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Monolithic vs. Microservices: Why Decoupled and Headless Architectures Are the Future

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Monolithic architecture has served us well.

In the early days of the web, a system was needed to empower users to manage and deliver content. Monolithic architecture delivered with an all-in-one, or “coupled”, system with a singular codebase that pulled in everything necessary for managing and publishing content to the web.

However, when mobile internet usage began to exceed that of desktop around 2014, the “all-in-one” element of monolithic architecture became more of a hindrance than a helper. Businesses now needed to serve consumer experiences on a variety of devices and channels.

That’s why, today, there’s a new content management system (CMS) contender that may very well be the future of the digital experience landscape.

DOWNLOAD The Ultimate Guide to CMS NOW.

Keep reading to learn more about microservices architecture, how it compares to monolithic architecture, and tips for choosing which solution is right for your business needs.

Understanding the Basics of Microservices

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Despite its name, microservices architecture doesn’t mean it’s “small.” However, it is built to be lean.

In the case of microservices, an application is made up of a suite of small services, each with their own unique codebase. Microservices use lightweight mechanisms (such as an application program interface, or API) to communicate between the various services. These services themselves are focused around business goals and can be deployed separately and/or together as needed through automation. There is very little centralized management of these services, making the system “decoupled” or headless because it does not function as one unified workflow.

What’s so appealing about a decoupled microservices architecture? For starters, some key advantages include:

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    Improved Performance With headless microservices, it's easier to isolate specific services and grow them separately from the rest of the app as they’re performing well.
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    Less Mess The decoupling of services enables parallel developing of the entire app with fewer breaks and overlaps between different services.
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    Enhanced Configuration It’s easier to reconfigure decoupled services to serve various functions; which allows for faster, independent delivery of specific portions within a larger whole.
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    Better Organization As each service has a very specific role and its own codebase, microservices tend to have better overall organization among services.

On the other hand, it’s important to note that microservices architecture can bring challenges ranging from cross-cutting concerns that span each service (which need individualized resolutions) to higher operational overhead. This all depends on how the systems are designed and leveraged which, of course, varies greatly across situations.

Why Your Timing Matters When Deploying Microservices Architecture

Monolithic had its time to shine, but microservices architecture is in the spotlight now. Legions of software architects can’t resist the chance to break down monolithic software and build new delivery methods and pipelines full of small services with specific business purposes.

Headless microservices are increasingly being adopted by larger, enterprise companies with more complexity in their product chains and marketing content delivery needs. Even Amazon and Netflix have jumped on the bandwagon! However popular microservices architecture gets, it’s important to note that microservices certainly aren’t the right move for every team, all the time.

Teams that are building new applications and looking to increase productivity while simplifying their workflow might be better served running a traditional monolithic service. As product offerings and content becomes more complex, allowing microservices to be separated out from a monolith becomes an important future priority.

Timing does matter when deploying CMS solutions. Applications evolve. With greater size and scope, microservices start to make the most sense.

Why Headless Microservices Are the Future of Applications

Let’s first make the term “headless” a bit less scary.

Headless architecture (also called “decoupled”) is part of a broader trend in software and internet services toward linking specialized elements together through a unified network rather than a holistic software deployment. Monolithic = traditional CMS while microservices = headless, decoupled CMS.

Not so scary now, right?

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Headless architecture does the work of decoupling the front end from the back end within a CMS. This allows users to store data in one place while sending it across many channels and services.

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There are a few good reasons for the growing shift towards headless architecture. The biggest one is speed.

High-growth companies that are heavily internet-dependent along with the widespread adoption of enterprise mobility has pushed companies to improve and update their applications constantly. Just think about how often your smartphone asks you to update the dozens of applications on it. Through decoupling, a company is able to separate the development of the front end, back end, and content to speed up new releases.

In other words, constantly enhancing the user experience takes precedent with headless microservices architecture.

Another reason for the movement towards decoupled architecture is the push towards an omnichannel approach for content distribution. Omnichannel distribution calls for flexibility that doesn’t exist in traditional monolithic solutions because the front end and back end are inextricably linked. Any changes on one end inevitably flow through the other. This costs resources and introduces risk.

Decoupled architecture reduces that cost and risk while allowing for steady distribution across channels and uninterrupted user experience. Put together, these reasons make a compelling case for the future of microservices architecture.

How to Choose: Traditional Monolithic vs. Headless Microservices CMS

With a traditional, monolithic CMS, you know what you’re getting into. That path has been well-traveled.

You can expect fewer cross-cutting concerns (which happens in most applications) and likely less operational overheard as a monolith is generally less complex to deploy. Shared-memory access tends to be a bit faster than inter-process communication, so you’re not sacrificing speed and performance.

At the same time, as the application evolves and gets more entangled, it can be difficult to isolate services and scale them independently—not to mention ongoing code maintenance challenges. Also, monolithic architecture can get quite complex and the various side effects and dependencies are not always obvious.

As we’ve shown here, there are pros and cons to each solution. As for how to decide which is better for your business, like the answer to many great answers, it depends.

With a deep understanding of your company’s unique use case, walking through the following questions should help you make the choice between traditional monolithic vs. headless microservices CMS.

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As we hope we’ve demonstrated, there are many important considerations to discuss with your team when considering a traditional monolithic platform versus a more modern, headless microservice-based one. We hope this post helps you navigate through all those key decision points.

If you are interested in learning even more about how to use headless CMS to supercharge your content strategy, check out this in-depth guide to all things headless CMS.