HK firms still hedging their bets on microservices

Microservices help businesses develop large applications from a suite of modular services (image: Radachynskyi/iStockPhoto)

Microservices are being touted as the latest enterprise architecture strategy for Hong Kong businesses to pursue agility for the fast-paced delivery of digital services, according to technology analysts and providers.

This approach develops large applications from a suite of modular services—with each module running independently and supporting a specific business function—allow easy deployment at significantly reduced production time and quick scale up when demand for specific services rises. Microservices are also self-contained, so they can be reused for other applications and functions.

Furthermore, this enterprise architecture strategy works well with the emerging data center technologies such as containers, allowing it to integrate well in the cloud environment.

Hong Kong adoption at nascent stage

But as with any new platform, it will take time before enterprises in Hong Kong embrace the concept and take the necessary steps to support microservices architecture in their IT environments.

Charles Dai, principal analyst at Forrester, noted that true microservices are still young in Asia and Hong Kong.

“Realizing the value of microservices hinges around the ability of the company to leverage containers and cloud-based architecture. That’s where companies struggle in terms of availability skills, as well as cultural transformation of their development and operations team,” Dai said.

According to IDC’s FutureScape: Worldwide Developer and DevOps 2018 Predictions released in early November, the use of containers as a deployment vehicle for applications will grow quickly in the next few years. It added that by the end of 2019 over 95% of new microservices will be deployed in containers. IDC predicts that deployment of containers will mostly happen in the departmental levels and adoption will become mainstream towards the end of 2019.

Red Hat’s Benjamin Henshall

“There is clearly a latent and now more immediate demand to want to do microservices application development for reasons such as time to market, reduce risk in long lead times for new ideas, and reduce technical debt,” said Benjamin Henshall, director, AppDev Solutions at Red Hat Asia Pacific.

But he pointed out there are two major drivers for enterprises to adopt microservices application architecture (MSA): business agility and competitive advantage.

“It is a business-driven decision, not an IT one,” said Henshall. “The product or service or business function that the software is supporting requires constant update and releases (weekly, daily). The business users are demanding web-scale quality of services to handle spikes; and they need ‘always up’ without having to go through with arduous weekend downtime upgrades to release new codes.”

The biggest mistakes enterprises should avoid is looking at microservices as the end goal, according to Keiichiro Nozaki, regional marketing architect and evangelist for APAC, China and Japan at F5 Networks.

“What this means is that there must always be a reason to try microservices architecture. There should be business needs that lead the discussion to consider microservices,” Nozaki noted.

Barriers to adoption

While microservices are all about offering agility and scale, they are also very much grounded in the way an organization deploy an application, which includes the flow of code from developers’ desktops through the production and the feedback loop involved in fixing and enhancing the new codes.

“The major challenge that Hong Kong companies encounter with implementing microservices is the inability to have the correct IT architectures, work flows and responsibilities to constantly release code into production and scale it, and locate production issues and x them,” Henshall said.

He pointed out that many companies look to Netflix for inspiration in the successful use of microservices, yet fail to understand what it truly entails to put them into practice.

“The barriers to adoption are not to be underestimated,” Henshall said. “Adrian Concroft, who was the former lead head architect at Netflix, said ‘people try to copy Netflix, but they can only copy what they see. They copy the results, not the process’.”

He added: “When Hong Kong organizations have not invested in their software development capabilities, skillsets, architectures and tooling, organizational structures and importantly their culture of collaboration and breaking down the silos of work, doing MSA is hard.”

He underlined the importance of getting senior executivethe CIO down—for local enterprises who are keen to try their hands on microservices.

“Simply having developers build, test and try and release code in this way will not work at all, in fact it could create more angst than help,” Henshall noted.

Disrupting the status quo

Henshall noted that since Hong Kong businesses mostly outsource their application development and maintenance, microservices will likely have a hard time taking off in the city.

“Software development and releasing code is the most critical function of IT, and if the company or organization has a culture and mentality of outsourcing or seeing it as a cost center, this will surely fail in adopting faster and more dynamic business outcomes,” he said. “So it is essential to have a CIO and CEO who are in lockstep with the way IT works in business rather than as a cost center.”

Nozaki of F5 Networks believes that disruptive players entering the market could trigger and encourage local companies to go for microservices.

“I think there should be some correlation between microservices adoption and the state of disruption in various industries,” he said. “If you have a disruptive entrant in your market, you and the disruptor both get the business pressure, which should ultimately spur an organization’s IT team to go with microservices. It is a case of do or die.”