The end of monolithic platforms

With the rise of functionally rich PaaS services delivered by the so called cloud mega vendors such as Microsoft, quite a lot has changed. First of all, it has resulted in confusion in the market, but right now we can see that organizations are really starting to understand the philosophy and embracing it.

Think in services

Especially in the early days it was difficult to understand for both consumers as suppliers of cloud services. For data- and integration products it was the hardest to grasp. In yesteryears, it was quite easy for organizations with a Microsoft-unless policy: if you wanted a solution for data you got SQL Server and if you wanted a solution for integration you got BizTalk Server. Very easy to compare features between those products provided by Microsoft and other vendors such as Oracle or IBM. Work through a checklist, score and choose.

Nowadays, these kind of data- and integration functionalities are no longer delivered by products but by a set of cloud services. This has at first resulted in great confusion. What do we compare with what? Especially when comparing a set of cloud services on the one hand and a monolithic platform on the other.

Say goodbye to platform “products”

Even for Microsoft this was difficult. Because on the one hand there is a very powerful message because Microsoft Azure provides all building blocks to build a mature integration platform, but on the other hand Microsoft has to compete with some pure-play vendors that provide monolithic productds. Products that are very good at one thing. And in which the various components are 1:1 dependent on eachother. Microsoft also provided one of those products: BizTalk Server. A fantastic integration product, but monolothical and not very service oriented. The processes in such a product are designed beforehand and therefore “baked-in”. And therefore not very flexible.

However, we saw that competing with the pure-plays was (and still is) not easy. At one moment in 2018, Microsoft chose to rebrand and bundle the services in Azure that are needed to build an integration layer to “Azure Integration Services”. The same happened to “IoT Suite” for example. Of course this was done to make it easier for potential customers to make product comparisons. But personally, I thought this was an admission of weakness by Microsoft. It basically does not make sense at all. It is simply the power of the platform to provide a set of loosely coupled services with which you can build very flexible integration layers. And besides that, you get the whole Azure platform with it that you can make part of your end-to-end processes, potentially being integration-, data-, app- or collaboration oriented solutions.

The same goes for data solutions. These days we have relational data stores, table stores, document stores, blob stores, data lakes, etc. It has been tried to put that all in SQL Server in that past. In Microsoft Azure, these are all “loose” services that all run in their own scalable containers and that can be connected to eachother through (among others) Azure Data Factory, to create a data platform that suits your organization best. And on top of which you can deliver all kinds of analysis services such as Databricks or PowerBI in order to create information from the data.

Non-functional aspects

What is very interesting, is that Microsoft has not only provided all these great features as services, but at the same time has invested a lot in architecture guidance and non-functional aspects. Where you had a silo application such as BizTalk Server and SQL Server (and comparable products from other vendors) before, in which all the management and monitoring tools where built-in, you can see right now that on top of all cloud services you have tooling for end-to-end management and monitoring. For example, for deploying workloads by means of infrastructure-as-code and to gain insight in the relationships between services. Right now we can deal with loosley coupled platform solutions that at the same time are very manageable and quite easy to monitor. That’s real progress! I predict that monolithic integration-, data-, collaboration- and app platforms will die a slow death. Long live PaaS!

Cheers, Gijs

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