API Gateways: The Doorway to a Microservices World

What Is a Microservices Architecture?

A microservices architecture is a software development approach where a large, complex application is broken down into smaller, independent services that can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently. Each service is designed to perform a specific business capability and communicates with other services through well-defined interfaces using lightweight protocols such as HTTP or message queues.

Microservices architectures are often used in modern cloud-based applications, where they can provide benefits such as better scalability, resilience, and flexibility. They also allow teams to work on individual services independently, which can lead to faster development and deployment times, as well as better maintainability and easier testing.

Microservices Adoption Statistics

ClearPath Strategies conducted a survey on service mesh adoption, which revealed that 85% of organizations were upgrading to a microservices-based architecture.  Companies that had adopted microservices also reported an increase in the speed of development. Most companies with half or more of their applications hosted in a microservices environment reported frequent software release cycles (i.e., at least daily).

Faster Development Cycles Enabled by Microservices

However, the faster development cycles enabled by microservices have also introduced challenges due to API sprawl and technical debt. Almost three-quarters of companies reported that security and networking issues created bottlenecks for deploying applications to production.

With microservices quickly becoming a necessity for modern enterprises, API gateway and service mesh technologies offer a way to facilitate application management and ensure the security, observability, and reliability of microservices architectures. The vast majority of companies (87%) said they used or were considering using a service mesh solution. Thus, the widespread adoption of service mesh technology is a result of the explosion in containerization and microservices.

What Is the Impact of Microservices on Technology Organizations

Microservices can have a significant impact on technology organizations in several ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Increased agility and speed: Microservices allow for greater agility and speed in software development, testing, and deployment. By breaking down a large and complex system into smaller, independently deployable services, teams can work more autonomously and can release new features and updates more quickly and with greater flexibility.
  • Improved scalability and reliability: Microservices make it easier to scale individual services independently based on demand, which can improve system reliability and reduce the risk of downtime. The use of smaller, independent services also makes it easier to test and deploy changes, and to develop new services in parallel with other parts of the system.
  • Improved team autonomy: Microservices can also foster greater autonomy and ownership among development teams, as each team is responsible for a specific set of services. This can lead to greater innovation and creativity, as teams are free to experiment with different technologies and approaches.
  • Increased complexity: While microservices can offer many benefits, they also introduce new challenges and complexities. Coordinating and integrating the various services within a larger system can be challenging, and ensuring that the overall system remains secure and reliable requires careful planning and coordination.
  • Skillset changes: Microservices architecture requires different skillsets for development, testing, deployment, and operations. Teams need to be trained on new technologies and processes to effectively adopt microservices.
  • Evolving architecture: Microservices architecture is still evolving and is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Organizations must be prepared to continuously evaluate, modify and adapt the architecture to meet changing business needs.

While microservices are beneficial, they also create significant new challenges. These challenges include:

  • Increased complexity: A microservices architecture introduces additional complexity, as each service needs to communicate with other services through well-defined interfaces. This can result in increased development and management overhead, as well as challenges with testing and debugging.
  • Distributed systems management: A microservices architecture is a distributed system, which means it can be challenging to monitor and manage individual services, especially when there are multiple instances of the same service running in different environments.
  • Data consistency: Maintaining data consistency across multiple services can be challenging, as changes to one service can impact other services that depend on that data. This requires careful planning and management to ensure that data remains consistent and up-to-date across the system.
  • Deployment and versioning: With microservices, each service is developed and deployed independently, which can lead to versioning issues and compatibility problems. Managing and coordinating deployments and updates across multiple services can be complex and time-consuming.
  • Organizational challenges: Adopting microservices architecture can require significant organizational changes, such as redefining team roles and responsibilities and shifting to a more decentralized approach to development and management.

What Is an API Gateway and How Does It Work?

An API gateway (solo dotio/api-gateway/) acts as a single entry point for all client requests to a set of microservices. It works as a reverse proxy that routes requests from clients to the appropriate service and handles requests on behalf of those services. API gateways typically use a variety of protocols, including HTTP, WebSockets, and gRPC, and can perform various tasks such as authentication, authorization, load balancing, and protocol translation.

API gateways provide a number of benefits, including:

  • Security: API gateways can authenticate and authorize client requests, as well as implement security policies and protocols such as rate limiting and throttling.
  • Scalability: By handling requests on behalf of services, API gateways can distribute requests across multiple instances of the same service, improving scalability and reducing downtime.
  • Service discovery: API gateways can use service discovery mechanisms to locate available services and route requests to the appropriate instance.
  • Protocol translation: API gateways can translate requests and responses between different protocols, allowing clients to use a variety of protocols without requiring each service to support them.
  • Monitoring and analytics: API gateways can collect metrics and analytics on client requests and service performance, providing visibility into how the system is performing.

In addition to these core functions, API gateways may also provide additional features such as caching, request and response transformations, and service composition.

API Gateway to the Rescue: Making Microservices Easier to Deploy and Maintain

An API gateway can help make deploying and maintaining microservices easier in several ways, including:

Centralized Access to Decentralized Microservices

In a microservices architecture, each microservice is responsible for performing a specific business capability and communicating with other microservices using well-defined interfaces. This can lead to a complex web of interactions that can be difficult for clients to navigate.

An API gateway provides a solution to this problem by acting as a single entry point for client requests. It receives requests from clients and routes them to the appropriate microservice based on predefined rules and policies. This allows clients to interact with the system as a whole without needing to understand the details of each individual microservice.

By providing centralized access, an API gateway can simplify client interactions, improve system performance, and reduce the management overhead of distributed systems. It also allows for greater flexibility and agility in how microservices are developed and deployed, as each microservice can be updated and scaled independently without affecting the overall client-facing API.

Management and Discovery for Scalable, Distributed Services

Microservices are often deployed across multiple instances to improve scalability and reliability. An API gateway can provide service discovery mechanisms that allow clients to locate available services and route requests to the appropriate instance.

It can also monitor the health of individual services and, based on that information, make decisions about routing traffic. This ensures that requests are routed to healthy instances of services, which results in better system performance and reliability.

By providing management and discovery for scalable distributed services, an API gateway makes it easier to deploy and manage microservices at scale. This enables organizations to be more agile and responsive to changing business needs without sacrificing performance or reliability.

Abstraction for Microservice Language and Protocol Independence

Microservices can be developed in different programming languages and can use different communication protocols. This can make it challenging to integrate different microservices, especially when the client needs to interact with multiple services.

An API gateway provides an abstraction layer for microservices language and protocol independence. It acts as a mediator between clients and microservices, allowing microservices to communicate using their own languages and protocols, while presenting a unified, consistent interface to the client.

API gateways can translate between different protocols

An API gateway can also translate between different protocols, allowing clients to use a variety of protocols without requiring each microservice to support them. This can make it easier to develop and deploy microservices, as each microservice can be developed independently without worrying about protocol compatibility with other microservices.

API gateway can provide a set of common APIs

In addition, an API gateway can provide a set of common APIs that all microservices must conform to, allowing the client to interact with the entire system through a single interface. This helps to simplify client interactions and reduces the management overhead of distributed systems.

Routing to Microservices Based on Deployment Strategies

In a microservices architecture, individual microservices may be deployed across multiple instances to improve scalability and reliability. However, this can make it challenging to direct client requests to the appropriate instance.

An API gateway can use various deployment strategies to route requests to the appropriate instance based on factors such as availability, performance, and cost.

Common deployment strategies used by API gateways

  • Round-robin: The API gateway directs each new request to the next available instance in a circular order.
  • Weighted round-robin: The API gateway directs requests to instances based on a predefined weight. Instances with higher weights receive more requests than those with lower weights.
  • Least connections: The API gateway directs each new request to the instance with the fewest active connections.
  • IP hash: The API gateway directs requests to instances based on the client’s IP address. This ensures that subsequent requests from the same client are always directed to the same instance.
  • Geolocation-based routing: The API gateway directs requests to instances based on the client’s geographic location.

Traffic Control to Prevent Overloading of Resources

A microservices architecture enables a system to be more scalable and flexible, but it also poses the risk of overloading certain services, especially during high traffic or peak periods. Overloaded services can result in slow response times or even system failures, which can lead to a poor user experience.

An API gateway provides traffic control mechanisms that help prevent resource overload.

  • Rate limiting: An API gateway can limit the number of requests that a client can make within a specified period of time. This helps prevent overloading resources and ensures that the system remains responsive and performant.
  • Throttling: An API gateway can limit the rate at which requests are processed. This helps ensure the system can handle incoming requests without being overwhelmed.
  • Circuit breakers: An API gateway can detect when a service is not responding and can temporarily stop sending requests to that service until it becomes available again.
  • Load balancing: An API gateway can distribute client requests across multiple instances of the same service.


In conclusion, a microservices architecture can be highly complex, and managing communication between services and presenting a unified interface to clients can be challenging.

API gateways simplify the process of developing, deploying, and managing microservices, making it easier for organizations to scale and adapt to changing business needs.

By offering a single point of entry for clients and a unified interface for microservices, API gateways help build and maintain large, complex systems that are both performant and reliable.

Featured Image Credit: Provided by the Author; iStock; Thank you!

Gilad Maayan

Technology writer

I’m a technology writer with 20 years of experience working with leading technology brands including SAP, Imperva, CheckPoint, and NetApp. I am a three-time winner of the International Technical Communication Award. Today I lead Agile SEO, the leading marketing and content agency in the technology industry.

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