Everything you need to know about MACH architecture

This blog post will provide a comprehensive definition of MACH architecture, highlight the pros and cons for this architectural pattern and provide a quick example.
5 mins reading time
Adam Sturrock | October 5, 2020

With the recent launch of the MACH Alliance you might be curious to know more about MACH architecture and why you should care about it.

What is MACH architecture?

MACH stands for Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, and Headless. Some solutions may exhibit one or more of these traits but providers must meet all of these criteria (amongst others) to become a member of the MACH Alliance. You and your business will reap more benefits and deeper rewards if your selected technology vendors, products and overall architecture follows a pure MACH approach. We’ll cover each trait in more detail below.

Microservices

M stands for Microservices. MACH architecture typically comprises multiple vendor solutions to create a whole solution. Each microservice solution typically serves a single function. Microservice-based architecture provides several benefits:

Pros

  • Easy to scale. Microservices can each be scaled independently in real-time based on traffic and demand for each individual service.

  • Reduced costs. As each service can be scaled independently you no longer have to over-provision server capacity to anticipate demand, this enables you to optimize your infrastructure costs. For example, if you’re running a flash sale, your cart, promotion and checkout services may need to scale up to process additional requests whilst your catalog can continue to be served at no additional cost from your Content Delivery Network (CDN).

  • High uptime. Downtime can be isolated to individual microservices in a decoupled architecture ensuring continuing or a slightly reduced service operations in a worst case scenario. If one service is down the others are still able to operate. Redundancy will need to be baked in should a critical path microservice (e.g. the cart or checkout) go down.

  • Vendor flexibility. You gain control over your entire architecture, enabling you to make smaller decisions to solve specific problems. This allows you to select best-in-class components for each area of your business, whether that’s on the frontend, backend workflow management or logic processing. You are also able to seamlessly write and integrate your own internal microservices that are independent and under your entire control.

  • Faster upgrades & release cycles. Each microservice can be updated independently from each other enabling the rapid release and roll out of new features, functionality and bug fixes that do not affect other areas of the system.

Cons

  • Complex architecture. An organization will require a technical team in order to implement and maintain a microservice-based architecture.

  • Developer bottlenecks. Complex architecture can lead to your technical team becoming a bottleneck when it comes to integrating new services or creating custom functionality.

  • Failover redundancy, The key weakness of microservices comes down to orchestration. In a decoupled or loosely coupled microservice architecture one microservice going down (such as the cart or checkout) may lead to a cascading effect within the integration points between microservices. Failover and redundancy will be required to ensure these errors are handled gracefully.

  • Increased operational overheads. Whilst it’s true that the software itself is likely to be more scalable and easier to optimize from a server resource perspective, you will likely need to hire an additional small team of developers to create new functionality and maintain this type of architecture.

API-first

The traditional monolithic approach to software design focused on creating “out-of-the-box” capabilities, and access via the APIs was typically an afterthought rather than the primary access point for a given feature. In an API-first solution, APIs are the bedrock of a product offering, ensuring full coverage of all features and functionality at a programmatic API level.

Pros

  • Any frontend. By being API-first you are free to select any frontend technology or framework whilst ensuring you’ll have access to implement any features required.

  • A better developer experience. A well designed, abstract and consistent API will reduce the learning curve for developers and masks some of the complex logic that happens behind the API-layer.

  • Accelerated time-to-market. With a reduced learning curve and the ability to implement any frontend technology or framework, you can deploy new solutions into the market rapidly.

Cons

  • Developer requirement. There’s really only a couple of downsides to APIs and that is you will need a development team on hand to implement. Similar to the drawbacks of microservices this may increase your operational overheads.

  • API-quality. API-first does not mean the API is well designed. Not all APIs are created equal and a deeper dive into the API and design decisions will need to be evaluated on a case by case basis by your engineering team.

Cloud-native

Cloud-native refers to software that is delivered via the SaaS model by default during product development. This excludes non-cloud-based software that has been put into the cloud after the fact. The SaaS model provides many benefits for businesses that adopt this approach.

Pros

  • Turn-key. SaaS solutions can be deployed rapidly with out-of-the-box.

  • Reduced complexity. SaaS abstracts complexities of hosting solutions by managing this for you.

  • Increased scalability. With SaaS deployed in the cloud, it can be auto-scaled to support traffic demands and match your long-term business growth without the headaches.

  • Robust & reliable. Cloud-native applications provide built-in redundancy by deploying their services to multiple data centers and availability zones to reduce latency and increase uptime and performance.

  • Automatic upgrades. New feature releases are handled seamlessly on your behalf, reducing overhead.

Cons

  • Black-box. The most important drawback in a purely cloud-native solution is that they are typically black boxes. This can sometimes be addressed to some extent by ensuring features are flexible, integrations are simple and the product is well documented.

  • Limited deployment options. It is unlikely that a cloud-native vendor will offer private cloud or on-premise deployment options.

  • Data security. Security is no longer in your hands and will need to be managed independently with each SaaS vendor you decide to purchase and use.

  • Troubleshooting. With cloud-native SaaS software it can be more difficult to determine where bugs and faults are located.

Headless

The term “headless” comes from the concept of separating the head (frontend) with the body (backend), with the two connected through APIs. For more information check our definitive list of Headless CMS resources.

Pros

  • Any channel. Being headless allows you to deploy multiple frontend experiences (heads) across any channel or device. This enables your brand to connect with customers at any touch point, wherever they are in their customer journey.

  • Flexibility. A headless CMS empowers businesses to select the right frontend tools, frameworks and languages that match their development teams skillset and the business requirements.

  • Lightning fast load times. By leveraging modern technologies and frameworks, page load times can be decreased dramatically which in turn increases SEO, organic reach and contpage conversion rates.

  • New business models. By separating backend business logic from frontend views and templates businesses are able to launch new business models and drive revenue growth. By leveraging a headless approach you could rapidly launch new sales channels such as social commerce, IoT/voice commerce or curbside pick-up experiences.

Cons

  • Increased cost and slower time to market. A frontend will have to be bought and integrated or built from scratch. This is relative though as it may only be slower to create a traditional grid-based template when compared to traditional template-driven SaaS. On the other hand it would be much faster to create a personalized, unique and differentiated experience with a headless architecture.

MACH vs Monoliths

Before a quick look at an example of MACH architecture, it may be helpful for you to understand what the alternative, legacy based, approach looks like in comparison.

For an in depth look, check out our Headless vs Traditional CMS comparison article.

MACH architecture in practice

The diagram below demonstrates a technology stack that follows MACH architecture principles and includes multiple Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless providers such as Amplience, Algolia and Commercetools. This diagram is an extract from one of our recent articles; MACH in practice with Harry Rosen.

This type of diagram provides a great overview of MACH architecture and how it can enable businesses to rapidly deploy and iterate on their customer experiences and business processes. Harry Rosen is now in a position where they can easily add new services, swap or remove services entirely to solve business challenges now and in the future.

Conclusion

MACH architecture draws many parallels to Service-Oriented Architecture but modernizes the approach considerably, taking advantage of multiple new technologies that spawned throughout the 2010s including the cloud (SaaS), API-first products and headless microservices.

MACH architecture is the new normal for businesses looking to compete in an ever changing, fast moving marketplace. By leveraging MACH architecture, businesses become more agile and proactive in their digital strategies as opposed to reactively making changes on a slower timescale with monolithic architecture.

Is your business technologically equipped with sophisticated architecture; giving you the edge over your competition? Want to learn more about how your business can benefit from MACH architecture? Speak to one of our solution architects today or check out our Headless CMS Buyer’s Guide.