March 7, 2023
The 5 benefits of using microservices in your edge environment
Don’t sleep on these key improvements to your IIoT Infrastructure.
The use of microservices has been steadily increasing over the last decade — big names like Netflix and Uber have realized that breaking monolithic applications into small, independent subcomponents allowed agility and scalability like never before. But even with these innovations, the use of microservices has long been associated solely with the cloud. With the rise of IoT, however, there are more reasons than ever to use microservices to take your edge computing applications into a new digital renaissance.
Deploying microservices closer to the data source allows them to use edge computing resources. In Industrial IoT, for example, this could look like using microservices in a factory to feed backend processes upstream or in the cloud. From maintenance to hardware management, here are five benefits of deploying edge microservices in your environment:
1. Easier testing of new IIoT infrastructure
One of the most recognized (and most used) benefits of microservices is the ability to test new features and integrations without affecting the rest of your setup. Many of the problems with IT and OT stem from their different approaches to solving problems.
IT solutions can often be like a bull in a china shop, with code being changed and modified until it works, after which point nothing should be touched (not even that random .jpeg file – we don’t know why it’s there, but we do know the software will break if it’s removed). This is antithetical to the OT approach, where everything is based on maximum safety and stability. Nothing should be changed unless it’s been heavily tested; there should be no possibility of impacting the other operations within the production line.
Of course, this leads IT to look at OT as stagnant, stubborn roadblocks to innovation, and OT to view its software counterparts as chaotic coders running around without a plan. This tension is even greater with IIoT infrastructure, as edge environments naturally force a convergence of the two domains (whether they like it or not). Thankfully, upper management no longer needs to break up sibling spats when they implement edge microservices.
Why? The microsegmentation inherent to microservices creates safe, individualized spaces to test new features before implementation. Small subcomponents can be tested in independent environments without affecting the whole, which allows safer IT innovation in the OT space. Not only that but the segmentation can also be based on the use case — services can be adapted based on context. This also benefits those organizations suffering from a lack of developers, as adaptation makes code much more reusable.
The result is an infrastructure well-suited to testing innovations while maintaining the stability of the whole — and a peace flag in the IT/OT conflict.
2. Language-Agnostic Development
It’s already a pain to make sense of someone else’s code — it’s even worse if you’re less experienced with the language it’s written in. Because each part of edge microservices can be built, deployed, redeployed, and maintained independently, there’s no need to go all-in on a single language.
But this isn’t just useful to tech talent. Aside from personal preference, it’s important to understand which code lends itself to a particular use case. After all, not all codes are created equal; some may be the best-in-class for a very specific use but clunky and confusing anywhere else (Here’s looking at you, COBOL).
Need something simple and user-friendly? Use JSON. Have another service that relies on querying? Switch to SQL instead. Each service can be optimized separately from the whole — meaning your final product will be that much better.
Now, a possible hiccup here is when the microservices need to interact with each other. All of a sudden, your super-optimized microservice component sounds like a middle school Spanish student trying to communicate with the other services.
Thankfully, protocol transformation engines can mitigate this. By building one into your edge environment, you can rest easy knowing all your data can be quickly and easily shared regardless of the language behind it.
3. Better Privacy Practices
While advances in cloud computing have created countless opportunities for how we manage data, it doesn’t come without risks. Not the least of which is data security and privacy — one survey found more than half of respondents cited data loss and data privacy as their top two concerns for cloud computing.
With microservices, however, you don’t need to send all your data to the cloud. Smaller digital footprints mean microservices can be deployed closer to the data source, like when using IoT gateways in a factory setting. By processing data at the edge, you’re limiting the use of cloud storage for your data.
This doesn’t mean you have to cut off the cloud entirely — there are definitely benefits to using it, not the least of which is sending data out for machine learning and analytics. But microservices in edge computing allow you to only send what you need, as opposed to everything, all at once. Even if privacy isn’t a concern, the ability to batch-send data to the cloud at fixed intervals can also help companies with limited bandwidth avoid costly upcharges from their ISP.
For some sectors, such as those dealing with the Industry of Medical Things and smart-health solutions, compliance with national and international laws is also a factor. Governing bodies may require local data storage, making the edge-processing capabilities of microservices not just a plus, but a necessity.
4. Improved Reliability of IIoT Infrastructure
For many, one of the biggest dangers to their edge operations is unplanned downtime. This can be a huge time sink and cost businesses big — for industrial manufacturers, downtime costs them an estimated $50 billion each year. Reliability at the edge is critical for IoT businesses, and microservices help achieve that.
By segmenting individual processes, microservices can prevent failures in a single service from affecting the application — allowing the majority of the app to run as usual. In addition, this segmentation allows for unknown failures to be identified more easily. Instead of scouring the whole application in search of a singular error, microservices narrow the search to a single service or segment. Quicker identification leads to quicker repair and a quicker return to running at full capacity.
These benefits aren’t just limited to when unexpected failures occur. Even the most robust application still requires routine maintenance and planned downtime. Microservices save the day again with maintenance only on compartmentalized subcomponents — meaning all other processes can continue business as usual. This limits downtime for key services and gives greater flexibility in planning maintenance around business needs.
5. Cost Savings with IoT Gateways
Lower costs mean bigger profit margins, and even little gains can add up over time. Thankfully, microservices offer a number of benefits in this regard. The first aspect we’ll cover is hardware. Monolithic applications are much more resource-intensive and require more powerful boxes to operate. Microservices, on the other hand, are broken into small chunks that can run on low-cost devices such as Raspberry Pis.
Using services with minimal hardware requirements — and using them in conjunction with other low-resource edge computing applications — maximizes what you’re able to do with minimal resources.
Another way they save money is via data transmission. Processing data closer to its point of origin means less transmitting off-premise. The amount of bandwidth required by many IoT devices is enormous (particularly for streaming data) — local processing saves time and reduces the strain on Internet infrastructure.
Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of microservice architecture or trying it out for the first time, it’s sure to improve your IoT Infrastructure. We’re big fans of it, too — that’s why we designed our IoT Integration Platform with edge computing in mind. With FairCom Edge running alongside your microservices, you can rest easy knowing you can always get the data you need, how you need it (with data enrichment as the icing on the cake!). If you’d like to learn more, we’d love to walk you through a demo of our product — just reach out!
Randal Hoff, VP of Engineering Services at FairCom