Composable architecture refers to a technology architecture pattern that allows for maximizing the different configurations of technology solutions by mandating that each component in the system have standardized interfaces, namely APIs. The benefit of this solution pattern is that it allows for rapid iteration in volatile business environments.
Composable architecture has been applied in many different domains from networks with cloud APIs to application backends with microservices and is now increasingly one of the most popularly prescribed patterns in CMS technologies.
This article examines what composable architecture is and why to use it, the components of a composable architecture for enterprises, and the steps to achieving composable architecture.
#What Is composable architecture and why to use it
The most apt analogy for composable architecture is the popular children’s toys by Meccano. Since each piece of the toy is built from similar machine pieces of metal, they can be joined in different configurations to make anything from a crane to a helicopter with the same set of pieces.
Adaptability and customization are the key advantages of this solution pattern. Instead of tools forcing users to adapt their workflows to its design, customers these days expect tools to be adaptable to work within their workflows. In the ever increasing digital-first world of the enterprises that will succeed in the future, the most adaptable methodology will be the most valuable since it can adjust to the needs of the constant change of business environments.
Following composable architecture means building an ecosystem of elements that can work together in different ways to create a fit-for-purpose solution that's scalable with enterprise workloads. For enterprises, this means investing in capabilities that will let them unlock the scale and flexibility that composability can provide, such as being able to use the same CMS for marketing web content and internal knowledge management. However, this investment is offset by the cost savings of operational efficiencies since composable architecture allows resources to be spun up in near real time.
#Components of composable architecture
This section takes a closer look at the components that enable composable architecture across an enterprise.
Infrastructure as an application
Ever since the famous API mandate at Amazon and the large-scale proliferation of cloud services in enterprises, the requirement for DevOps skills and tools have boomed.
In the past, a common approach was to use a monolithic architecture with all applications running on one machine. This is still viable, but if you're interested in developing more advanced composable architectures, you should think about treating each application as though it were its own component. This approach lets an application be controlled by code with APIs and then distributed to suit the real-time computing, storage, and processing demands of your company without disrupting other apps that are already running.
As more workloads move away from private data centers to public clouds, they require skilled practitioners with automation-first mindsets to tear down and build up new infrastructure stacks. According to composable architecture, enterprises must be able to have reliable provisioning steps that let developers build the tech environment they need in real time via automation.
Empowering internal teams like this also means the core components of cloud (storage, identity, compute, network, and so on) must be thought of as separate applications. These can then be creatively packaged into solutions that orchestrate various solution elements (databases, application servers, caches) for rapid delivery at relatively low support costs.
As shows in the diagram above, some of the key enablers of this pattern are trends like container technology, container orchestration, gateways, firewalls, load balancers, and other network elements to join the solution elements and make them available on demand .
According to composable enterprise, IT enterprises must divide workloads using a multicloud approach. Because different cloud providers have different strengths and cost structures, a multicloud approach lets the composable cloud be arbitraged on price and/or features. It also ensures that cloud providers are unable to apply vendor lock-in. It prefers open interfaced solutions that retains the option of future reconfigurations.
However, increased DevOps and security practices are needed for multicloud management. Applications, services, and workloads may be scaled across various data center components and managed as private clouds.
Software that's reliant on several clouds makes the work of DevOps specialists more challenging. DevOps have to focus more on adapting to the evolving technologies that underpin these cloud platforms and responding to them to ensure that their own software is using them to their fullest potential.
#Steps in achieving composable architecture
Engaging in composable architecture has four main stages.
Understand the ecosystem
The first step towards a composable architecture, understanding the ecosystem, is mainly the remit of enterprise architects.
Enterprise architects must make an inventory of capabilities, technologies, and procedures that have been developed through an organization’s lifecycle. It's provided by artifacts like capability maps, process inventories, customer journey maps, and application inventories.
Such an inventory provides an understanding of the organization's current operations and the clients' needs as well as the maturity levels of the solution elements and their current levels of composability.
Identifying the need for composability
The next stage is to determine the scope and evaluate the necessity for composability. In the real world, costs and resources must be weighed up against technical excellence. This stage is about comprehending the requirements for composability.
Business analysts and solution analysts working with the enterprise architects use the inventory artifacts such as capabilities, processes, customer journeys, and value streams from the previous stages to determine where the improved efficiency and shorter time to market of composability is most valuable. For workloads with high transaction rates, the highest priority might be the storage or networking layer. In organizations with higher marketing spend, it might be the digital marketing stack.
The limiting factors for your organization will typically be well-known since they are likely where stability challenges have been observed.
Coming from an awareness of where composability needs are highest based on client demands, the third stage is to make decisions on what to focus on.
Since market demands should guide these decisions, business architects play an important role to understand how strategy should be made into reality. The business capability map and how it relates to IT and business processes is a crucial component of this stage.
In turn, IT architects use the business capability map to establish a collection of autonomous components that provide distinct business value. Each of these components must function as a separate island of expertise that can be configured for various use cases with slight configuration changes rather than full scale re-engineering. This allows for specializing at the component level. More critically, standardized interfaces means the existing solutions can adopt the next versions in their own time. Decoupling the various components allows for independent architecture evolution and is a key strength of composable architectures.
In this phase, architects must apply key guiding principles such as modularity, orchestration, and discovery to ensure the vision of composable architecture can be achieved.
Modularity refers to the ability to construct and reassemble the IT landscape according to company needs. Because of modularity, mature architecture teams are interested in the freedom that cloud services offer since it makes it easier to respond rapidly to market demands. They understand that cloud services let a company achieve a high level of flexibility that's hard to match with traditional and private IT architectures such as on-premise or on-site.
Orchestration means each component of the system has distinct capabilities that are reflected in services and is able to go from input of one system to feeding another process. This is enabled by control processes that ensure each step is carefully completed before moving on to the next.
Enterprises with a lack of oversight can lack solutions that can be independently rebuilt by another part of the organization. It results in a tremendous waste of capital and unnecessary delay in delivery. Keeping an up-to-date catalog of available options allows solution elements and components to be discovered.
Build and repeat
During the fourth stage, the pieces are put together. It's important to remember that APIs should be the connecting thread that holds everything together and to consider the business side of the components. The aim is to provide the business with solutions based on reusable parts that can be repeated in various contexts at a speed that allows for value maximization within the enterprise.
In reality, organizational headwinds will often steer towards reversion of non-composable solutions. These needs will need to be discussed and balanced with the composable engine that's being built. Organizational friction will be likely, and strong leadership will be required to stick to the composable architecture and to co-develop designs that follow the foundational composable strategy.
This article described the key features and components of a composable architecture and why enterprises should use it. It also described the practical steps an organization can take towards a composable architecture.
Modern enterprises create, structure and distribute a huge amount of content in many different channels. Hygraph provides an encapsulation layer for all forms of content allowing it to be unified and enriched, making it easy to create digital media products, do knowledge management and catalog experiences. With best-in-class utilization of GraphQL API backed up with industry-leading uptime, it guarantees your backend will never be the bottleneck for your organization.
Manish is the co-founder and CTO of StackGo and a passionate advocate for creating seamless customer journey powered by integrated SaaS tools. With over 10 years of experience in various tech roles, he brings a level headed and calm leadership approach that is able to see through both the technical and business oriented prisms to enable tech and product teams to flourish.