Opinions & Insights
10 experts discuss the benefits of composable architecture
The benefits of a composable architecture are varied. It depends on who you’re talking to. A developer might say one thing while a marketer will certainly say another. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s a good thing. Composable architectures serve many different business needs and solve many business challenges—all with the expectation that the result is an exceptional digital experience.
What are the benefits of a composable architecture?
To get to the bottom of this, we spoke with notable experts in the composable and web development space. Instead of hearing it from us, we thought it might be more meaningful to look outward.
What’s more—we spoke with a range of experts, because as we mentioned earlier, the benefits of composable architecture will change with each person you encounter. Let’s dive in.
The primary benefits of composable architecture are:
- Site performance
- Security and low-risk
- Faster time-to-market
- Cross-team collaboration and autonomy
How does composable architecture offer flexibility?
It boils down to this: composable architectures are flexible because they allow you to select the best tools for the job. The easiest way to think about this is by comparison—specifically to monolithic architecture. With a monolithic architecture, some argue that you have a much smaller set of tools to work with and your limitations are a direct byproduct of the individual features of that tool. Others claim the opposite, that monoliths have so much feature bloat because they try to do everything—making them a master of none.
Nonetheless, if you don’t have the proper feature set for a tool, with a composable architecture you can simply invest in a new tool that solves that particular problem.
“Frontend landscapes change so much. If we break things up into smaller pieces, when we do need to adapt, there's an API for everything.” -Bill Watson, Frontend Software Architect, Navan. Read their case study with Netlify.
Beyond choosing the right tool for the job, composable architectures are flexible enough to keep pace with modern web development trends and innovations. So even as frontend frameworks or content sources evolve—think everything going on with AI right now—you’ll be able to upgrade to these latest technologies without massive implications.
With composable architectures, you have the flexibility to build an architecture that’s uniquely specific to you and your business.
“There's a need to innovate. The health and wellness market moves very quickly, so we're always adapting to new science…new technology. The ability to try new things—quickly—in a relatively safe way is important.” -Ryan McKenna, Staff Engineer, RVO Health
How does composable architecture offer optionality?
When designing your composable architecture, the idea of optionality is quite similar to flexibility, but we would like to point out one thing: There are a lot of vendors out there. But that’s good for you. As you evaluate each feature or component that you’ll need to solve your business challenges, you’ll be able to find a partner that understands your needs.
“Overall it's just the sheer amount of choices we have now. Before [composable] took off, people had to go to a monolithic service, they needed to find somebody who knew that service well, and then they were stuck there. The ability to pick and choose has opened up more options for people.” -Adam Harris, Co-founder, Last Rev
This may mean a little more work for you during the evaluation process, but a heavily competitive space means that you can evaluate against the individual needs of your business and build an ecosystem that’s best for you.
“There are a lot of ways you can put technologies together. Having options available that allow us to weave technology solutions together into a single, seamless martech stack is what will propel businesses forward and away from the fear and complexity associated with massive full stack migrations.” -Hannah Grap, CMO, Sitecore.
Dig into the recent partnership between Sitecore and Netlify.
How does composable architecture offer increased efficiency?
This is a tricky one. But what we’ve often seen is that organizations that pivot to composable architectures—compared to monolithic, for example—will use services that have commoditized low-level work. What we mean by this is that in a monolithic architecture, it was commonplace for organizations to need DevOps teams to keep all their systems running and up-to-date.
That’s a lot of overhead and very expensive. But now you can pay for that.
So what does that mean? It might mean fewer people to get the job done, but more importantly, it means that your spend can go to more strategic business problems rather than keeping the lights on.
When developers have more time to solve complex problems, it often means they need to ship more frequently and faster. With a composable architecture, you can ship smaller pieces and bundle them together to achieve greater efficiency.
“One thing that's important for us, and also a huge efficiency driver, is the preview environment of Netlify. We can build something fairly quickly, implement a merge request, see that preview, and then we can confidently move forward from there.” -Tim Peterson, Frontend Developer, ANWB
How is composable architecture more scalable?
This is perhaps the most clear-cut ease in current challenges when moving from a monolithic application to a composable one. Each piece in the system exists decoupled from the rest. If it needs to scale, it can be done independently of the rest of the system.
Delegating scale management to providers
In many cases, your service providers need to worry about scale. Your CMS provider needs to be able to handle millions of records without sacrificing API performance. You don’t. You just need to make sure you can access the content and pass it to your frontend code.
Handling increased traffic
One of the cornerstones of the composable pattern is serving content from the edge, cached, and as close to the user as possible. There are servers (or global points of presence) on the edge, but if you can use a deployment platform to handle these, then they will scale seamlessly as needed.
In other words, increased traffic in a composable world doesn’t have anywhere near the effect it did for monolithic applications.
How does composable architecture enhance site performance?
You’ve likely already gone to significant lengths to please other business teams in making the website as fast as possible for your users. Most enterprise monolithic systems use a combination of the following strategies to improve page speed:
- Caching at various levels, including page delivery via CDN
- Load balancers to handle traffic spikes
- Database indexes and other optimizations
- Separating the frontend–presentation layer–from the rest of the monolith
Page speed is still an elusive target to hit with composable sites, though parts of the equation are much easier. Here are some considerations that help with page speed.
Leaning on the deployment platform
Perhaps the biggest shift is that many organizations choose to lean on the deployment platform to handle many of the difficult backend optimizations. If you can offload content to a headless CMS and use a deployment platform to serve your content via a CDN, you’ll remove the need to manage backend optimizations.
To further increase performance, if you can pretender high-traffic content during a build step, you’ll remove database connections and minimize the number of needed requests when serving a page. This will significantly speed up the site.
The rise of SSR in composable
Rendering content from the server is back on the rise, even in composable systems. However, when you lean on a deployment platform to deliver this content, it means that computations are happening on the edge, as geographically close to the request as possible.
Using a digital asset provider
Unless asset optimizations are a core feature for your chosen headless CMS, it’s worth looking into an asset provider if you haven’t already.
Services like Cloudinary are built to scale and can perform image optimizations on the fly so that you render the smallest possible image size. And if you combine that with modern lazy loading practices, media won’t slow down your page.
How is composable architecture more secure and low-risk?
Security is a concern at any major organization. Monolithic applications are particularly prone to security attacks because one attack can bring down the entire system. However, with composable systems, there are more points to attack, but bringing down one of those services will likely not bring down the entire system.
“There’s this notion of a better way than the all-in-one approach—the monolith. Or tackling everything all at once. A lot of engineers call it separation of concerns.” -Eric Feige Martinez, Managing Director, Strategy, VShift
The point is, with a composable system, you’re essentially abstracting access to the database. Whereas in a monolithic system, it generally happens directly.
And when you buy more than you build, you can delegate some security responsibility to third-party providers. When properly vetted, it can boost your overall confidence in your system’s security.
How does composable architecture achieve faster time-to-market?
Faster time-to-market can be difficult to quantify, but it comes down to a combination of the benefits explained above. Filippo Conforti, Founder of Commerce Layer put it best:
“A benefit of composable is time-to-market, which is linked to the developer experience. A happy developer is much more productive. You can ship things better, faster, and safer…because it's easy to be fast with a simple solution with simple requirements. The real challenge is to be fast when shipping enterprise-grade features.”
Think of it this way, when you’re able to build a tech stack that’s easy for developers to use and aligned with your business challenges, solving problems is that much easier for your business.
How does composable architecture enable cross-team collaboration and autonomy?
We’ve all heard the phrase “it takes a village,” and that couldn’t be more true when delivering exceptional digital experiences. But that’s not always easy—especially when different stakeholders have varying needs.
“We need to bring together different tools to not only construct an impactful digital experience but also serve the needs of all stakeholders—not only a developer but also a marketer or a nontechnical person. Creating sophisticated digital experiences wasn’t possible with last-generation technologies.” -Vicente de Baca, VP of Strategic & Corporate Development, Contentful
With composable architectures, you have the flexibility to select the tools that are best for the job and the user.
“[Composable] gives so many more people on our team a path to modernization…because it makes the journey easier to embark upon, navigate, and allows us to reach our destination faster and more effectively than ever before.” -Hannah Grap, CMO, Sitecore
In a world where customer expectations are rapidly evolving, it’s imperative that teams can work together efficiently.
The bottom line for composable architecture
In the end, composable architecture is a choice and not inherently the best solution for your business. It’s important to evaluate your specific challenges to understand if composable is the right solution for you. Jason Cottrell, Founder and CEO at Orium summarized it nicely:
“Composable solves complexity. I like to call it a multi-problem. You have multiple brands, you’re operating in multiple geographies, and/or you have multiple commercial models. You have a multiple of something that you need to support within your enterprise. There's a reason why you can't just go on Shopify and flip a switch.
Composable architecture offers the right balance of flexibility and performance for a brand with multiple challenges.”
If you think making the switch to composable is right for you, get in touch with us. We’d love to learn about your challenges and help you come up with the right solution.