MACH Architecture: What It Is and Why It Makes commercetools so Appealing to Enterprises
Sooner or later, this day comes for every ecommerce enterprise: your business outgrows its platform. Features turn into limitations, the architecture complexity leads to unexpected bugs, and the whole system becomes much more difficult to manage.
This is where MACH architecture steps in. Coined and advocated by commercetools, it’s a brand new, futureproof modular approach towards digital systems that boosts the systems’ flexibility, optimizes costs, reduces strain on staff, and improves UX and CX.
Want to reap these benefits? If so, here’s your guide to MACH architecture and what it entails. Spoiler alert: switching to a new architecture may seem intimidating at first, but it doesn’t have to be. All you need to do is prepare well for the transition – and have a reliable partner to work with.
At Elogic, we’ve consulted hundreds of retailers on switching to MACH architecture. As a commercetools development company, we’ve helped over 50 merchants avoid frequent and costly upgrades by building MACH-powered stores.
So here we are sharing what MACH architecture entails in practice based on our experience. In this guide, you’ll learn what MACH is, its four principles, key benefits, and ways to prepare for the MACH transition.
What Is MACH Architecture?
Let’s kick things off with the MACH architecture definition. MACH architecture stands for Microservices, API-First, Cloud-Native, and Headless and is a modern approach to building ecommerce systems from smaller, independent components which combines best-of-breed technologies into a single system.
This type of ecommerce website architecture decouples the system backend from its multiple frontends (also referred to as “glasses” in MACH). A single backend mediates all commerce transactions, while a merchant can create a truly omnichannel experience for the customers by adding user mobile applications, social commerce channels, marketplaces, IoT devices, etc. as the user interfaces.
Business functionality is defined by separate components (microservices) that communicate with each other and multiple frontends via APIs.
Here’s a MACH architecture diagram to illustrate the concept:
Here are four key differences between the MACH system architecture and its monolith counterpart:
Core functionality is hosted on a single codebase
Functionality is hosted on multiple, separate snippets of code
Frontends and business logic are tightly coupled
Frontends and business logic are decoupled and connected via APIs
The architecture relies heavily on plugins for enriching the functionality
The architecture relies on microservices and APIs for expanding functionality
All of the above leads to limited customization capabilities and subpar digital experiences
All of the above facilitates introducing changes to both the storefront and business logic
MACH Architecture Principles in a Nutshell
Now, what does MACH mean in practice? Let’s answer this question by breaking down what each letter of the acronym stands for.
M for Microservices
Microservices are mini-applications that make up the system. Each microservice is independent of others and has its own database. Think of microservices as the building blocks in the MACH software architecture developed, rolled out, and supported separately from one another.
Since every building block is independent, you can easily expand and tweak your functionality, one component at a time. Introducing changes to one microservice won’t disrupt the whole system, either.
For instance, such ecommerce leader as Amazon has been running exclusively on microservices since 2006. They have analyzed their previously monolithic system and pulled out units of code, which were later wrapped into a web service interface. Every system function has a different microservice now, like the Buy button on the product page or the tax calculation at checkout.
It doesn’t mean that all stores have to do the same way Amazon did. But enterprises will surely find it useful: imagine rolling out a feature update for your product catalog. The rest of the microservices will keep running as you do so.
A for API-first
APIs (application programming interfaces) are relays that allow two or more applications to communicate. Their main advantage is that they encrypt the underlying business logic of their applications, which is crucial for system security.
In the MACH architecture, APIs are the connecting lines between microservices, frontends, and third-party applications. Thanks to them, integrating new services is easier and safer.
Imagine a customer wants to log into their account in your online store. When they enter their login credentials, the frontend uses an API to send this data to the corresponding microservice and request a true or false response. The microservice compares the received data with the customer account database and uses the API to return true if the credentials are correct.
C for Cloud-native
Cloud-native doesn’t just mean your codebase is hosted in the cloud. It’s developed with cloud infrastructure in mind and deployed there from the get-go.
One of the biggest benefits of cloud systems is its pay-as-you-go (PAYG) pricing. In other words, the provider charges you for the resources you actually use. Plus, whenever you see a spike in traffic (like during the sales season), your cloud-native application can easily access more computing resources.
H for Headless
Headless refers to the architectural approach that separates the frontend (your storefronts) from the backend (business logic, functionality, and database). They communicate with each other through the API layer.
With a headless approach, you don’t risk disrupting your whole system if you want to change the storefront or one of your microservices. It also allows various user-facing applications to run on the same backend, thus creating a truly unified digital ecosystem.
For example, if you want to update the look of your online store, you don’t have to spend a single minute on tweaking the backend (provided the functionality remains the same). Frontend is where all the changes happen.
Now, imagine you want to launch a mobile app for your customers. If your existing ecommerce system uses the headless architecture approach, you don’t need to create the backend from scratch. This saves you time and money – and facilitates creating a smooth omnichannel user experience.
5 Reasons Why Enterprises Love MACH Architecture
Let’s review the five main reasons why enterprises find the MACH software architecture appealing.
Flexibility, scalability, and availability
With the building block approach to architecture, you can easily modify, replace, or remove existing microservices and add new ones. This allows you to quickly adapt to ever-changing market conditions and user preferences at a fraction of the time.
As for scalability, the cloud-native approach innately helps your digital system adapt to shifts in load. So, you don’t have to worry about unexpected downtime or poor performance.
Plus, updating cloud-native applications doesn’t require taking them offline thanks to continuous delivery (CD). The system will be available for your customers or staff at all times, preventing dips in productivity due to standstills and missing out on orders.
Monolith applications are synonymous with slower load times, all because they are large and have to load in full at once. In MACH systems, each lightweight microservice launches when it’s needed. That translates into lightning-speed performance.
The cloud-native approach to development also improves the performance of MACH systems. For one, it opens the door to unlimited computing resources – they’ll keep your systems smooth and fast even during peak times.
MACH architecture speeds up time-to-market for updates and upgrades. You don’t have to take the whole system offline to perform them, so you don’t miss out on sales. Connecting a third-party system to handle payments, for example, via an API is also faster and easier. This saves you money on development costs.
Plus, you only need to introduce changes within the scope of the frontend or one or several microservices.
The bottom line? You’ll be able to launch your frontends and upgrade them at a fraction of the cost.
Enhanced omnichannel UX/CX
Thanks to the MACH architecture headless principle, you can run multiple user-facing applications using the same backend. From your brick-and-mortar stores to social sales channels, you’ll ensure a seamless user experience across the channels.
For example, headless architecture facilitates cart syncing across multiple devices. This can help you reduce your cart abandonment rates.
Best tech stack possible
Under the MACH-based architecture, you don’t have to worry about the technologies’ compatibility when building your independent microservices and storefronts. The existing tech stack doesn’t limit you in your choices. No more settling for the lesser of the evils!
For example, in a platform solution, you may be able to integrate your system only with five most popular CRMs. So, if you find your perfect match but it’s not on the list, you won’t be able to use it. In contrast, the MACH architecture allows you to integrate any CRM as long as there’s an API available.
When it comes to the backend, each of your microservices can be written using the most suitable language and framework. For example, the data analytics module can run on Python, while Node.js powers order processing.
On top of that, if you ever realize you’ve outgrown a certain technology or it’s become outdated, you can easily replace it. The same goes for switching to a newly emerged technology that suits your needs better.
6 Things to Consider Before Moving to commercetools and MACH
commercetools is the ecommerce vendor that pioneered the headless and MACH approach to digital systems. It’s also the founder and the driving force behind the MACH Alliance.
So if you’re considering transitioning to MACH, commercetools is a futureproof solution for you. Keep in mind, however: it’s suitable for digitally mature companies only. Lack of digital maturity can easily cause change resistance and prevent your staff from using the new system to its fullest.
Think about switching to MACH? Here are six steps to get you ready to embark on your replatforming journey.
Define your reasons for replatforming
Why do you want to switch to MACH architecture, exactly? Consider every facet of your business to list all the issues and concerns that replatforming can address. Here are a few common signs you need ecommerce replatforming:
Implementing new features and rolling out updates is complicated and costly
Your store experiences unexpected downtimes during traffic spikes
The admin panel is inefficient and messy
Current functionality limits you in your sales and marketing strategies
Here’s why composing this list of reasons is crucial.
It’ll show you all the processes that the transition will touch.
It’s a great starting point for defining your replatforming goals.
It’ll help you educate everyone on your team on the tech vision.
Evaluate your digital maturity
Are you seasoned in digital transformation? Or is your business relatively new to it? If it’s the latter, a radical shift may overwhelm you and cause resistance to change. To mitigate those risks, take your time to outline gradual, step-by-step changes in a roadmap.
For example, when we were helping Enzio Manufacturing transition to MACH architecture, we took a few weeks to assess the client’s digital maturity. To that end, we looked closely at the operational processes and interviewed stakeholders before drawing up the roadmap.
To assess your business’s digital maturity, think about your teams’ expected learning curves. Then, determine what training and support they’ll need to successfully adopt the new digital system.
Examine the platform features
Now, it’s time to make sure you opt for MACH technologies that have all it takes to satisfy your needs. To assess the platform’s alignment with your goals, ask these eight questions:
Does it support microservices architecture?
Can you develop and change the frontend independently from the backend?
Does it allow adding and replacing systems independently?
Does it use the API-first approach?
What are its scaling capabilities?
Does it allow for continuous delivery (CD)?
How will you integrate your system with third-party services?
Can you get your hands on detailed, thorough documentation?
Plan, test, thrive
Replatforming requires thorough planning and testing. So, start with preparing your timeline and budget.
Before rolling out radical changes, testing their viability is also a good idea. To that end, develop a proof-of-concept, assess its reception among target users, and tweak it accordingly before you can call it a success.
Align your teams
If you don’t bring all the stakeholders on board, your replatforming aspirations won’t pan out. Both the decision-makers and your teams should be on board with replatforming – and understand how to make the most out of it.
When it comes to your IT department, you may need to reorganize its structure. Instead of larger teams specializing in particular tech areas (e.g., databases), prepare smaller teams that’ll care for each microservice.
If you’re struggling with your team structure for your MACH system, get in touch with us at Elogic! Our expert business consultants will help you determine the key roles for your project and even source the senior-level talent.
Choose your partners wisely
To guide you through this complex process, you need the right replatforming partner. But be wary: the “right” doesn’t necessarily mean “award-winning” or “acclaimed.”
The right partner is the one that can cater to your needs perfectly. They also have the expertise and skills that come in handy in your particular case, so you can rely on them. Make sure your partner is also certified (like Elogic is).
MACH architecture has an alluring promise: cutting costs, boosting flexibility and scalability, and improving the user experience. However, implementing it is no cakewalk. The microservices architecture is inherently complex and has to be well-thought-out.
That’s why having a reliable MACH replatforming partner is a must. Fortunately, you’re already reading the blog of one! We at Elogic have already helped numerous enterprises migrate their systems, making them competitive in the new digital realities. And we’d be happy to help you out, too.
Ready to discuss how we can be of service? Don’t hesitate to contact us!
Transition to MACH and commercetools without a hitch with Elogic
Drop us a line – and we’ll get back to you to discuss your needs.
What is the difference between MACH and composable commerce?
Both composable commerce and MACH have several principles in common:
separating frontend from backend
modular architectural approach
flexibility to build a best-of-breed stack
However, unlike MACH, composable commerce uses packaged business capabilities (PBCs) as its building blocks. PBCs are built around a specific business function and are typically larger in scope. (Although the two are very similar, and some microservices can qualify for the title of PBCs.)
What are some MACH architecture examples?
You’re in luck – we have aMACH architecture example among our case studies! Our client was a German B2B manufacturing company. Using commercetools, we helped them switch from the monolith ecommerce architecture to the MACH one, improving the UX in the process.
Founded by commercetools, the MACH Alliance is a not-for-profit organization that advocates for the adoption of MACH technologies. Its membersinclude BigCommerce, Vue Storefront, and Deloitte Digital. On the path to achieving its mission, MACH Alliance organizes events, educates, and provides resources on MACH Architecture. It also establishedMACH certification standards.
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