are the following:The central authorization service becomes a single point of failure.Any change in the API contract defined by the central authorization service requires all the upstream services to abide by it and makes shipping these changes independently a complex task.Performing authorization adds a network hop, thereby increasing the latency.Distributed authorization with the sidecar patternLearning from the previously discussed disadvantages, we wanted to build a model that had authorization distributed, low latency and made shipping authorization logic an independent activity. ArchitectureThe architecture involves the following components:Auth sidecarCentral policy serviceAuth SDKArchitecture for authorizing an authenticated request with the sidecar pattern.Auth sidecarThe auth sidecar is a gRPC service that gets injected along with the microservice’s application container in the same Kubernetes pod. Let’s understand how this architecture helped us tackle the previously mentioned problems.Single point of failure: The auth sidecar service runs with the application container in the same pod, and any case of failure is only limited to the current pod. Restarting the pod gives us a fresh set of application and auth sidecar containers.Independent delivery: Since the auth sidecar service container is shipped along with the application container, the application service can decide which version of the sidecar image to use, thereby making the delivery of newer versions of the authorization sidecar independent.Low latency: There is no network hop involved in making a gRPC call to the auth sidecar running in the same pod. This helps the application to get the authorization result with very low latency (in a few milliseconds).Updating authorization logic: The auth sidecar periodically downloads fresh policy bundles; any time there is a change in policy bundle coming from the central policy service, the auth sidecar updates its local policy cache with the new bundle.This way, updating authorization logic does not involve a fresh deployment/restart of the application container.Components involved in auth sidecar Responsibilities of the components involved in the authorization sidecar.Aggregator: The responsibility of the aggregator is to fetch authorization-related data for the current identity based on the metadata provided by the application service in the gRPC call. It then aggregates it to be evaluated against the authorization policy.OPA Engine: We use OPA (Open Policy Agent) to periodically download fresh policies and evaluate the policy path mentioned in the gRPC call against the aggregated data.Central policy serviceThe central policy service is a repository of policy bundles (*.rego files) which are independently managed by the domain microservices. The maintainers of the domain microservices create these policies for various resources that need authorization. Since these policies only involve rules, it greatly increases the visibility of authorization rules being applied to a particular resource.Auth SDKThe auth-sdk is an internal library that we developed that helps the developers of upstream microservices to easily communicate with different auth components. It can do the following:Extract user identity and other useful information attached in the request headers by the central authentication serviceDiscover various auth components and streamline communicating with themExpose different helper methods to perform any auth-related activity on behalf of the application serviceRedesigned (new) architecture:Tracing the request lifecycle in our redesigned auth architecture.ConclusionMicroservices-based architectures can help address some of these challenges of monolithic architecture by separating user authentication and authorization into individual services, which can be developed, deployed and maintained independently. This approach can provide greater flexibility, scalability and security for user authentication and authorization.However, it's important to note that transitioning to a microservices-based architecture can also come with some challenges, such as increased complexity and a need for more advanced DevOps practices. Proper planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance are crucial to ensuring a successful transition.