How Micro-Services Are Transforming IT

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A major transformation in the way tech firms think about and deliver services is starting to create something of a philosophical crisis that may impact the types of personnel that those organizations prefer to hire.

While the concept of managing IT as a service is hardly new, organizations are starting to aggressively embrace all forms of containers, creating micro-service architectures that manage services at a more granular level. This new approach requires organizations to fundamentally alter how they construct those services.

Case in point is mega-shipper UPS, which has over 100 micro-services supporting a ScaleSharp Project initiated by an i-parcel business unit. That unit leverages a global network of partnerships, spanning more than 200 vendors, to reduce the cost of shipping parcels internationally. Speaking at a MongoDB 2016 conference this week, Yursil Kidwai, vice president of technology for UPS, said that once the company acquired i-parcel, it became apparent that the service’s core Web application would need to be rewritten in a way that could scale to support the business.

As Kidwai told conference attendees, the team responsible for the application (originally written in Visual Basic and deployed on Microsoft SQL Server) made a case for redeveloping it using C# within an instance of Microsoft.net, which would be deployed across a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) environment hosted on Microsoft Azure to create containers. In addition, the platform would feature databases hosted by Redis and an instance of MongoDB maintained by a third-party provider.

Getting the rest of the IT organization to sign off on a micro-services architecture proved to be every bit as challenging as building it. “It was difficult,” Kidwai said. “We got a big leash to experiment.”

The i-parcel business unit was given the license to experiment, he added, because the larger organization didn’t want to disrupt a business model widely viewed as a more profitable way for the carrier to compete internationally.

Unlimited Containers

There’s no shortage of approaches to creating micro-services based on containers. While Docker’s containers may be the best-known, in reality containers have been running in PaaS environments for quite some time. In fact, the most widely-used PaaS environment for running containers comes from the open-source Cloud Foundry consortium.

But containers are hardly limited to new applications. At the recent Dockercon 2016 conference, ADP CTO Keith Fulton explained how his firm, a provider of payroll services, is leveraging containers from Docker to make its entire IT environment more agile.

Rather than simply putting an application programming interface (API) in front of an application, ADP is both deconstructing monolithic applications to transform them into micro-services and, in some instances, taking those same applications and deploying them as-is inside a container to make them more portable. The end goal, Fulton said, is to build and deliver applications much faster by transforming the way DevOps is managed.

“Docker for us is a key point of acceleration for how we’re going to make our product development faster,” Fulton added. “Docker shows the way we can move to a new way for DevOps.”

Rather than trying to reinvent tech from the ground up overnight, Docker CEO Ben Golub believes the rise of micro-services will be gradual. “It’s an incremental revolution,” he said. “It’ll take place one use case at a time.”

In fact, Carl Olofson, an industry analyst with International Data Corporation (IDC), sees containers and micro-services as part of an IT mindset shift that started with service-oriented architecture (SOA). “The issue with service-oriented architecture is that it proved to be too rigid for new types of application,” he said. “Micro-services are part of a larger shift where everything is going to be built around an event-driven architecture.”

At this point, however, the single biggest limiting factor has more to do with the number of IT people familiar with micro-services architectures than the technology itself. “There’s definitely a shortage of skills,” said Jason McGee, CTO for the IBM Cloud Platform. “We see that as opportunity to add value.”

The degree to which organizations will rely on internal versus external expertise to make the shift to micro-services will naturally vary. What is for certain is that a shift in the way IT services are built is now all but inevitable. By extension, the IT people with the skills and expertise to enable it will pretty much be able to write their own ticket for the foreseeable future.

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