LAB Group – Stick or Twist: Monolith v.s MACH


Gareth Simms | 7th April 2022 | 5 min read

MACH is an agile method of approaching your technology ecosystem, Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless. It emphasises the use of different technologies for specific purposes compared to traditional monoliths.

In February, we gathered influential digital decision-makers and thought-leaders and hosted our first LAB Group virtual roundtable event, ‘Stick or Twist: Monolith vs MACH’, and asked, “Should we stick with existing monolith platforms or twist and take the bold first steps into MACH?”

At Riverr, we work with a broad range of clients with varying degrees of expertise and technology requirements, some of who adopt more monolith platforms and applications to suit their needs. However, we are seeing an increase in interest in exploring the world of composable architecture, the benefits of MACH and the flexibility it provides.

Ultimately, Riverr helps clients choose solutions based on their own unique set of requirements, but when considering monolith vs MACH, there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. We wanted to throw the question back to technology leaders, to those making the big calls when it comes to digital strategy, to find out what they consider are the key deciding factors in this decision.

An interesting insight found around managing multiple vendors – a point many highlight as a problem when using a MACH approach. Our panel believed this wasn’t an issue. Managing multiple tech components from external vendors isn’t considered complicated if the tech team is set up to handle a microservice environment. It was mentioned that multiple vendors helped in some instances, especially in terms of accountability.

Other topics touched upon included:

  • What is driving the need to consider alternative stacks?
  • Is it fair to suggest monoliths are outdated, or can they still serve a purpose?
  • Tech professionals don’t solely drive tech changes, which may be a good thing!
  • The fundamental issue with simply re-platforming.
  • Data and security: compliance as a key influencing factor.

It was an illuminating roundtable, free-flowing, open and with more consensus generated than we had anticipated. This was highlighted in a dynamic back and forth between Sam Wilson, Director of Digital Solutions and Technology at Bruntwood, the Manchester-based property company & Matt Holmes, the Head of IT at STEM Learning. Sam & Matt shared many similar challenges, both exploring the possibility of a hybrid model that would be agile and ready to adapt to the changing needs of the customer and the business itself.

Both were also confident in managing multiple vendors and were enjoying the full support of their businesses in the decision to move toward introducing flexibility as a strategy. The shared expectation to spin something up fast and have it working just as quickly presented a complex challenge. This equivalent approach was enlightening. Both individuals represented the benefits of companies being technologically progressive, albeit at different points in their respective journeys.

The discussion also raised many interesting points that often come up in our conversations with clients. For example, there is now often an internal team set up that bridges both Marketing and IT and can handle UX, UI, and back-end development. Due to this internal skill and the associated shift in behaviour, there is even more demand on these teams – becoming a factor when looking at architectures, i.e. what can we build? What can we source, and how do we integrate it?

This consensus wasn’t seen to be surprising, and all in attendance were united in their belief that complexity found beyond the surface is often the challenge rather than the solution itself. Business’s needs vary, and grabbing an off-the-shelf solution may be ineffective in ensuring the best and broadest fit. Instead, choices should be deliberate, considered and measured when integrating, and without a proof of concept (which all in attendance favoured as a method), development can become slow and expensive.

The often-cited drawback is too much hype from both sides of the camp – that MACH is too hard to manage, or monolith is too old and stagnant. This was debated and found not to be the case; even the adamant advocates of MACH are very conscious of the notion that MACH is often perceived to be ‘Drinking the Kool-Aid’.

The panel concluded that a crucial part of the move to a composable environment is the mindset of the internal teams, consideration of the wider team and above, and the approach to a decoupled architecture. We anticipate that these points will be covered in-depth in a follow-up session.

Here at Riverr and LAB Group, we are thankful for the opportunity to broaden our perspective and look forward to establishing a greater diversity of thought leadership hosted by technology leaders with further varied backgrounds in future sessions.

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