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Thought Leadership

3-Tier is Dead; Untangling spaghetti complexity calls for new paradigms

As the pace of digital transformation is accelerating, ISVs and software businesses across diverse domains are struggling to keep up due to their legacy burden. Consider the following scenario, which is the norm in the ISV world:

  • 2/3 of time & budget is spent on handling customer escalations, leaving little room for innovation
  • Even though there is a consistent demand to deliver software over the cloud, as a service (SaaS), many ISVs are not only not ready, but are also reluctant to share with their customers that they will have to re-architect their legacy software, which will be a herculean effort
  • ISVs are scared to touch the database schema of their legacy software, as it has thousands of tables with hundreds of foreign-key dependencies, sometimes even developed by people that are no longer with the company

Twisted, convoluted, and tangled world of spaghetti code

I can fully relate to this situation. Having spent a significant part of my career with Baan, which was the 2nd largest ERP software (only trailed SAP in the 90’s), with thousands of customers (including Boeing), I was used to the following:

  • 3,000 tables and hundreds of Foreign Key (FK) relations
  • 10,000 screens
  • 1 major customer Boeing with 35,000 users across 80 sites, all concurrently using a single, massive database

Can you imagine how nightmarish it would be to maintain a massive software with this kind of complexity?

This is precisely what happened to enterprise software. It has become twisted, convoluted, and tangled and came to be known as spaghetti code, a synonym for unmanageable legacy applications struggling to handle massive modules with loads of code and data complexity.

In my view, even though there are multiple reasons for the complexity of enterprise software, the biggest factor is:

“Traditional 3-layer thinking and databases with hundreds of FK relations are the root cause of all software complexity”

CRUD is Crude

As most developers and users of enterprise software have discovered over the past 15-20 years, the traditional 3-tier architecture that has evolved as the de facto standard for enterprise software, has serious limitations in a fast-changing technology and business landscape:

  • Especially in large enterprise-scale applications, the explosion in number of modules with interdependent data and business logic, ended up creating huge complexity.
  • This interdependence means, for even small changes the entire application has to be modified and tested, which makes it impossible to be agile in a fast-changing world.
  • The interdependence between various modules, makes the application very inflexible.
  • As all functional components of a module are tightly coupled, independent scaling of components of an application is impossible.
  • Often, due to bad design and development practices, clear separation of concerns is not implemented, making it difficult to modify the UI or change the business logic.
  • The conventional frameworks used to develop the UI-layer are not responsive and cannot meet the demands of the new class of devices.
  • CRUD is crude: Relational databases that are widely used by most enterprise applications, and the basic CRUD (Create-Read-Update-Delete) operations for data access and storage, were very well-suited to meet the needs of structured data. But, they are not at all suitable to model and store connected data, which leads to extreme complexity. On top of that due to the proliferation of data and foreign key dependencies, even smallest changes to schema have become heavyweight. The conventional relational databases are built for stability, and not for complexity or business agility.

In a nutshell, legacy software applications built with traditional 3-tier architectures are complex and interdependent, and can’t be scaled, upgraded and maintained easily, or to put it simply:

3-tier is dead

It’s clearly evident that traditional 3-tier architecture and relational databases can no longer meet today’s technology and business needs.Untangling the spaghetti complexity and modernizing legacy applications has three distinct facets:

  • Architectural modernization
  • Organizational transformation
  • Delivery decoupling (or deployment modernization)

We strongly believe that architectural modernization should drive transformation of software organizations and enable deployment modernization for delivery decoupling. 

In this newsletter, we will focus on modern architectural paradigms that will help overcome the spaghetti complexity of legacy applications.

thought leadership title

“The microservice architectural style is an approach to developing a single application as a suite of small services, each running in its own process and communicating with lightweight mechanisms, often an HTTP resource API. These services are built around business capabilities and independently deployable by fully automated deployment machinery. There is a bare minimum of centralized management of these services, which may be written in different programming languages and use different data storage technologies.”

– Martin Fowler

Compared to traditional 3-tier architecture, Microservices offers the following advantages:

  • Loosely coupled services that are better aligned with business and domain functionality, and which can be independently deployed
  • Each microservice will have its own database, avoiding the need for data sharing and tight coupling; when needed, data sharing between microservices is accomplished through asynchronous messaging and event sourcing avoiding the need for foreign keys and cumbersome SQL JOINs
  • Decomposition into granular services makes it easier to upgrade, maintain, and modify services whenever there is a business need, and not the entire module or application


While traditional relational databases such as MySQL met the needs of structured data, they are not well-suited to handle unstructured data, multiple datatypes, and relations between data. Over the past few years, popular NoSQL databases such as MongoDB, Apache Cassandra, and Redis have emerged as powerful alternatives, and offer the following benefits over relational databases:

  • NoSQL databases allow you to stuff data into a database without defining a formal storage structure ahead of time
  • NoSQL databases don’t need rigid schema, making them lightweight
  • NoSQL databases are elastic and scale better, as they are designed to run on distributed and clustered environments

Event Sourcing (ES) and CQRS to overcome the limitations of CRUD

In the traditional Create, Read, Update, and Delete (CRUD) model of data persistence, typical operations such as reading data from the store, making modifications, and updating the current state of the data with new values, are done through transactions that lock the data. In a modern context with huge data volumes, this approach has the following limitations:

  • In collaborative environments with lots of concurrent users, data conflicts are likely as the update operations are performed on a single data item.
  • In the absence of a data log, information on changes made i.e. history is lost.
  • NoSQL databases are elastic and scale better, as they are designed to run on distributed and clustered environments

In the past few years, Command Query Response Segregation (CQRS) pattern, in combination with Event Sourcing (ES), has evolved as a powerful architectural paradigm to overcome the limitations of CRUD, and offers the following advantages:

  • Event Sourcing records all changes to an application state as a sequence of events in an event store or event log
  • Event log can be used to completely rebuild the application to any desired state
  • As events are simple objects that can be saved through an append operation, they offer better performance and scalability, compared to complex relational stores.
  • ES enables traceability of changes and audit logs
  • CQRS pattern establishes clear segregation of responsibilities between Write and Read models, as opposed to CRUD where all operations are executed through RPC.
  • Using CQRS and ES, write model captures all changes as events in a separate write-side store, which can be appended using simple Insert operations.
  • Similarly, the read model builds the latest application state using the same events from a read-side store to support queries

Goal-oriented UI/UX frameworks

Perhaps the biggest paradigm shift is in our approach to UI/UX design. Most legacy applications were designed for a specified, pre-defined input/output pattern, and very often the presentation layer is tightly integrated with business logic, making it very difficult to change. Traditional UI/UX is also mostly CRUD-driven with mass input and output. Now the current generation of applications demand goal-oriented UI/UX based on roles, tasks, state, and must be responsive to support a wide range of devices ranging from desktops to handhelds to mobile and wearables. At the same time, in addition to the standard keyboard-based input, they must also support user interactions from multiple sources including speech, vision, gestures, and touch. Some of the popular UI/UX responsive frameworks used for creating modern, digital applications include Bootstrap, Foundation, Skeleton, CreateJS etc.

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Thijs Petter team cto 250x250 1

Launches Technology Innovation Center (TIC): coMakeIT announced the launch of its Technology Innovation Center (TIC), which will bridge the gap between the potential of emerging technologies and their practical usage in a complex business and regulatory environment. The TIC will continuously evaluate disruptive technologies and bring them into practice through execution of PoCs, partnerships with technology vendors, trainings, and participation in beta programs.

innovation at work event image

10-yr club: In this past quarter, two more colleagues have reached the 10-yr milestone with coMakeIT. Sashikanth, a key member of the executive leadership team, and Ganesh, an architect with Keylane team were recognized for their longevity, for their contributions to the growth of coMakeIT, and enabling the success of numerous customers over the years.

10 yrs club

Inspiration session with MPO: MPO, a coMakeIT customer and fast-growing provider of innovative software solutions to the logistics industry, hosted an inspiration session on March 7th, at their Rotterdam offices on the theme: co-Innovation with agile teams.Many technology companies that were interested in exploring offshoring and collaborative innovation participated in the session. Paul van Dongen (co-founder and CTO), and Ronald van den Heuvel (VP of software) of MPO, shared their experiences and best practices in working with distributed development teams.

MPO cmi session

Wall-of-Art: This initiative is a big hit and very popular with all our employees. In the previous quarter, three rounds of competition were held for the wall-of-art, which saw very enthusiastic and high-quality participation. The art works and the winners for various rounds can be seen here.

wall of art issue2