In eCommerce, industry giants such as Amazon and Etsy are leading the way into a digital retail future by incorporating serverless microservices into their platforms. As eCommerce continues to grow, new technologies are reshaping the industry in profound ways. With 85% of organizations already using microservices – according to a study by Statista -; serverless computing and microservices architectures clearly stand out as a vital change for a future proof platform.

These technologies not only offer businesses greater flexibility and scalability but also present opportunities for significant cost savings. With the automation of many of the traditional server management tasks and breakdown of applications into manageable, independent services, these architectures are setting new standards for operational efficiency and customer experience.

What came before microservices in eCommerce?

The architecture of eCommerce platforms has undergone a significant transformation, moving from monolithic systems to more agile and scalable microservice architectures. Monolithic architectures, once the industry standard, are built as a single, unified system where features and functionalities are interdependent and housed in a single codebase. This approach means that any change or update to one part of the system requires modifying the entire application. As a result, these systems are increasingly seen as rigid and inflexible, making it challenging to implement changes or scale specific aspects of the application. The limitations of monolithic designs, such as difficulty in updating components, scaling issues, and longer time-to-market, are pushing eCommerce businesses to seek more agile solutions.

Serverless and microservices: The new norm

Serverless computing

Serverless computing is a cloud computing execution model where cloud providers, such as AWS and Azure automatically manage the infrastructure, allowing developers to focus solely on writing code. This approach eliminates the need to provision or manage servers, thus simplifying the development process. Before the advent of serverless, businesses had to invest heavily in physical servers and other infrastructure, which often led to underutilization or over-provisioning. Serverless computing has gained traction as organizations such as AWS, among others, offer a pay-as-you-go model, which is particularly cost-effective for applications with fluctuating usage patterns such as eCommerce sites. Automatic scaling for fluctuating workloads, reduced operational overhead, and simplified deployment and management clearly demonstrate its operational efficiency and cost optimization.

Microservices

Microservices are a software architectural style that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled, independently deployable services. Each service corresponds to a specific business function and can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently. Before microservices, applications were generally built as monolithic systems, which, as discussed earlier, have their limitations in terms of scalability and flexibility. The rise in popularity of microservices can be attributed to their inherent advantages: they offer agility in development, scalability to meet demand, and the flexibility to use various technologies for different services. Independent deployment and scaling of services, enhanced fault isolation, technology stack diversity, and a streamlined development process are evident in the more agile and responsive development environment they enable.

The amalgamation

Both serverless computing and microservices are transforming the way eCommerce platforms are built and operated. While serverless computing removes the complexities of server management, microservices offer the flexibility to build more adaptable and scalable applications. When combined, these technologies provide a comprehensive framework for eCommerce organizations, allowing them to quickly adapt to market changes, scale efficiently, and reduce operational costs. This synergy is abundantly clear strategic enabler, equipping organizations with the tools they need to excel in a competitive marketplace. Rapid adaptation to market changes, streamlined operational workflows, and enhanced resource utilization serve as compelling evidence of the robust and efficient framework they create for eCommerce operations.

Complexities of transitioning

The transition from monolithic to microservices architecture is often viewed as a binary choice, but the reality is far more nuanced. Monolithic systems are not entirely obsolete; they still have their place in specific scenarios. For instance, smaller businesses with less complex needs may find monolithic systems easier to manage and more cost-effective. Similarly, applications that require tightly integrated components for fast data processing might benefit from a monolithic structure.

However, as businesses grow and their needs evolve, the limitations of a monolithic architecture—such as difficulty in scaling and lack of flexibility—become more apparent. This is where the transition to microservices begins to make sense. It’s crucial to understand that this transition is seldom a sudden leap. A hasty move can be costly and lead to critical aspects being overlooked, such as data consistency and transaction management.

Instead, the shift usually occurs in a phased manner, focusing on the most crucial areas first. Businesses often start by breaking down the most complex or frequently updated parts of their application into microservices. This allows them to reap the benefits of microservices where they matter most, without the risk and expense of a complete overhaul. Over time, as the organization becomes more comfortable with the microservices architecture and recognizes its advantages, additional components can be transitioned.

An organizational understanding of when, why and how to transition from a monolithic architecture to a serverless microservice architecture is truly fundamental for the survival of an eCommerce platform.

Overcoming challenges and roadblocks

While serverless computing and microservices offer numerous advantages, adopting these architectures is not without its challenges. One of the primary hurdles is organizational change. Transitioning from a monolithic to a microservices architecture, for instance, often requires a shift in team structures and development practices. However, a recent study by CodeIT made the claim that 84% of organizations actually saw an improvement in team collaboration with microservice adoption. 

Infrastructure costs are another concern. While serverless computing promises cost savings through its pay-as-you-go model, the initial setup and migration can be expensive. Businesses need to invest in training, tooling, and perhaps even new hires with specialized skills to manage these advanced architectures. Despite this, CodeIT claim that 87% of business owners stated that the investment of switching to a microservice architecture was worth the money.

Security is an ever-present concern, especially given the distributed nature of microservices. Each service represents a potential point of failure or vulnerability, requiring all encompassing security protocols to protect sensitive data and transactions.

What’s often overlooked in the discussion about these architectures are long-term cost implications and the risk of vendor lock-in. While serverless computing may seem cost-effective in the short term, businesses should conduct a thorough long-term cost analysis to understand the financial impact over an extended period. Similarly, reliance on a single cloud provider for serverless services can lead to vendor lock-in, limiting flexibility and potentially increasing costs in the long run.

Despite these challenges, the strategic advantages of serverless computing and microservices often outweigh the drawbacks, especially for eCommerce businesses looking to scale and adapt in a competitive market.

Build or buy?

When it comes to adopting serverless computing and microservices architectures, organizations face a critical decision: should they build these solutions in-house or opt for third-party services? Each approach has its pros and cons, and the choice often depends on various factors such as cost, expertise, and organizational readiness.

Building in-house allows for greater control over the architecture and customization to meet specific business needs. However, this approach often requires a significant investment in terms of time, resources, and expertise. Companies need to have skilled development teams who understand the complexities of serverless and microservices, and they must be prepared to manage the ongoing maintenance and updates.

On the other hand, buying third-party services offers the advantage of quick implementation and reduced operational burden. These solutions come with built-in features and functionalities, saving businesses the effort of developing them from scratch. However, this convenience comes at a cost, both financial and in terms of flexibility. Pre-built solutions may not offer the level of customization some businesses require, and there’s also the risk of becoming too dependent on a single vendor.

In the context of eCommerce, where agility and scalability are paramount, the build or buy decision is a strategic choice. It’s essential to weigh the long-term implications, including costs and the ability to adapt to market changes, before making a decision. Making the wrong choice may lead to issues for an organization further down the line.

Key takeaways

Serverless computing and microservices architectures are fundamentally altering the eCommerce landscape, offering unparalleled agility, scalability, and cost-efficiency. These technologies are not just optional add-ons but strategic imperatives for organizations looking to thrive in a competitive market. From enabling quick adaptation to market demands to automating server management, these architectures are setting new standards for operational efficiency. Some key standouts and deciding factors include:

  • Agility in development: Microservices allow for quick updates and changes, enabling eCommerce platforms to adapt swiftly to market trends.
  • Cost-efficiency: The pay-as-you-go model of serverless computing ensures that businesses only pay for the resources they actually use.
  • Scalability: Both serverless and microservices are designed to scale seamlessly, meeting the demands of growing customer bases without requiring massive infrastructure investments.
  • Operational ease: Serverless computing takes care of server management, allowing organizations to focus on application development.
  • Strategic flexibility: The choice between building in-house or buying third-party services offers businesses the flexibility to tailor their approach to specific needs.

The adoption of these technologies is not without challenges, from organizational changes to security concerns. However, the long-term benefits, both operational and financial, make a compelling case for their deployment. As eCommerce continues to evolve, serverless computing and microservices will play an increasingly significant role in shaping its future, making them essential tools for any business looking to succeed in this dynamic environment.

Florian Bacle

September 10, 2023

8 Min read