Russ Miles on Antifragility and Microservices

Authors: Ralph Winzinger, Russ Miles

Currently, Antifragility and Microservices are trending topics and this might be a hint that there are new architectural paradigms or design patterns on their way for building application systems. InfoQ discussed these new concepts with Russ Miles to find out what they are good for and how to apply them in an architect’s or developer’s daily business – for existing applications and those to come

InfoQ: In the recent months, Antifragility and Microservices became trending topics. It seems there might be new architectural paradigms on the horizon. Could you please tell us a little bit about Antifragility? At a first glance, it seems to be the same as robustness …

Russ: Antifragile was a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book of the same name. This fantastic book explores antifragility as the opposite of fragility, rather than robust.

My main takeaway from Taleb’s position in his book is that systems that are fragile will typically collapse in the face of stressors (change being one big group of stressors, especially on software).  Robust systems at best ignore stressors, and at worst resist them. Antifragile systems not only embrace the stressors on them, but in fact improve and thrive in the face of those stressors.

Applying this thinking to software is an interesting challenge, as one of the main tenets of Taleb’s thought is that it is organic systems that exude the clearest examples of antifragility. One analogy is to think of a muscle that, when placed under periodic stress say from lifting weights, will react by eventually being stronger. The muscle system has improved in the face of manageable stress. Of course there is a limit to the stress that the muscle can take, but that is true of any system.

So in fact what antifragile software is all about is attempting to bring these same organic qualities to software, and there is a fair amount of debate in the international software development community on how this could be achieved.

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