NAB 2017: OnPrem’s Sabonjohn Highlights Advantages of Shifting to Micro Services

LAS VEGAS — Using independent, autonomous, modular, self-contained applications – collectively known as micro services — can revolutionize the digital supply chain, and offer several advantages over monolithic services, according to Steven Sabonjohn, senior manager at consulting and technology innovation firm OnPrem Solution Partners.

Combined with the elasticity of the cloud, micro services can not only scale to meet demands dynamically, but can provide integration to shared services on a component level, using simple methods and independent data stores to promote reuse, he told the Content Delivery and Security Association (CDSA) Cybersecurity and Content Protection Pavilion April 26, during the NAB Show.

“Over the past couple of years, we know our workflows have become fully software-defined,” he said while kicking off a session called “Evolving the Digital Supply Chain from Monolithic to Micro Services.”

He said: “As we’re relying more and more on software, we’re starting to encounter the same challenges that the software development community has been facing for years, such as agility and flexibility in deploying our systems. Because of this, we need to look at some of the patterns and trends that the development community has developed to address these problems in addressing our own.” This has become even more important now because “the cloud is becoming a key component in how we receive, process, and distribute our content,” he told attendees.

He went on to point out: “Moving to the cloud is not easy. It’s very difficult to forklift our current systems with all their complex interdependencies into the cloud. They need to be rearchitected to take advantage of the advantages the cloud can offer, and micro services can help with that.”

Some of the challenges that are inherent in the existing architectural systems used by companies today include the fact that any application service change – “even a small one – often requires the entire tier to be redeployed and retested” because all the different modules are bound together and coupled, and “any failure in one of them can actually affect the entire stack,” he said.

“Scaling with monolithic systems is also very challenging” and “inefficient” because “some of the services that don’t need to be replicated or scaled are scaled along with the main monolith,” he said. Because they’re so “tightly coupled,” it’s also “hard to reuse subcomponents of a different application in another one,” he said.

On the other hand, because of the modular design of micro services, one can work on one micro service within an organization and it will have no impact on other micro services in the environment, he explained.

Using Software as a Service (SaaS) services alone “can actually help a lot, but it has to be done right,” he noted. For one thing, SaaS partners are “sometimes integrated very similar to monoliths, and we face the potential of getting locked into a vendor just as we’re locked into our monolithic applications,” he said. Also, as SaaS vendors grow and change, those using them are “governed by their changing capabilities,” he said. “Duplicated content is a huge problem” as well, he said, adding that an especially “challenging and complicated use case is storing lower-quality renditions and output files throughout the environment,” over and over again.

Integrating with SaaS services, however, is “where micro services become incredibly powerful,” he said.

But he conceded there are several challenges in moving from the industry’s monolithic systems to micro services.

“Some services don’t actually natively fit well into a micro service environment, and it takes time. Some will work better as hybrids,” he pointed out. It’s also “very complicated,” he said, explaining: “Large systems can cause information gaps across the team and you have to be willing to manage and distribute its system.”

Also, organizational change tends to be difficult for a company, he noted, explaining: “A prerequisite to moving to a micro service-based architecture is having a mature constant delivery/constant integration structure in place in your organization.”

A company moving to a micro service must also invest in “becoming a technology company in addition to being a media company,” he said, adding: “Micro service architectures are not a set it-forget it kind of architecture like a monolith would be. The [micro service] system constantly evolves and changes and you need to be willing to invest in it and have it grow.”

There are also “cost tradeoffs” to take into account because monolith systems tend to be lower-cost initially. But micro services typically yield lower long-term maintenance costs that make investments in them worthwhile for many companies, he said.

Meanwhile, also at the Cybersecurity Pavilion, Ted Middleton, chief product officer for Verizon Digital Media Services, said in a separate presentation that his company has learned that there’s a balance between using the cloud to enhance speed and innovation, while still keeping content secure.

“All of our services are either cloud services, or edge-deployed services, and being a CDN means ensuring content owners can securely deliver content,” he said. “It’s one thing to physically DRM, or token authenticate, or geo-restrict your content, but we’re also protecting the applications that sit behind our infrastructure, with firewalls and DDoS protection, some of those horizontal security services.”

Matthew Trentler, senior manager of information security for Dolby, said that incorporating cloud technology has helped Dolby gain a greater understanding of its business operations, and discover more services available. The key is working with engineers to make sure the cloud is used in a careful way.

“Engineers are smart, and they’re going [to the cloud] regardless, and we want to partner with them, ensure they’re going there in a secure manner,” he said.