Full disclaimer - we hate new buzzwords as much as the next person, but there's a new one that we've actually taken notice of that is gaining traction with enterprises, agencies, and everyone in-between – composable architecture.
Modern businesses are constantly evolving, and so are their digital needs. To future-proof enterprise technology, organizations need a flexible, scalable, and efficient digital infrastructure that will support future digital experiences.
Enter composable architecture, a modern approach that allows businesses to hand-pick and/or build the best technologies to fit their needs and assemble them into a powerful digital ecosystem. At the heart of this ecosystem are composable platforms like Directus, versatile platforms built on data that enable composable architecture (but more on that later.)
Before we shamelessly promote ourselves (promise we'll keep it objective until then 🙂), let's dive into what composable architecture is, why it's picking up steam, and how you can achieve it in your organization, agency, or for your clients.
What is Composable Architecture?
Composable architecture is a modern approach to building digital infrastructure.
Implementing composable architecture relies on an unopinionated and “headless” approach, which allows for both API-first thinking to centralize complex applications and a faster development process for building software systems.
While it's still a relatively fresh concept (don't you just love new categories?), there are three primary ways to work toward achieving a composable approach:
Method 1 - Connecting to existing systems via API 🔌
(AKA - the "Hub and Spoke" method)
- This method leverages existing, proven tech and eliminates the need to "reinvent the wheel."
- It can be quicker to get a project off the ground, because many services are already mature and tested, and you can tap into their scalability and reliability.
- It also allows you to have a certain level of adaptability, as you can easily switch to another service if the current one isn't meeting your needs.
- APIs can have limitations on the data or functionality they provide, which may not perfectly align with your requirements.
- Depending on the service, there can also be cost implications.
- Vendor lock-in is another concern, especially when the service changes its pricing, terms, or even discontinues certain features.
- And, the security of your data can be at risk if the third-party service experiences a breach.
Method 2 - Building from scratch 🛠️
- This approach provides complete control over your services' functionality, allowing for bespoke features and behavior.
- It can also mean you're not reliant on a third party for availability, security, and costs.
- It's more time-consuming and resource-intensive, and there's also the cost of maintaining and updating your own software.
- You'll need to have the necessary skills in-house, or the resources to hire external experts.
- It can also lead to longer time-to-market and scalability could be a challenge.
Method 3 - The hybrid method 🚀
- The best of both worlds!
- Retain complete control over functionality and still have the freedom to tweak and customize your stack to your needs.
- Reduce reliance on third parties for availability, security, and costs.
- Work toward building your own tooling on your own time.
- You need a fully extensible, scalable platform/stack that can handle APIs as well as the ability to build systems from scratch.
In a composable architecture, the digital infrastructure is not a monolithic entity, but a composition of multiple apps and/or tools built on top of a hub, or extensible foundation. By leveraging composable architecture and going hybrid, you're getting the advantages of this flexible approach in addition to real-time adaptability.
Each service is a building block that performs a specific function. These blocks can be assembled in different ways to create different functionalities, much like how you can build different structures using a single set of Lego blocks.
This approach provides several key advantages:
Modularity: Each service is a standalone module that can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently. This means you can update, replace, or build a service without affecting the rest of the system.
Flexibility: Because each service is independent, you can use different technologies for different systems, depending on what's best for each task. This allows you to leverage the strengths of different technologies and avoid being locked into a single tech stack.
Interoperability: Services communicate with each other through APIs, which are like universal translators. This means you can easily integrate new systems or swap out existing ones, regardless of the technology they use.
Scalability: You can scale each service independently, depending on its individual load and performance requirements. This allows you to efficiently use your resources and handle high loads without over-provisioning.
With Composable Architecture, you're not building a static system, but a dynamic, adaptable ecosystem.
To make the best decision of how to compose, you need to consider various factors such as your specific business requirements, available resources, and the timeline of your project.
Our recommendation? Lot of organizations opt for a hybrid model, where they build critical components in-house and use APIs for non-core components, but it really comes down to what best suits your particular situation.
Why Composable Architecture Matters
Defining why composable architecture matters is a complicated topic, so let’s break down each approach (and why it matters) with an analogy.
Connecting to Existing Systems via API
Imagine an orchestra. Each section - the strings, the woodwinds, the brass, the percussion - has its own unique set of instruments, each producing a distinct sound.
When played in isolation, these instruments create beautiful music, but it's when they come together under the guidance of a talented conductor that they create a symphony - a harmonious blend of sounds that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
This is the essence of composable architecture. Each component of your digital infrastructure - be it your CMS, CRM, PIM, or HR platform - is like a section of the orchestra.
Each has its own unique "sound," its own set of capabilities that it brings to your business. But without a way to bring them together, you're left with a cacophony of disjointed parts.
Just as a conductor guides the orchestra, ensuring each section comes in at the right time and plays at the right volume, a platform like Directus can guide your digital infrastructure.
It allows each component to operate independently while ensuring they work together to create a harmonious whole.
Building From Scratch
Building a full composable software architecture can be likened to constructing a house.
System components can be compared to the rooms of a house, with each room serving a specific purpose or function, just as each component in a system architecture performs a specific task or provides a particular functionality.
For example, in a house, you may have a living room for socializing, a kitchen for cooking, a bedroom for resting, and a bathroom for personal hygiene.
Similarly, in a composable system architecture, you may have components such as authentication, user management, data storage, and external API integration.
Just as rooms in a house can be customized and arranged according to the specific needs and preferences of the occupants, the components in a composable system architecture can be flexibly assembled and interconnected to create customized solutions.
What’s more, just like the rooms of a house have specific interfaces such as doors and windows for interaction with the outside world, the components in a composable system architecture have well-defined interfaces through which they interact with each other or with external systems.
These interfaces allow for communication, data exchange, and integration between the components, enabling the system to function as a cohesive whole.
Say you build a 3-bedroom house, and then a family member decides to move in, requiring you to expand the living space. You can knock out a wall, add a new room, or install an ADU in the backyard to accommodate changing requirements.
It’s the same with a composable system architecture – if the needs of your business change, the components in the architecture can be combined, modified, or extended.
So what about external cloud services, you ask? Well, continuing with the analogy, we can think of these as specialized functionality in the house that are designed to handle specific tasks and support the overall functioning of the house:
Security: Similar to a security system or locked entrance gate, authentication tooling in a software system handles user authentication and access control. It ensures that only authorized users can access specific functionalities or resources by verifying their credentials and managing user permissions.
Communication: Many modern homes have smart systems or intercoms to assist with household communications. Similarly, a notification can be responsible for sending out alerts, notifications, or messages to users or external systems based on specific events or triggers.
Maintenance: A timer for the sprinkler system ensures regular maintenance at designated intervals; the lawn gets watered three days a week at 7:00 a.m. Similarly, an automated backup can be added to your composable architecture to help maintain and protect your data.
Any number of new functionalities can be added to extend the functionality of the platform powering your composable architecture.
A composable architectural approach promotes scalability and reusability, helping to reduce development time and effort by leveraging pre-built, configurable modules.
By breaking down the system into composable, reusable components, teams can work on different modules concurrently, enabling faster iteration, experimentation, and adaptation to changing requirements. This way, you can accelerate time-to-market with new systems and services.
As the demand for additional system components grows, you can simply expand your composable system. Standardized interfaces and protocols facilitate interoperability, enabling seamless integrations of new components with the existing system.
And, since components are developed independently, bug fixes, updates, and enhancements can be applied to specific modules without affecting the entire system, minimizing the risk of downtime.
Build Anything or Everything with a Composable Platform
Directus is more than just a headless CMS; it's the only platform that enables true composability. Built data-first instead of content-first, it provides the framework for building a wide variety of applications, making it a perfect fit for composable architecture.
Directus is the first and only composable platform that supports composable architecture through its flexible, modular architecture, thanks to the following key features:
API-first approach: With Directus, content and data are exposed through a comprehensive and well-documented RESTful API. This API-centric architecture allows developers to consume and compose content from Directus with ease, integrating it seamlessly into various applications and platforms.
Customizable schema: Directus enables you to define custom schemas for your data, giving you full control over the structure and relationships between different types of data. This flexibility enables you to design a schema that aligns with your specific composability needs and allows for efficient composition of content across various channels or applications.
Extensible architecture: The extensible architecture of Directus supports custom extensions and hooks, enabling you to extend the core functionality of the platform to meet your project’s specific requirements and integrate with other systems seamlessly. Through this extensibility, you can add services, functions and data sources quickly and easily into the Directus ecosystem.
Role-based permissions: Directus provides granular role-based permissions for defining fine-grained access controls for different users or user groups. You can control access to different content types, fields or API endpoints, ensuring that only authorized users can compose or manipulate data and content in specific ways.
Webhooks and triggers: Webhooks and triggers can be used to automate actions or trigger external processes based on specific events or changes within the system. This capability allows you to compose workflows and integrations with other systems, enhancing the composability of Directus with external services or processes.
Content relationships: Directus supports defining relationships between different content types, such as one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many relationships. These relationships enable you to compose content across multiple types and establish meaningful connections between different pieces of content, facilitating content reuse and composition.
With these features and capabilities, Directus empowers developers to build composable systems that efficiently manage and deliver content across various channels, platforms, and integrations.
It provides building blocks that enable you to build 80% of your business capability - your “house” or “structure” - and the flexibility to adapt in an agile way to changing business needs.
With Directus, you can build any kind of application on top of it, whether that's a CMS, a Product Information Management (PIM) system, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, a Human Resources (HR) platform, or anything else.
In addition to building individual components, enterprise architects can use out-of-the-box tools like Automate to handle DevOps processes or Insights – our reports and dashboards builder – to visualize data for business analysts without the need for SQL.
The beauty of Directus is that everything is contained in a single hub. Its flexible data model and powerful API allow you to structure your data and interact with it in the way that best suits your application.
Directus can also be used as a composable platform. If you have an existing tech stack and you want to keep using it, you can use Directus's APIs to connect your different systems together.
This allows you to create a loosely coupled architecture, where each part of your system can operate independently and communicate with the others through APIs.
Open Source and Cloud-Native
Being open-source, Directus offers the freedom to customize and extend it as needed. This aligns perfectly with the principles of composable architecture, where each component of the system can be tailored to the specific needs of the business.
Plus, even though Directus is built in Vue.js, it is front-end and framework agnostic, and can be hosted on your own infrastructure, which gives you the flexibility to choose your preferred toolkit for your needs.
Get Your Composable Blueprint with Directus
Composable architectures are not just a trend; they’re the future of digital business infrastructure.
With Directus, you can embrace this future today. Build anything, connect everything, and create a digital ecosystem that can evolve with your business.
Experience how easy it is to enable composable with Directus. Tell us your needs and get a fully white-labeled foundation to get your company, agency, or customer started on the right track with a composable system architecture.