There is no better way to explain the boom for serverless architecture and cloud computing than to quote Gartner’s words:
“Serverless architectures enable developers to focus on what they should be doing — writing code and optimizing application design — making way for business agility”.
A serverless architecture (or serverless computing, in other words) is a hot technology with a catchy yet slightly misleading name. Though it may imply a completely server-free approach, serverless services and applications de facto run on servers. The magic beneath is that organizations and app creators don’t have to worry about managing the physical servers that host their codes.
How does serverless architecture work, what are its benefits, when to use it, and what are the most popular vendors? Let’s consider the answers in this short guide.
What is serverless architecture?
Long story short, it is a model of cloud services in which the developer focuses solely on creating business logic and not the infrastructure on which it is to be executed. As mentioned before, physical servers do actually exist. The point is that when creating a serverless solution, you don’t have to hire a highly specialized DevOps engineer responsible for setting up the machines, configuring networks, or updating operating systems. This leads to a significant cost saving, as DevOps are currently almost the most high-paid specialists on the market.
The whole responsibility of server management is handed over to serverless service providers, with Amazon, Microsoft, and Google being the Big Three. At the same time, serverless architecture is a different approach to software development. App builders combine various services (building blocks) that are available in the public cloud. This way, code written by developers is run using only precisely the number of resources that are necessary to support them.
When a predefined event occurs, the serverless platform runs the task. Thus, the developers or platform owners don’t have to predict how many times the function or event will be used – they simply pay a minimal fee each time the core is run.
This approach delivers highly scalable solutions with improved app performance at optimized costs.
To put this more straightforwardly, it’s usually a cheaper solution.
The whole system relies on cloud vendors and we can distinguish between two models:
- BaaS (Backend-as-a-Service) allows programmers to focus on the front-end side of their projects and not bother with back-end development tasks such as database management, cloud storage, or hosting. Using BaaS services drastically reduces development costs and the time needed to release applications, since developers don’t have to work on code for back-end activities related to e.g. databases.
- FaaS (Function-as-a-Service) is an event-driven model that performs and charges for small modules of code. When some events occur in an app, a function like opening a particular window in an app or the submission of a form by a user is triggered. A cloud-based vendor (such as Amazon Web Services, IBM OpenWhisk, or Google Cloud Platform) runs these events on their servers and charges the app owners for every event that occurs. The main benefits of this approach are excellent scaling and cost-efficiency.
When to use a serverless architecture?
Serverless architecture is an excellent solution for online business needs. It allows quick scaling, faster and cheaper software development, as well as improved performance. All of these are great news to business-oriented IT professionals because all of the resources saved on back-end development can be furtherly invested in future development.
Including serverless architecture in your business may benefit your goals, especially if you’re planning your app to:
- have unpredictable or rapidly changing development or scalability needs
- be based on multimedia that require complex data processing
- utilize IoT technology
About Amazon Web Services (AWS)
AWS is the largest and most popular public cloud in the World. Currently, it includes over 160 services from an extensive range. Examples include computing power, storage, artificial intelligence, blockchain, Internet of Things, Augmented Reality, and even the Amazon Ground Station service for satellites.
What made AWS so famous? Amazon claims a couple of possible reasons:
- The broadest offer,
- The highest security,
- The largest community of users and partners,
- The fastest pace of innovation implementation,
- The biggest community to have already tested their solutions.
Six reasons to go serverless
Although serverless architecture is not a magic solution for any organization’s problems, it does offer several substantial advantages.
A significant increase in go-to-market speed
Let’s state the obvious: less time spent on development, deployment, and other operations mean that your users will be able to enjoy your app much sooner. FaaS functions are a lot easier and faster to deploy than whole dedicated servers.
Cutting an app’s operational costs
When deciding on the serverless approach, you outsource some part of the development and maintenance to a third-party provider. Then, for a fee, they manage the servers and databases of thousands of companies, with which you share servers and hardware, etc. This sharing economy solution appears to be much cheaper and more efficient when it comes to the time your developers need to maintain your application. Plus, you pay only for what is used.
Reduced development costs
The serverless BaaS approach comes down to sharing whole application components with other companies that use the exact same logic in their products. There’s no need to spend more time and money on reinventing the wheel. Serverless allows you to utilize ready-to-use back-end mechanisms that have been polished to perfection by many developers and are proven in battle.
Reduced scaling costs
The Feature-as-a-Service model allows your application to scale automatically, growing together with your customer base. The process is completely taken care of by a provider and, importantly, you can start small then let the server costs grow proportionally to your business development. After all, you only pay for the capacity that you need at any given moment.
Easier operation management
Without any back-end infrastructure to worry about (as this is entirely the vendor’s responsibility), you don’t even have to think about the infrastructure maintenance tasks that would keep you up at night. Neither, software updates, security, nor any system administration are your problems any longer.
More efficient capacity management
With the old approach, you would have to make decisions regarding the capacity you might need for a while, based on, at best, predictions by your team. Unfortunately, this often means underestimating or overestimating. The former creates a problem for your users and potential server crashing issues. The latter means not utilizing the total capacity that you are paying for. In both cases, you lose money. Fortunately, such problems won’t occur with serverless architecture.
Top serverless alternatives to Amazon Web Services
Although AWS is the reigning king of serverless solutions, there are plenty of others you can choose from. Let’s consider a few of the most frequently used ones.
Google Cloud Platform
Google Cloud’s serverless solution allows developers to build applications using containers, making the dev experience easier. Google Cloud Platform is perfect for apps that use Big Data, advanced analytics, and machine learning. One of its most significant advantages is fast response times.
Microsoft Azure Serverless
Azure holds the market tightly, especially when it comes to enterprise customers – most of which utilize Windows and Microsoft software. So when they entered the cloud market, Microsoft simply took its old on-premises software like Windows Server, Office, Sharepoint, .Net, and others, then moved them to the cloud.
Qinling is a FaaS for OpenStack. The main goal of this project was to create a platform that would support serverless functions (like AWS Lambda), function package storage solutions (such as local, Swift, or S3), and container management platforms (Kubernetes, for example).
Serverless’s users praise its easy learning curve and rapid development, which is reflected in the numbers – over 36.6K stars on GitHub and 15M downloads at the time of writing (with numbers still growing!).
Is the future serverless?
According to a survey conducted by O’Reilly on 1.5K programmers, 40% of them have faced serverless architecture in their companies.
In 2020, a DataDog survey showed us that over 50% of AWS users are now using the serverless AWS Lambda Function as a Service (FaaS).
The global forecast for 2021 indicates that:
“The Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) market size is estimated to grow from USD 1.88 billion in 2016 to USD 7.72 billion by 2021, at an estimated Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 32.7%.”
And those numbers shouldn’t shock anyone. We’re all surrounded by software daily, and the market is getting more competitive than ever before. So software developers, investors, Venture Capitals, and even business owners need solutions to make releasing app iterations faster and cheaper.
Serverless architecture seems to be the perfect solution to that, with a vibrant community constantly testing, building, and improving existing solutions as well as creating new ones.
Here at CrustLab, we sincerely believe that the future is serverless. It makes creating software more affordable and inclusive, which boosts creativity and the quality of the market. In addition, optimizing development, deployment, and maintenance processes as well as conveying part of the responsibility to third-party solutions lowers costs both financially and environmentally (shared-economy solutions are proven to reduce the amount of energy required to maintain servers).
We’re not saying that this solution comes with no limitations, and it’s not the way for everyone to go. But if you think your business could benefit from implementing a FaaS or a BaaS model or have any other questions, please contact our team.