Getting unstuck: What the Ever Given blockade teaches us about IT architecture

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Historically, companies are justifiably proud of the infrastructure they’ve created. After all, their massive systems were developed to last for years and guarantee the safety of their business processes. They’re optimized to keep the total costs of ownership as low as possible. 

A massive IT monolith can easily come to a standstill just as the Ever Given container ship did in March 2021, blocking the Suez Canal for almost a week. It had a significant impact on delivery and trade between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The blocking of the Suez Canal is a perfect allegory for aligning with monolith architecture:

  • Ever Given is a monolith in the IT infrastructure.
  • The Suez Canal equals sales channels that the company needs in order to generate sales.
  • Subsequent ships are other systems or business areas that are blocked by the Ever Given.
  • Cape Route is the workaround or the opportunity costs that come into question as an alternative.

In the end, the captain doesn’t have to go down with the ship. Here’s a couple of insights on how to avoid the Ever Given’s fate and maintain superb business agility.

What stops us from ditching outdated tech?

It’s no longer a secret that monolithic systems, like the Ever Given, generate high costs and can only be maneuvered very slowly. But there are a couple of reasons that stop IT decision makers from making changes and, instead, push them to build up bigger and bigger technical debt. 

  • It might be the fear of transforming this huge issue knowing that a possible accident will cause enormous damage. 
  • It might be the trade-off between business and IT that, within the framework of prioritization, forces capacities to be allocated to areas with direct business value. Please don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of deliverables for business, but reducing technical debts and investing in IT transformation capabilities must also be taken into account.
  • It might be just the zero option. “After all, everything works fine 🤷‍♂️”

At some point, there’s a scenario where everything is blocked and nothing works. This could be because of highly individualized systems without updates or release capability. Or, as in our case, the Ever Given systems that fail and prevent us from achieving business goals.

What should you do when your monolith fails?

When everything comes to a standstill, it’s time to abandon ship. You can load all your containers onto self-sufficient small transport ships, think of them as microservices, and carry on with your new fleet.

The technical transition from a huge ship to fast, small units isn't just something to casually do after lunch. It takes joint effort between the teams, processes, and skills to make this migration happen.

Switching from a monolithic structure directly to a microservice architecture involves high hurdles, like versioning, orchestration, operation, and deployment. What’s more, the solution should match the respective maturity level of the company. Using packaged business capabilities (PBCs) is one way to deliver this while still mitigating the risk during a transition.

Introducing packaged business capabilities

PBCs offer a middle ground between very small microservices and monolithic approaches. There are PBCs that offer features such as product information systems (PIMs), search, content management systems (CMSs), and so on. These are individual services used to achieve certain business goals. 

Introducing PBCs can significantly reduce the risk of a monolithic approach and generate direct added value for the business. At the same time, their complexity is not as high as that of pure microservice architecture.

When you use PBCs, you can decouple the IT infrastructure step by step without endangering the core business. It allows for successful IT transformations where the risk is strictly controlled.

More information on composable commerce

If you want to find out more about PBCs, check out our eBook on composable commerce. It contains the composable commerce reference architecture based on commercetools, Akeneo, Open Loyalty, Talon.One, and VueStorefront to help you avoid the same circumstances that the Ever Given faced.

composable commerce reference architecture


Published September 3, 2021