The ups and downs of low-code microservices development

Low-code may not be the most sophisticated of development techniques, but it can often fit the bill for software teams looking to build microservices applications.

To deliver business value and stay ahead of the market, an organization must adapt to new technology strategies. However, doing so can prove difficult for organizations that still work with traditional development methodologies.

Low-code platforms can help tackle this challenge by enabling streamlined development workflows and automated application deployment processes. This can be especially helpful when working with modular, microservices-based applications that traditionally require higher levels of development expertise and infrastructure support. And while low-code won't always be a fit for distributed systems, there are certainly some scenarios where it can be an ideal approach.

Let's review how low-code microservices can help organizations, as well as some of the challenges that can arise when applying low-code to microservices development.

What is low-code?

Low-code is an application development style that facilitates faster delivery of applications through a simplified, often graphics-based interface. In most cases, novice developers and even business-side users can build both internal and external applications with minimal programming knowledge.

A typical low-code development platform contains the following components:

  • a visual integrated development environment, such as a drag-and-drop interface, that allows the developer to quickly define application data models and workflows;
  • integration mechanisms that securely connect front-end components and back-end services, primarily for storage management and data retrieval; and
  • an application lifecycle management component that handles application builds and deployment into staging and production environments.

The graphics-based interface found within most low-code platforms helps automate many aspects of application design, stripping away reliance on conventional design teams and front-end development tools. Often these interfaces provide a quick way to redesign an application's UI for different types of end users or to add new features.

Benefits of low-code microservices

Microservices adoption can relieve developers of the constraints of old technology stacks and monolithic architectures. In the right situation, low-code microservices can amplify some of these benefits.

Low-code will bring the most benefit to microservices-based development when the application is simple and secure, and only has a few major integration points. These benefits include the following:

  • Reusability. Low-code microservices provide increased component reusability through functional libraries and drop-down lists of key application features.
  • Customer experience. Quick development means developers can adapt to customer needs by quickly pushing new features and customizations to collections of microservices as needed.
  • Feature updates. Low-code development does not demand complex coding skills, which allows developers of any skill level to work and experiment with a variety of microservices-based application builds.
  • Productivity levels. Since low-code enables developers to produce more applications in less time, it complements the faster build and release cycles associated with microservices development.
  • Cost management. Low-code can provide a resource-efficient approach to designing modular applications, automated processes and data workflows, as well as mitigate the need to hire developers with specialized programming skills.

Challenges of low-code microservices

Bear in mind that a low-code approach toward building microservices is not a good choice for large-scale, microservices-based systems that encompass complex business processes, especially when many development teams are involved.

These are some of the downsides that limit its usability for these types of applications:

  • Limited customization. Although the pre-built modules found in low-code platforms are handy to work with, these components are often generic and might not be good for unique or complex customizations.
  • Limited integration. When using the low-code approach, it is often difficult -- sometimes impossible -- to integrate low-code platforms with high-level software systems, complex business applications or large volumes of data.
  • Vendor lock-in. A big concern with low-code systems is vendor lock-in, as many of these proprietary platforms prevent developers from porting code by making that code unreadable to other platforms.
  • Security and reliability. When using a low-code platform, developers relinquish much of their control to third-party services, which might pose a security risk when working with sensitive business data.

Use cases of low-code microservices

Here are some of the typical use cases of low-code development:

  • Proof of concept (POC). Since it allows developers to build applications quickly, low-code is a handy way to build POCs that make the case for a migration to microservices. For instance, developers can demonstrate how breaking an existing monolithic application will improve a particular business process or reduce overhead costs.
  • Modular web applications. Low-code microservices can help build simple, modular web applications that developers can quickly deploy and then independently update over time as scalability and performance requirements change.
  • API generation. Low-code can help developers build generic, reusable APIs that automatically integrate with an application's existing source code. This eliminates the need to write dedicated API code for each individual service and allows multiple microservices to work with a single API at once.
  • Containerization. Most low-code applications can readily communicate with and run inside containers, which allows microservices developers to have access to crucial orchestration tools like Kubernetes.
  • Reduced development budgets. If an organization is forced to reduce its IT budget, a low-code platform can help developers continue producing small sets of microservices without the technical overhead associated with full-scale development.

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