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Composable Architecture: What You Need To Know

Marketing
Gillian Mays

Composable architecture is a method of creating a tech stack by combining an assortment of smaller, reusable components serving different purposes in one unified system. This allows for great flexibility, scalability, and security for your organization.


You have a lot of choices when it comes to building your business. From organizing your development team to determining the product itself, having control over all elements is essential – and if you want that kind of control for your tech stack as well, composable architecture is the key.

Let’s take a look at what composable architecture is, why you might want to take advantage of its benefits, and if it's right for you. We'll also cover a few related concepts and how they may impact your decision. Let's get started!

What is composable architecture?

Composable architecture is a microservices approach to building your tech stack, combining a constellation of different reusable technologies to create one unified system that can communicate via APIs. This breaks down complex ecosystems into more manageable chunks for better oversight, flexibility, and adaptability.

hint:

API - an application programming interface is a set of protocols that allow applications to communicate. How it works: APIs serve as a "bridge" between applications, allowing them to access data from each other. For example, you want to create an Instagram post, and your phone OS shares the image via API with the Instagram app.

​​The key idea of composable architecture is a modular approach that involves splitting a system or software into smaller, independent modules or components. Each module is meant to perform a particular task or several related tasks. These self-contained modules can be independently developed, tested, and maintained.

The modular approach of composable architecture fosters code reuse, ease of maintenance, and the ability to update or replace individual modules without disrupting the system as a whole.

In a nutshell, when you build a composable enterprise architecture, you take multiple independent apps, and combine them into one system. You don’t have to rely on a single vendor or wrestle with an all-in-one solution that may not be a good fit. Instead, you have total freedom to craft exactly what you need. No more, no less.

On the left, a solid hexagon with small images labeled "monolithic". On the right, the hexagon is now in 7 separate cubes, representing composable architecture.

Composable architecture provides the functionality of monolithic systems with an unprecedented amount of flexibility and freedom.

Composable architecture vs. headless CMS

It’s important to note here that composable architecture isn’t quite the same as headless CMS – though they are closely related:

  • Headless CMS is an approach that divides the backend of your system from the frontend, then relies on APIs to connect the backend to an unlimited amount of frontend channels and backend technologies.
  • Composable architecture refers specifically to what happens on that backend, combining different behind-the-scenes technologies to get the functionality you’re looking for.

Composable architecture vs. microservices

Similarly, composable architecture and microservices are similar yet distinct concepts. Where microservices focus on structuring your applications as groups of stand-alone programs, composable architecture puts more of an emphasis on making reusable components. That way, they can be combined as necessary.

hint:

Interested in headless content management? Learn more about why you should move to a headless CMS!

Composable architecture vs. packaged business capabilities

A packaged business capability (PBC) is a set of connected microservices that have been assembled to be used in a specific business context. 

However, PBCs are not equal to microservices. Microservices are the atomic components of larger software systems that use APIs to communicate with each other. Each of the independent components has a unique purpose and may be controlled independently to meet specific requirements. 

Packaged business capabilities, on the other hand, shape how those components work collectively toward a specific purpose. 

Image explaining packaged business capabilities

The term packaged business capability is very common in eCommerce, where it can be described as a set of eCommerce-related applications, products, and API-first microservices bundled together and presented as a standalone eCommerce solution. Some examples of eCommerce PBCs include platforms like BigCommerce and commercetools. 

The main idea of a packaged business capability is to offer a complete set of solutions as one package that performs a specific task. Since you need a minimum setup, the key benefit of such an approach is that businesses can save time and money by adapting this preconstructed set of tools.

Composable architecture vs. The composable architecture

Another term you might encounter online is The Composable Architecture (TCA). Even though it sounds almost the same, TCA is a library used to build applications for Apple operating systems.

4 benefits of composable architecture

Now that we’ve covered what composable architecture is, let’s look at what benefits it can offer.

1. Supports an omnichannel approach

In today’s world, customers are demanding more ways and channels through which they can connect with your brand. Adopting an omnichannel approach – that is, one where content is designed to reach multiple channels – is a solution to meet this new need.

Composable architecture allows you to embrace this kind of marketing through its flexibility. Because you can choose each individual technology you want to use, you’re free to add or subtract technology that supports your omnichannel needs. There's no limit to scaling, and since the components are designed to be reusable, it's fast and easy to grow in a way that's still optimized to each individual channel.

This also means you can adopt faster and easier. For example, let’s say you want to add a new channel. Thanks to the segmented nature of the system, it’s as easy as connecting it to the rest of your ecosystem. You don’t have to worry about how it’ll affect your other technology or channels.

2. Future-proofs your business

The only thing certain is that everything changes. This makes getting stuck with a rigid system a huge obstacle for businesses that want to keep up with a constantly shifting tech world. Composable architecture helps your organization be as agile as possible by offering a system that is always ready to adapt.

Thanks to the easy nature of integrating technology, the time it takes to add new programs or improve existing ones is drastically reduced. That means you can embrace the best and latest advancements with minimal friction, so you can start taking advantage of the improvements with as little downtime as possible.

You'll never have to build a solution from scratch - you can always rely on the reusable components you've created. Moreover, this also means for any changes you decide to make, they'll be as swift as possible with minimal downtime.

Best of all, you can repeat this process as many times or as often as you like. With composable architecture, there are no barriers between you and a timely, optimized CMS.

3. Offers independence from vendors

All-in-one systems may be convenient, but they also come with a key drawback: your total dependence on one vendor. If you want a function they don’t offer, you’re kind of stuck. You have to go through the difficult process of jerry-rigging your technology to get everything you need, making for a messy and precarious setup.

Composable architecture lets you build piece by piece. That means if one vendor doesn’t have everything you need, you can also use technology from a different one. All these disparate products will still be able to communicate and work together – without needing to rely on a vendor to do the connecting for you.

It also saves you money: you're only paying for what you need. This in turn can help cut down on any unnecessary, unused programs that might be taking up space in your system.

hint:

This best-of-breed approach is one way that composable architecture fits into the MACH (Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, Headless) principles. Learn more with our introduction to MACH architecture.

4. Composable architecture is naturally secure

Directly connected programs that you find in systems that don’t use composable architecture can be risky business. It’s kind of like a game of Jenga: thanks to the fact that it’s a monolith, one security risk or program failure could potentially crash your whole system.

Composability not only makes your system easier to use and more powerful, but it also makes it safer. Thanks to the fact that each piece of technology can operate independently, one element of technology crashing or being compromised will not affect others.

Instead, you can quarantine the risk, easily disconnecting it from your system and replacing it with something more secure. That makes composable architecture an easy way to safeguard user data, important records, and uptime promises.

Is composable architecture right for me?

Like most things in business, there's no one-size-fits-all for your system's architecture. However, there are a few key things to consider that can help guide your way.

You may want to consider composable architecture if you're:

  • A bigger organization with complex needs
  • Needing to integrate different systems or modify an existing one to an extreme degree
  • Still a growing organization, but one that's looking to continue expansion or experiment with new tools

On the whole, small, simple organizations might not find it worth their time and resources to invest in composable commerce. However, even this isn't a hard-and-fast rule. Each organization will have unique needs that determine if this approach is the right fit.

What is composable eCommerce?

Composable eCommerce applies the benefits of composable architecture to the programs powering an online store. For example, you may choose to use one technology for your check-out system, another for your inventory tracking, and a third for handling user accounts. Composable eCommerce combines all these different pieces of technology into a single system that allows you to harness the power of all of them without having to wrestle with all-in-one systems that don’t meet your needs.

What is composable content?

Composable content is a little different from composable architecture, but they’re based on similar principles. Composable content is an approach where you can create content using preset units. For example, you might have a unit that provides an area for text that users can then customize. The same goes for images, videos, and more. These act as building blocks for content creators, who can then easily add and customize them, creating streamlined results quickly and easily.

Key takeaways

In a fast-changing world, harnessing the ability to change right along with it will only become more important as user demands increase. Composable architecture allows you to adapt by providing the ability to combine the power of several different technologies into one single, powerful, flexible system that’s always ready for an upgrade. By building your organization on a system with composable architecture, you’re maximizing your ability to adapt, create, and grow.