Orchestrating Your Microservice Life Cycle

A conductor orchestrating

Applications, products, and systems have become more and more complex. Microservices, dependencies, and external services provide greater functionality and improved reliability.

But they all also require greater orchestration, so that all the services and dependencies work in harmony to provide a software product.

When we think of microservice orchestration, we either think of orchestration as a pattern of communication and workflow or as a method to manage a microservice’s life cycle in a container. This post involves the second definition.

Microservice Orchestration Overview

So what is microservice orchestration?

First, let’s consider a simple monolithic app. It has few dependencies other than a database. In this environment, deployment, configuration, and life cycle maintenance are simple. You just have one app that doesn’t talk to other applications.

Therefore, you can get away with less automation and orchestration. You need to configure, deploy, and scale only one application. Failure modes are more known, and having fewer dependencies makes operational toil simpler.

However, in a microservice ecosystem, each additional service increases the deployment and operational complexity of all the services working together. Therefore, developers who work with microservices tend to automate their configuration, deployment, and operations.

Building and automating those things yourself doesn’t make sense, so modern container orchestration tools like Kubernetes, OpenShift, or ECS extract the common needs of all container life cycles.

Components of the Microservice Life Cycle Orchestration

Orchestrating your container-based microservices involves a number of responsibilities and concerns. Let’s look at a few of them.

Configuration Management

Provisioning, deploying, and scaling a single microservice might be manageable for a developer or team, but the situation becomes a lot more complex with each additional microservice. Your container orchestration tools can manage each microservice and ensure that each service is running as expected.

Provisioning and Deployment

In order to get our application up and running, we need to provision the correct amount of memory, space, and CPUs. Additionally, we must configure how we will consume those resources during a deployment.

If we use a blue-green deployment strategy, for example, we may at times double our resources when rolling out new versions of our code. Alternatively, by using canary deployments or other types of rollouts, we use as many resources for each deployment.

Scaling and Resource Allocation

Resource allocation reserves a portion of all available resources for an environment. When scaling, we need to make sure we have enough resources not just for our current service, but other services that also may be scaling at the same time.

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And with scaling, we can decide whether we need to scale horizontally or vertically. With horizontal scaling, we create additional instances of a service, while with vertical scaling, we increase the resources of available instances or pods. We may use one or both methods depending on the actual cause of scaling issues.

Monitoring Container Health and Availability

To properly deploy or restart/recreate services, containers and applications must report their current health. When orchestrating microservices, developers should consider both the container’s health and application’s health when determining whether to spin up additional instances or replace existing instances with new containers.

Securing Containers and Microservice Communication

Security protects customer and organization data and resources, and it also makes a big difference in an application’s availability and reliability.

If applications are prone to falling over with DDoS attacks or even a software bug that creates too much load, then improved security processes around load shedding or blocking unwanted traffic will make a big difference.

Orchestration as More Than the Sum of Its Parts

Though orchestration tools and platforms provide a lot of functionality, as shown in the section above, you can’t just throw Kubernetes at your microservice environment and expect everything to work flawlessly. You must ensure that you’re maintaining and building upon a solid foundation. Let’s dive into that a bit further.

Build a Solid Foundation for Your Microservice Ecosystem

With microservices, you can expand the number of technologies, languages, and frameworks you use. Since microservices are independent, you can use the best tool for the particular job a microservice performs.

However, if all these services don’t have defined practices and standards, orchestrating them together will be tricky.

So what are some practices that you should define for your microservice ecosystem?

Deployment Practices and CI/CD

When your product consists of multiple services, you can’t afford much downtime, as that downtime will affect all services in your ecosystem. So incorporating deployment and CI/CD practices that reduce or eliminate downtime when deploying new code versions becomes critical.

Whether you use blue-green deployments, canary deployments, or something else, the operational and support burden reduces when a common strategy is used. For CI/CD, incorporate any standards and best practices into your automation so that teams don’t repeatedly solve the same problems.

Additionally, using different methods for microservices can increase complexity. Therefore, it’s best to find one that works for your product or org and default to it. That doesn’t mean you can’t do something else in extreme circumstances. But the more you stray from standard, the more difficult things will get.

Operational Practices and Standards

Next, as part of the foundation of good orchestration, consider what operational practices and standards make sense for your organization or product. For example, is there a centralized team that can support other teams? Do individual teams rotate on-call schedules and support work? What are SLAs or SLOs that teams should adhere to or drive toward?

Security Practices and Standards

Security concerns have become an increasingly hot topic. The more automation and consideration were given to security as part of the microservice lifestyle, the better prepared your product will be to thwart or block threats.

And these threats aren’t just from bad actors attempting to access systems. They could be the result of misconfiguration or missed requirements. So consider what safety nets or automated checks your microservices need to ensure the right amount of security and auditing in your ecosystem.

Observability

To round out requirements for your microservice lifecycle, consider your observability needs. Remember, this is not just for the application running in production but also for the orchestration, CI/CD, deployment, and rollback process.

Additionally, consider how you’ll be able to view and monitor the state of your services and the container life cycle.

Let’s take Kubernetes as an example. With OpsLevel, you can tie your Kubernetes state into your service catalog, making it easy for engineering teams to find and visualize the data provided by Kubernetes APIs. You’re then able to confirm the state of your containers and applications, validating that the CI/CD process defined works as intended.

Platform Engineering Team

You may wonder how all of the points above will happen. And you may realize now that you need a dedicated team to build the foundation of your microservice orchestration. That’s where platform engineering comes in.

With platform engineering, the team works to automate and improve the foundation of your microservice ecosystem. As a result, application teams can focus on the product they’re building rather than the common concerns across all systems.

Bringing It All Together

As you can see, orchestrating your microservice life cycle consists of more than just adding Kubernetes to your environment. It requires thought, standardization, and automation.

To establish guidelines and processes and centralize where teams can find all the data and information they need, request a custom demo of OpsLevel today. See how you can bring together the microservice life cycle for all the teams across your organization.

This post was written by Sylvia Fronczak. Sylvia is a software developer that has worked in various industries with various software methodologies. She’s currently focused on design practices that the whole team can own, understand, and evolve over time.

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