3 ways to adopt composable architecture that every technical leader should know
Digital transformation initiatives are keeping software developers on their toes, intensifying the need for digital platforms that unlock the vast amounts of data now available in the modern enterprise. Whether we’re talking about data that powers a project, a team, or an entire company, a data architecture that enables the agile and modular deployment of mission-critical systems and apps has become essential for keeping pace with the changing business landscape.
According to a PwC Pulse Survey, agility is a key priority for executives for 2023 -- and as such, software developers working on corporate initiatives such as websites, internal apps, data analytics, or SaaS offerings are prioritizing flexibility and scalability as they look for ways to leverage existing data stacks for building innovative, scalable platforms.
As monolithic software systems are failing to meet these dynamic needs (they're rigid, hard to customize, and slow to adapt), many organizations are now considering composable architecture -- which allows businesses to hand-pick and/or build the best technologies to fit their needs and assemble them into a powerful digital ecosystem. Developers lay a complete and solid data foundation that covers business needs while integrating with APIs to allow specialization, as needed.
While it's still a relatively fresh concept, there are three primary ways to work toward achieving a composable approach, all of which allow developers to build and deploy significantly faster and unlock new levels of scalability. Let’s break down each method and its benefits.
Connecting to existing systems via API
This first method -- also called the hub and spoke method -- is the essence of composable architecture. Think about this approach as each component of the digital infrastructure, be it a CMS, CRM, PIM, or HR platform, coming together like sections of the orchestra. Each component has its own unique "sound" -- its own set of capabilities that it brings to your business -- but just as a conductor guides the orchestra, this method ensures that each section comes in at the right time and plays at the right volume. Each component can still operate independently while ensuring they work together to create a harmonious whole.
Developers can leverage existing, proven tech and eliminate the need to "reinvent the wheel." This method can be quicker to get a project off the ground, because many services are already mature and tested, and you can tap into their scalability and reliability. It also allows for a certain level of adaptability, as you can easily switch to another service if the current one is not meeting the needs.
Building from scratch
Just as rooms in a house can be customized and arranged according to the specific needs and preferences of the occupants, the components in a composable system architecture can be flexibly assembled and interconnected to create customized solutions.
This method provides complete control over your services' functionality, allowing for bespoke features and behavior. It can also mean that you are not reliant on a third party for availability, security, and costs (unlike going the API route). As the demand for additional system components grows, developers can simply expand the composable system, as standardized interfaces and protocols facilitate interoperability and enable seamless integrations of new components within the existing system.
This approach is, of course, more time-consuming and resource-intensive, and there's also the cost of maintaining and updating your own software. Organizations will need to have the necessary skills in-house, or the resources to hire external experts.
The hybrid method
To get the best of both worlds, many organizations are opting for the hybrid method, where they build critical components in-house and use APIs for non-core components. In a composable architecture, the digital infrastructure is not a monolithic entity, but a composition of multiple apps and/or tools built on top of a hub, or unopinionated foundation. By going hybrid, developers can get the advantages of this flexible approach in addition to real-time adaptability.
The hybrid method has several advantages, including modularity (each service is standalone and can be updated or replaced without affecting the rest of the system), flexibility (developers can use different technologies for different systems) and interoperability (services communicate with each other through APIs so developers can easily integrate new systems or swap out existing ones). Each service can also scale independently, depending on its individual load and performance requirements, allowing you to efficiently use resources and handle high loads without over-provisioning.
The bottom line? Modern businesses are constantly evolving and they need a flexible, scalable, and efficient data infrastructure that will support future applications and digital experiences. Many are turning to composable architecture to achieve just that -- but it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach. A number of factors (e.g. business requirements, resources, timeline of project) should play a role in determining exactly which method to take. Whichever method you choose, breaking down systems into reusable components will enable faster iteration, experimentation, and adaptation to changing requirements -- and ultimately future-proof your projects and business.
Ben Haynes is the co-founder and CEO of Directus, an open-source software company focused on helping organizations build composable experiences.