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The rise of Agile Integration, Integration is not DEAD nor LAME!

I wanted to blog about this for a very long time, but because of work and being too lazy to turn on my laptop on the weekends, now I finally have a couple of hours to sit down and start blogging.

"Integration is DEAD."
"No, no, let's talk about microservice!!"
"What is that again? Integration, you mean SOA? It's lame... ".

These makes the majority of the percentage when I talk about Integration. In fact, if you happen to be in any the software conference, you see the rooms full when it's about "container" and "microservice." I understand the nature of a developer, always seeking for the latest and greatest technology out there. BUT!! In my opinion, I don't think Integration is going AWAY if you containerize your application. Neither does it will DISAPPEAR in a microservice architecture. In fact, Integration just gets more complicated and tricky when you try to break an application into smaller pieces and have them running all over the place in the distributed environment!

It was hard to deal with when we have to orchestrate, choreograph and compose all the coarse-grained services together, and imaging letting tinier, smaller and more refined services talks to each other. Yeah, trying to get an oversized heavy-weight strong bull to co-ordinate and communicate is one thing. I don't think to have to conduct thousands of small cute duckling, (I know, they are now smaller to handle one by one, light and easy to replace) is going be any easier. :-)

Maybe the word Integration was abusively used by too many vendors (Us too ;-D ),  and it is too often associated with ESB, which IMHO should be one of the Integration strategies. ESB can be overly complicated with a wrapped around RPCs.   Integration is about connecting, composing between services, neglecting integration when implementing microservice architecture (MSA) is going to be disastrous. I am sure a lot of smart people out there designing the MSA has already taken this into account. But they probably did not realize that because Integration is already deeply ingrained into their minds, even in microservice we still want loose coupling. Again, in my opinion, the wall between application development and integration are getting thinner and thinner, by that I mean you do integration in microservice way and apply integration in your microservice. So, yes, integration needs to change, adapt and adjust accordingly but it never goes away:
  • Current deployment method
    • As now services are updated more frequent than ever before, we need to quickly respond to the change, in the integration layer. We can package it into the container and standardize the deployment method across the company. 
  • Speed and automated delivery
    • A quicker respond to developer, continuous integration and delivery, faster time to markets can be achieved by adopting the DevOps trend. Integration should also be part of this cycle. Not OUTSIDE! 
  • Flexible for changes
    • Making sure the message can be route to the correct service, allowing automatic discovery of services, with load balance capability that shares the load no matter it's synchronized or event base call. Providing and compose with flexible contracts like APIs between service can also minimize the impact on the changes. 
  • More robust towards failure
    • In the integration, it's all about the isolation of failure, and handles the errors, increase service resiliency. Also the ability for it to adopt version changes, and service lifecycle management is also one of the important factors in Integration.
Some concepts of doing integration in MSA comparing with monolithic application are poles apart. For example, continue from the bull and duckling theme. When you try to get a couple stubborn, massive bulls together and adjust position takes a lot of energy, and often you will need to be creative and smart to improve according to their position. Therefore the pipelines have to be smart and do many manipulations. Whereas the ducklings are easy to move around and cheap to replace. If one got sick, naughty or does not have the right color you need, simply toss it and get a newly hatched egg. (Alright, I don't mean any animal cruelty here, it's just a metaphor. ). The pipe that brings these microservice can be dumb or simple. Because each duckling is cheap to create. 

In my eye, microservice should never go freely create on wherever and whenever it should be at least logically bound. I call this application domain. By circling these microservice, we will be able to see a much clear picture of inbound microservice integration and outbound microservice integration. 

The inbound microservices integration will be a lot more flexible in protocols, data formats because of the possibility to connect to various datasources and SaaS application. Since they are bounded within the same application domain, it's likely the data models are shared between these microservices. They tend to be more coupled with each other (although service autonomy is where we are trying to get. They are probably handled by the same person.) There will be a couple of microservices responsible for composing some of the other microservices together too. The logic inside should be simple and straight forward. And each of the microservice should easily take care of the protocol and data extract itself. 

On the other hand, the outbound microservices integration should be strictly loosely coupled with inbound microservice. Preferably access commonly managed endpoints from each application domain, yes, I mean APIs. It is mostly device or client bound. As it often required to put together a more coarse-grain service like the old ESB days for the client application or from a process. 
Both inbound and outbound integration can be synchronous and asynchronous, all depends on the need of your system. So don't limit yourself to just one option. I strongly recommend the Enterprise Integration Pattern Book, as I said, the integration problem is still there. The patterns are extremely useful in this manner. 

Agile Integration is Red Hat's opinionated way of doing the integration. And most importantly it's backed up by Fuse (Apache Camel) and OpenShift. 

It talks about 3 main pillars, which resonate my integration believes in MSA world.
  • Distributed Integration 
    • Lightweight, support distributed deployment
    • Pattern Based Integration
    • Reusable Connectors
  • Containers
    • Cloud native solutions
    • Lean artifacts, individually deployable
    • Container based scaling and high availability
  • API
    • Well defined, re-usable, and well managed end-points 
    • Ecosystem leverage

So! I hope my murmur on this blog post will at least makes you think "Integration is NOT LAME". And start thinking about it when next time you create your next microservice.


Jian Feng said…
Great post!
They are very helpful thoughts.
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