Serverless Computing: A Universal Fit
Many organizations are pushing for serverless architecture in every aspect of application development. Serverless is not just functions as a service. It basically consists of everything from handling request, data, notification, authentication, authorization, and more. More importantly, it has become a solution for companies of all sizes.
What Is Serverless?
Serverless applications do run on servers. It is just that the users are not the ones who provision and manage them. Computing resources are spun up to do a job for a very short time and are released for others to use. Cloud providers have built a vast amount of capacity and continue to do so. The idea is that not every single customer is going to need the maximum capacity at the same time. If it does happen, there can be a service outage and a blackout. This is something that the serverless service providers always factor into their ongoing effort.
Serverless also differs from all the other offerings by the way the cost is calculated. In a serverless model you pay for the commodities by per usage at a much more granular level. The usage is usually driven by an event and the amount of resources it consumes during the processing of that event. It is common to run a function for less than a second and to pay for every 100 milliseconds of usage as is the case with AWS Lambda pricing.
Scale Up and Down Without Any Commitment
Serverless providers guarantee scalability to most of their service offerings. This is the most attractive part for startups and startups within an enterprise. This allows the teams to innovate faster without a major investment in infrastructure.
Serverless As First Class Offerings
AWS has something called the Spot Instances where you could use unallocated resources for a much reduced cost with the understanding that it could be interrupted anytime. Spot instances are much more complicated than serverless offerings. Serverless services come with the promise that they will be able to scale as needed without interruption. This promise makes serverless a reliable first-class service for building critical applications.
Serverless Containers and Kubernetes
Azure and AWS both offer container services in a serverless mode. The idea is that Kubernetes is not for everyone to deploy and manage. Businesses should focus on deploying and scaling the applications without having to manage the underlying processes that help with scaling. Azure Kubernetes Service describes itself as serverless Kubernetes. AWS has AWS Elastic Container Services (ECS) with two modes of operation. For those who want more control, it can be run on EC2 mode. And for those who are not concerned about granular control, Amazon provides AWS Fargate, which is a serverless mode for containers.
Authentication In Serverless
Authentication in serverless is billed a little differently in terms of units of charge compared to traditional Identity as a Service (IDaaS). Serverless services such as AWS Cognito charge based on monthly active users (MAUs) and not based on requests. Other identity providers such as Okta, Auth0 have similar models. The difference from serverless pricing and that of Okta/Auth0 is that they offer tiers such as up to 1000 MAUs, 2500 MAUs etc.
Upgradable Application Design
Various upgrade nightmares are primarily related to the tight coupling of the services and underlying dependencies to other services. If applications can communicate via https and consider other services as blackboxes, it will significantly reduce the upgrade nightmare scenarios. Such a design does come with an upfront effort. The traditional model of Rest APIs’ is evolving. If you are making a lot of API calls from browser to server for single purpose, consider building applications with GraphQL. GraphQL acts as a layer between APIs and data sources reducing the number of calls to get the desired data. GraphQL has also gained some attention in AWS, Azure, and GCP communities in the serverless model. AWS provides AWS AppSync as their GraphQL engine while there are third party plugins and support for GraphQL on Azure.
Serverless Edge Computing
Edge computing is the next major application delivery model that has gone serverless. Every major cloud service provider offers edge computing capabilities. These are primarily geared towards the IoT devices. Edge computing is becoming critical especially for the businesses that have global user bases. Edge computing can be considered as an extension to the content delivery networks that we are used to. The main difference is that your serverless code runs close to the users.
It does not matter which cloud provider you use. The key to success is the ability to innovate fast. Application delivery is not like building a plane or space program where fast usually means a few years. In application development, teams are building and deploying applications in a matter of weeks. If you are new to serverless, start with functions and offload some of the workload. Then slowly expand to other services.
Serverless offerings are geared towards businesses that are startups or would like to act like startups and innovate faster. It is not a surprise that big companies are already spending millions of dollars in serverless services. The actual choice of what to use will require more than just the cost factor. Each and every business and their executives need to evaluate the right model based on cost, talent pool, and more importantly the organizational culture. Make your team the most valuable equation of all solutions. The industry is changing rapidly, but the core principles and need to solve the problems we face remains the same.
Published: July 8, 2019