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Getting to Grips with Microservices: Q&A with Skava

In this piece for RetailTechNews, Arish Ali (pictured below), CEO and co-founder, Skava, explains how his company is changing the way e-commerce systems work through their use of microservices. Already a core function for retailers, microservices are something something which are also seeing emerging usage amongst merchants.

RetailTechNews: Can you explain what microservices are and how your technology works?

Arish Ali: Enterprise software has traditionally been architected as a monolithic application – where multiple components of the system are tightly coupled with each other and share the same code base. While this architectural approach made sense 20 years ago, it’s proving to have some significant disadvantages in today’s world. Monoliths are difficult and costly to maintain. Even the smallest of changes can break code anywhere in the system and require extensive regression testing. For the modern enterprise, innovation on a monolith is too risky and slow.

Microservices are a rethinking of the fundamental architecture of an e-commerce platform, designed to resolve this friction. Microservices are decoupled, stand-alone applications that are independently deployable and scalable. A microservice can represent any set of business capabilities. In e-commerce, for example, services like account, catalogue, search, promotions, cart, and checkout may be broken into their own pieces.

Because they’re decoupled, code and database changes to one microservice do not impact other microservices. This allows developers to make rapid changes without extensive regression testing, a full restart of the entire e-commerce platform, and without compromising other teams’ code.

Skava is a headless, microservices-based commerce platform that offers an end-to-end suite of microservices that can be deployed together, or a la carte. Our Framework supports both Skava’s and third-party microservices, and provides everything you need to build your own microservices to support a custom solution.

How are retailers using microservices, and how could they be using them better?

Every retailer we speak to is at some point on a digital transformation journey, as they seek to keep up with the changing tastes of their customers and digital competition. However, legacy monolithic technology can stand in the way of extending commerce to new and innovative touchpoints. The new paradigm is modular architecture. For this reason, many are taking the approach of ‘strangling the monolith’, systematically converting components of their monolithic commerce platforms to microservices built around their legacy system. Over time, the new microservices architecture ‘chokes out’ the legacy platform and replaces it entirely.

Arish Ali, CEO & co-founder, Skava

Many organisations tackle migration to microservices in-house, rewriting services from scratch. The challenge is it takes significant time to rewrite components from the ground up. It also requires investment in building a framework – a home for microservices to live in and communicate with each other and pass information to other systems – including an API layer, messaging, monitoring, caching, container management, and more. Retailers can take advantage of microservices faster and at a lower cost by leveraging pre-built frameworks and microservices, and invest more resources in delivering innovation versus reinventing the wheel.

Does the usage of microservices vary between verticals? Why?

Microservices are trending across all verticals, but are historically more prevalent among digitally native organisations, as they typically are successful startups that tend to have their own IT resources and build their own bespoke platforms in-house (starting with a minimum viable product), and iterate as they grow versus buying packaged software. Amazon, Netflix, Uber, Ebay, Gilt Groupe, and Soundcloud are examples.

First-movers in retail include Best Buy, Staples, and Nike, all of which took the ‘strangler’ approach to replace their legacy monolithic platforms. Typically, we find omnichannel enterprises with a high aptitude for innovation and competitive differentiation are most aggressive in adopting modular solutions, though microservices can benefit organisations of any size.

Does the usage of microservices vary between different sized companies (e.g. SMEs to multinationals)?

Because building microservices from scratch is labour-intensive, microservices migration tends to suit enterprises with the bandwidth to embark on the journey. That said, with ready-to-use microservices available on the market, smaller companies can now get in on the action without the overhead. We also see smaller companies adopt microservices for ‘pet projects’ that can be owned by smaller groups. Microservices support fast development and ‘fast failure’, without impacting core operations, and allow these pet projects to be integrated with legacy systems via APIs.

What is the future for Skava?

We strongly believe that flexibility is the most crucial element in delivering modern commerce experiences. New touchpoints emerge, nascent technologies transform experiences, which then reset customer expectations to a new standard. To facilitate this, we are evolving Skava Commerce with this mindset. We’re bolstering our offerings in several new verticals such as telecom, CPG, travel and hospitality, and more. We also put a special emphasis on rendering Skava Commerce the microservices platform of choice for B2B.

Our next version of the commerce platform (Skava 8.0) expands our microservices offering even further, adding nine new microservices, enhanced B2B and omnichannel capabilities, and robust business tooling. We’ve also updated our framework to include today’s best-of-breed components to support DevOps and building your own microservices. We believe that modular commerce is the way to provide for modern commerce experiences and aim to stay on the leading edge of modular technology for digital retail for years to come.