Self-Contained Systems

Assembling Software from Independent Systems

Why SCS?

There are many reasons why we think SCSs are appealing. This page gives an overview of the most important ones.

Disappointed by Monoliths

Monoliths are large applications that must be deployed as a whole. They are hard to develop and maintain in the long run. The architecture rots because it is too easy to introduce new dependencies — all it takes is a developer who decides to use a class in a piece of code where they really shouldn’t. Also it takes long and it is complex to test and deploy the monolith. Finally, if the monolith cannot be maintained anymore it is essentially impossible to replace it. So we need smaller, isolated deployment units that still fit a business purpose and ideally also have an impact on the development organization.

Local Decisions

A decision for a technology or architecture in one SCS is local to that SCS. Changes for new requirements should be limited to one SCS as it implements a functionality all by itself. Pretty much all decisions concerning technology and many concerning architecture are local to a single SCS. We have seen a lot of large monoliths fail. More isolation on the architectural level promises to make even large projects feasible.


An SCS is a natural unit in many regards. If one SCS fails, it will not affect the other SCSs just because it is a separate process and does not really interact with the other SCS. This makes high availability easier. Also, from a security perspective, they are better isolated against each other. If one SCS is compromised it does not necessarily mean that the others are compromised, too.

(Independent) Scaling

Each SCS can run on one or multiple servers to deal with high load. Each SCS also manages its own data persistency, and ideally does not share a central data persistence system with other SCSs. Also it should communicate as little with other SCSs as possible and only asynchronously. Thus, increased local demand can be managed by scaling locally.


Each SCS can be replaced. Quite a few projects try to replace legacy systems. Those projects are usually quite complex and have a high risk. Because each SCS can be replaced independently, a migration is much easier.

Playground Effect

It is much easier to try out new technologies and approaches. A decision for a new technology can be limited to one SCS. So a technology can be tried out with little risk but it will still run in production. That avoids that the system will use outdated technologies. Also, migrating to a new technology is easier.

Integration with Legacy

A legacy system might be enhanced with some SCSs and slowly be migrated — without touching a lot of the code. The default integration of SCSs is through web UIs. It is often quite easy to integrate the SCSs with the legacy system.


An SCS is usually a good unit of software for a team to work on. It provides a business functionality, so a team can work on stories for just one SCS. That way SCSs can influence the organization of the project — according to Conway’s Law.


We have seen this architecture work in many projects. We believe it solves some of the current challenges in software development. See also the links — quite a few people find the approach helpful.