Architectural style a la REST key to interoperable software

EnergySys’ MD advises caution on current microservices fad.

EnergySys MD Peter Black picked up on our interview with Landmark/Dell-EMC (Vol 21 N° 10) to opine that today’s enthusiasm for microservices needs to be put into context.

What makes the web work is not the size of a ‘service’ but its architectural style. Here the key is the fact that no ‘out-of-band’ (OOB) information is required to access and use something on the web. This is largely down to the REST architectural style, as defined by Roy Fielding in his 2000 PhD thesis. REST-style programming underpins the web and has made browser based access possible to a vast range of resources with no need for a manual or OOB information.

Unfortunately, much enterprise software is not written this way and its use, even via a web-based microservices API, will require some OOB information or a peek into the software manual. Every system has a different manual and perhaps even another language to be learned.

Here at EnergySys we use the Open Data Protocol (OData), an OASIS standard for RESTful web services. With OData, there is no OOB information, and all a programmer needs is a starting web address. I can pick up an off-the-shelf product like Excel or Tableau, and point it at EnergySys and immediately start consuming the data. Integration is also easier with REST. Want to build a workflow? Go to, sign up for free, and link together over 750 apps on the web. This is revolutionary!

Today’s enthusiasm for microservices echoes the earlier failed services-oriented architectural (SOA) paradigm whereby monolithic, legacy applications were to be delivered as neat functional components. As usual, industry over-promised and under-delivered and we don’t hear so much about SOA today. Instead, we’ve started talking about microservices. The idea here is very similar, but this time we’re not going to wrap our monolithic applications, we’re going to break them up into microservices.

If the result of a microservices effort is a set of well-written services that support RESTful interfaces that can be combined easily and securely with tools like Zapier, then we can consider that a success. However, simply announcing that we’ll build our software as microservices doesn’t say much, and has the potential to generate the same disappointment and disillusionment that now surrounds SOA.

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