How Microservices Can Benefit Agencies
Microservices do not make a lot of sense for a mom-and-pop store to adopt. However, for an organization with hundreds of thousands of employees, like military service branches or federal agencies, the technology can yield a lot of benefits.
Microservices simplify upgrades and changes to an app’s architecture. The technology reduces complexity and makes it less costly and complex to distribute new features.
With microservices, the time to upgrade is also greatly reduced, because agencies are tinkering with the entire application. This then allows IT leaders to assign smaller software development teams to specific microservices, enabling a more efficient use of IT resources. Also, it limits the impact of a single change to an app or service because the app functions and work on them are segmented. Therefore, a change in one line of code is much less likely to cause some kind of crash for a service.
A downside to microservices is that the skill sets needed to take advantage of the technology are not yet well developed in government. The process is nuanced, and for agencies to benefit from a microservices architecture, they need to either have in-house talent that can use the tools or work with third parties that do.
Making Microservices a Reality for Government
Many federal agencies are currently experimenting with microservices, and some are further along in their exploration than others. The Air Force, for example, via its Platform One and Cloud One initiatives, is using microservices.
The service branch is looking to use microservices for software that can power modern aircraft, partially as a security mechanism. If, for example, one piece of code was to become compromised, an attacker would not be able to take control of an entire plane but would just get control of that one piece of code, and then would need to go after another piece, and another.
The technology and human resources challenge for agencies right now is that microservices are only as good as the people who are writing the code and supporting the infrastructure behind the code. Without that expertise, agencies might be setting themselves up for failure if they were to adopt microservices, since the code needs to be properly secured and maintained.
Agency IT leaders are becoming more educated about microservices, though, and are starting to understand the value of the technology. A challenge is that many of the day-to-day users and coders of government applications are still relatively unfamiliar with microservices. They may find it daunting to implement and sustain such an architecture.
Given this, it may be wise to introduce microservices in small, incremental steps. Agencies should start with something small and easy to demonstrate a clear win with the technology. That pilot can then be used to show leaders the value of the architecture. It also gives users something to tinker with, and a way to become familiar with microservices generally.
It’s likely that within the next three to five years, a microservices approach is going to become mandatory in government and the dominant way that applications are constructed. Agency IT leaders should start familiarizing themselves with the technology now to stay ahead of the curve.