SOA vs. microservices: Which is best for your business

Choosing the right architecture for your software applications is crucial. Two prominent models, service-oriented architecture (SOA) and microservices architecture, are the most commonly used within the developer community. Both architectures share a common goal of creating modular and flexible software. However, they differ in their approach and structure.

Understanding the key distinctions between SOA vs. microservices will help you make informed decisions about your application development. Your choice impacts business agility, productivity, recruiting, customer experience, and operational costs. Choosing the right architecture early on can prevent expensive technical debt

This article covers the features, benefits, and drawbacks of microservices vs. SOA to determine the best choice for your business needs.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA)

SOA revolutionized software design by advocating for loosely coupled, independent services. This means that services have minimal dependencies on each other, making them easier to develop, deploy, and maintain. 

Services are also reusable across many applications. These services communicate through standardized protocols, enabling smooth integration and interoperability across diverse systems. SOA is well suited for large, complex enterprises.

The benefits of SOA

SOA's modularity and standardized protocols enable services to communicate effectively, promoting reusability, interoperability, and scalability. These key benefits translate into tangible advantages for companies:

  • Reusability: Reusing existing services reduces development time and costs and promotes consistency and quality. Companies can accelerate development cycles and improve overall efficiency.
  • Interoperability: Services can communicate and exchange data regardless of their underlying technology or programming language. This facilitates enterprise-wide data integration and collaboration. Interoperability streamlines business processes and helps companies adapt to evolving technologies.
  • Scalability: SOA's modular design enables independent scaling of services to meet fluctuating demands. It ensures applications can handle spikes in traffic or expanding user bases without compromising performance or stability. Companies can adapt their infrastructure to changing needs without costly rewrites or redesigns.

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Microservices architecture

Microservices architecture takes a more granular approach. It breaks down applications into smaller, self-contained services. Each service is independent and focuses on a specific task or functionality.   Each microservice also contains all the necessary code and data to function without relying on other components. Microservices communicate through lightweight protocols such as HTTP and REST, fostering agility and resilience.

A microservices architecture's most significant advantages are its smooth integration and reusability. This makes it a good choice for dynamic, rapidly evolving applications.

Benefits of microservices

Microservices' granular architecture and lightweight communication protocols enable seamless integration and reusability. This translates into several key company benefits:

  • Scalability: Microservices are scalable. They can expand or contract to meet changing demands. Each microservice is responsible for a specific business function and can scale independently of the others. Docker and Kubernetes play a crucial role in this scalability by providing the tools and infrastructure to manage and orchestrate microservice containers.
  • Flexibility: Microservices' technology independence allows developers to choose the best technology for each service.The loose coupling of microservices (meaning they don't rely on a specific technology or programming language) allows developers to experiment with new technologies without disrupting the entire application. Microservices make it easier to adopt new technologies because only the affected microservice needs updating. 
  • Fault isolation: Microservices' loose coupling limits the impact of failures, preventing them from cascading across the entire system. This is because microservices are independent units with their own data and code. If one microservice fails, the other microservices can continue to function normally. Fault isolation helps ensure the overall system is stable and reliable.

The differences between SOA and microservices

While SOA and microservices share some goals, there are notable differences. The fundamental architectural style sets these two approaches apart when comparing SOA vs. microservices. SOA employs a top-down, centralized approach, while microservices favor a bottom-up, decentralized model.




Architectural style

  • Coarse-grained, centralized

Service granularity

  • Larger, more comprehensive services

  • Smaller, focused services


  • Services are interdependent
  • May share a database for data storage

  • Services are highly independent
  • Decoupled and autonomous


  • Synchronous, often message-oriented
  • Uses shared data

  • Asynchronous, often RESTful
  • Avoids data sharing

Data storage

  • Centralized data management
  • Services share database

  • Distributed (decentralized) data management
  • Each service is responsible for its own data management


  • Horizontal scaling
  • Scaling specific services can be intricate due to shared resources and centralized communication

  • Horizontal and vertical scaling
  • More granular and focused scaling as services operate independently


  • Typically involves deploying the entire application as a single unit


  • Services exhibit a degree of coupling due to shared resources and centralized communication

  • Loose coupling with minimal dependencies between services

Microservices vs. SOA: Which is right for your business?

Deciding between service-oriented architecture and microservices requires careful consideration of your business needs and priorities. Consider the following factors:

  • Project complexity: Microservices provide greater agility and flexibility. They excel in complex applications with evolving requirements.
  • Team structure: Larger, centralized teams can manage SOA. Microservices demand a higher degree of expertise and collaboration within smaller teams.
  • Development speed: SOA involves more centralized planning and integration. Microservice architecture facilitates faster development with independent deployments.

SOA is a good fit for large, complex enterprises that require reusability and interoperability. They are also a good fit for companies with a strong governance structure and mature development processes.

Microservices work better for businesses prioritizing innovation speed, agility, flexibility, and fault isolation and companies with a DevOps culture focusing on continuous delivery.

Use Compass for managing distributed architecture

While microservices architecture offers many benefits in agility, scalability, and resilience, it also introduces more complexity. It can be challenging to manage a growing ecosystem of microservices across diverse infrastructures—especially as teams collaborate and information silos emerge. 

Atlassian's Compass, an extensible developer experience platform, addresses these challenges. It provides a unified view of engineering output and team collaboration.

Compass consolidates information from disparate sources—including code repositories, issue trackers, and communication channels—into a central, searchable location. This helps developers, DevOps engineers, and product managers quickly find the information they need to effectively understand, develop, and maintain microservices. Compass features include tools for visualizing dependencies, identifying potential issues, and tracking development progress.

Compass simplifies the management of microservices architectures by centralizing and organizing engineering information. It reduces the cognitive overhead and facilitates collaboration across teams. 

As distributed architectures scale, Compass becomes increasingly valuable. It provides a unified platform for managing complexity, ensuring the continued success of microservices-based applications.

Learn more about Compass

SOA vs. microservices: Frequently asked questions

What are the challenges of adopting SOA and microservices?

The choice between SOA vs microservices significantly impacts a team's ability to build and modify software quickly and flexibly. 

SOA's larger code blocks offer greater control but also hinder flexibility. With SOA, reusing services built on different technologies can be challenging. This makes connecting and sharing data between services tricky. Developers must master multiple technologies to use SOA effectively.

Microservices have more pieces to manage, which adds complexity. They require more standardized development strategies so the independent services work together smoothly. Achieving this level of organizational alignment is challenging.

Can SOA and microservices coexist?

Yes, companies can build legacy systems on SOA and gradually adopt microservices for new functionalities or specific components. This approach allows for a smooth transition and leverages the strengths of both architectures. 

Compass can help SOA and microservices coexist within a company’s architecture. Because Compass is technology agnostic, it provides integrated visibility no matter the underlying tech stack. This centralized visibility helps teams manage the complexity of hybrid environments.

Compass also facilitates greater collaboration and communication, which can help development strategies scale across distinct architectures. The integrated visibility within Compass aids microservices migration from legacy SOA by highlighting dependency relationships and service usage analytics.

How does each architecture impact deployment and DevOps practices?

Both SOA and microservices deployments benefit from Open DevOps practices. However, the specifics will differ depending on the architecture. 

SOA typically involves monolithic deployments, where teams deploy an entire application as a single unit. This approach requires careful coordination between teams. It can be time-consuming and complex, especially for large applications.

DevOps emphasizes collaboration and automation between development and operations teams to address these challenges. This enables more frequent and reliable deployments. By automating testing, configuration management, and infrastructure provisioning, DevOps can help streamline SOA deployments and minimize errors.

Microservices architecture enables more granular deployments. Teams deploy each microservice independently. 

DevOps principles are also essential for microservices deployments. DevOps practices such as continuous integration and continuous delivery allow teams to automate the process of testing, deploying, and building microservices. This facilitates rapid and frequent releases.

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