Major challenges of monolithic infrastructure for ecommerce: The 7 horsemen of doom?

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Major challenges of monolithic infrastructure for ecommerce: The 7 horsemen of doom?

Many ecommerce teams are operating on what's known as a monolithic infrastructure, perhaps without even realizing it. Your stack may give you an illusion of control just to run into unexpected troubles with your online store later. 

Let’s start by identifying the route of the problem. Monolithic systems are considered traditional in the modern-day digital commerce. Here, all components of your ecommerce platform – including user interface, business logic, database interactions, and other functionalities - are tightly integrated and interdependent, forming a single, unified system. As a result, if you want to change one little thing, it likely affects the rest of your ecosystem, potentially leading to increased downtime, security issues, and unhappy customers. 

We paired up with the experts from Portaltech Reply to shed light on the most common challenges inherent to such systems, providing real-world consequences and naming potential solutions. 

Portaltech Reply is the leading expert in digital commerce and cloud services partnered with SAP Customer Experience Solutions. Portaltech Reply has worked with SAP (then Hybris) for many years and has seen these common pain points gradually evolve into full-scale problems and today they are sharing their observations with us! 

After all, the first step towards fixing the problem is recognizing you have one.

Common challenges with monolithic architecture for digital merchants

Of all the good that comes from the unified system architecture, there are some daily struggles that would drive even the most patient person mad. In case with monolithic systems, the most common challenges reported by Portaltech Reply’s customers include: 

  • Limited scalability

  • Challenging deployment

  • Technological diversity challenges 

  • Troubles with team collaboration

  • Limited development agility

  • Failure impact

  • Testing issues

Does any already hit a little too close to home? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Let’s take a look at what each of these means for an ecommerce business in reality. 

1. Limited scalability leads to increased costs

Monolithic architectures can be challenging to scale horizontally. Scaling the entire application often involves scaling all components, even those that may not require additional resources. This can lead to inefficiencies and increased infrastructure costs.

Imagine an ecommerce giant during a Black Friday sale. Their monolithic system struggles to cope with the traffic surge because scaling up means beefing up the entire system, not just the overloaded components. It's like having to upgrade an entire car when only the engine needs more power. This not only leads to inefficiencies but also skyrockets infrastructure costs.

Possible solutions: A more efficient approach could be to modularize the system. Breaking down the monolithic architecture into smaller, independent components would allow the company to focus on these specific elements as needed without overhauling the entire system.

2. Difficulty in deployment prolongs time-to-market 

Deploying changes to a monolithic application can be cumbersome. Since the entire application is typically deployed as a single unit, any small change may require redeploying the entire application. This can result in longer deployment times and increased risk of errors.

For instance, a minor bug fix in the payment gateway of an ecommerce site might necessitate redeploying the entire application. This not only slows down the deployment process but also opens up a gateway for new bugs and errors.

Possible solutions: Adopting continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) practices can help streamline the deployment process, allowing for smaller, more frequent, and more reliable updates.

3. The lack of technological diversity results in outdated stack

Monolithic applications often rely on a single technology stack, making it difficult to use the most appropriate technology for each component. This lack of flexibility can be a limitation when trying to adopt new technologies or tools, which is particularly important in a highly demanding industry such as ecommerce. 

Customer expectations grow exponentially and while 5 years ago you could get away by getting the buyer’s first name and delivery address right, today personalization algorithms need to consider everything, including what they had for breakfast today.

What is more, customer experience largely depends on your ability to facilitate their journey through the cart as much as possible. As soon as your competitors start using Klarna at checkout or introduce AR for virtual showrooms – you need to jump on that trend as well, or you're risking to fade out in the noisy technical noise that is the digital commerce market these days. 

It is virtually impossible with a unified tech system at your disposal, as most of the trending new technologies your competition uses heavily uses more advanced third-party solutions. 

Possible solutions: Consider a polyglot approach within the monolithic structure, where different technologies can be used for different components – you may be surprised by a newly discovered flexibility.

4. Team collaboration is challenging with monolith

As monolithic applications grow, their codebases become massive and unwieldy. Large monolithic codebases can become challenging for development teams to collaborate on effectively. As the codebase grows, it may become harder to maintain a clear understanding of the overall architecture and dependencies.

This would often result in different teams working on the same monolithic ecommerce platform struggling with finding the common ground. And that leads to delays and conflicts on the organizational level which eventually translates into poor performance of your storefront.

Possible solutions: Implementing practices like code modularization and microservices for specific functions can help break down the system into more manageable parts, enhancing collaboration.

5. Limited development agility slow down the development process 

While we’re on the subject of developers, it’s important to consider the overall agility of the process. 

Monolithic architectures can impede development agility, tying the developers’ hands in their ability to quickly respond to market changes. Changes to one part of the application may require coordination with other teams, and the interdependencies can slow down development cycles significantly.As a result, your team may feel like they’re staring at a tornado rushing towards their glass house, fully aware of their predicament but unable to intervene. 

In the ecommerce world trends come and go rapidly, just like pop-up stores for brick-and-mortar. So, here this lack of agility can be particularly detrimental. The inability to quickly implement a new feature or tweak an existing one can leave an ecommerce business lagging behind its competitors.

Possible solutions: Adopting agile methodologies and breaking the application into smaller, more manageable components can help increase development speed and flexibility.

6. Failure impact leads to increased downtime and angry customers

Have you ever worried about your store giving out during the biggest flash sale of the year? In a monolithic architecture, a failure in one component can bring down the entire system. For an ecommerce platform, this could mean a complete shutdown during peak shopping hours, resulting in significant revenue loss and customer dissatisfaction.

Possible solutions: Implementing robust error handling and isolation techniques like Circuit Breaker or Bulkhead can help contain failures to the affected component, minimizing the overall impact on the system.

7. Testing with monolithic is NOT a piece of cake

Testing a monolithic application can be a real Herculean task. Unit testing, integration testing, and end-to-end testing may require significant effort and a comprehensive approach is often required for even minor changes, leading to significant delays in production and deployment of changes. Identifying the root cause of issues can be even more challenging. 

Possible solutions: Setting in place more rigorous and automated testing processes can help streamline testing, making it both more efficient and effective.

Does it mean monolithic architecture is bad?

No, it doesn’t. While navigating the complexities of monolithic infrastructure in ecommerce is no small feat, it’s been a reliable solution popular with major ecommerce brands for a reason. Yet, if you’re noticing that your trustworthy monolithic system is becoming more trouble than it’s worth – perhaps it’s time to consider some alternatives, like composable commerce and microservices. 

Think of the challenges you may be currently facing as the first step towards finding effective solutions. By exploring new technologies, methodologies, and practices, you can evolve your systems to be more scalable, flexible, and resilient. 

Remember, in the dynamic world of ecommerce, staying static is not an option.




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