What is serverless architecture
Serverless architecture is a way to build and run applications and services without managing the infrastructure. This means that instead of provisioning and managing servers, you can upload your code, and the cloud provider will run it for you, only charging you for the resources and compute time you use.
This can be done with AWS Lambda, Azure Functions, or Google Cloud Functions, for example. With these services, you can run your code in response to events such as changes to data in a database or new files uploaded to storage. Many cloud providers offer managed services, such as databases, authentication, and storage, that can easily integrate with your serverless functions to build complete, scalable applications.
It is considered a cost-effective solution as the user doesn’t have to pay for the underlying infrastructure but for the exact usage of the service.
Additionally, it allows for more efficient scalability, as the cloud provider can automatically scale the number of instances of your code running in response to changes in demand.
Serverless technologies operate on the principles of microservices. At first, the similarities are striking – event-based control. Both architectures use standalone modules that run to perform specific tasks in logical containers and are hidden from the eyes of the end user.
The difference is that microservices work on a request-response system. In Serverless, functions are unidirectional (only a request or a response) and queued. Instead of a single proxy function, Serverless uses a complex of unidirectional elements. If there is a bug, the application will not crash, and only one process will not be executed, instead of the whole set. In this case, the error is easier to find and fix.
Microservices also have to scale manually when there is a spike in load. Even if there is an autoscaling setting, you must work with each service separately, setting the necessary parameters. There is no such problem with Serverless – the headache goes to the provider.
A set of microservices still needs to be serverless. Serverless has its advantages, and working with the logic of microservices; it is straightforward to miss them.
It is optional for simple bots or microservices to introduce all the planned features into the application simultaneously. You can start and add as you expand. Scaling is automatic and virtually unlimited.
Serverless technologies allow you to integrate into an existing application quickly. In this case, almost all platforms provide APIs (via REST or message queues) with which you can develop add-ons independently of the application core.
Serverless technologies inherit the qualities of both cloud services and microservices in general.
In odes to the clouds, it always sounds something like this: you don’t need to purchase equipment, select a suitable room and hire a system administrator – and it’s good if only one. And pay as you go.
Microservices are loved for their simplified internal code for simple functions, fast turnover due to the ability to change and add code in parts without worrying about whether the whole project will fall, and limitless horizontal growth.
Learning the basics of using serverless technologies is easier and faster than learning full-fledged DevOps development. The lower the entry threshold, the easier it is to find a suitable specialist, and the sooner you can deal directly with the project.
You don’t have to figure out the bandwidth requirement; serverless solutions automatically scale with incoming traffic. There is no need to configure and maintain Kubernetes or monitor the state of containers.
The interaction principles between serverless technologies and containers are reminiscent of Docker – both are great for working with microservices. Serverless technologies save time and nerves for those who do not want to worry about the architecture. Still, Docker provides independence from the service provider and absolute control of the project at any stage.
Main features of serverless architecture
- Abstraction. You do not control the server on which your program runs. You don’t know anything about it; all the nuances of the operating system, updates, network settings, and other things are hidden. This is done so that you can focus on developing helpful functionality rather than server administration.
- Elasticity. The Serverless service provider automatically provides you with more or less computing resources, depending on your application’s load.
- Effective cost. If your application is idle, you pay nothing because it does not use computing resources at this moment. Payment occurs only for the time that your application works.
- Limited life cycle. Your application is launched in a container, and after a short time, from ten minutes to several hours, the service automatically stops it. Of course, a new container will be launched if the application needs to be called again.
Benefits of serverless architecture
- Deploy and run. The cloud provider manages the infrastructure resources. In this way, the internal IT service can focus on the business use case for software applications rather than addressing the underlying hardware. Features allow users to deploy the application assemblies and configuration files to provide the required hardware resources.
- Failsafe. Since the coding of serverless applications is logically separated from the underlying infrastructure, hardware failures have minimal impact on the software development process. Users are not required to manage applications themselves.
- Low operating costs. The infrastructure and operations management tasks are managed by cloud providers, allowing the organization to focus its efforts on building software features. Applications are released faster, resulting in faster feedback from end users and, therefore, further improvements over the subsequent software release cycles.
- Optimized billing based on usage. The pay-as-you-go billing model is well-suited for small and medium-sized (SMB) organizations that need more capital to build and manage on-premise data centers. The current OpEx model has optimized features tuned against potential over-provisioning and under-utilization of resources.
- Built-in integrations. Most cloud service providers offer integrations with various services that allow users to focus on building high-quality applications rather than customizing them.
Shortcomings of serverless architecture
- It would help if you maintained backward compatibility because another service/function could depend on your interface or business logic.
- The interaction schemes in a classic monolithic application and a distributed system are very different. It is necessary to think about asynchronous interaction, possible delays, and monitoring of individual parts of the application.
- Although your functions are isolated, the wrong architecture can still lead to cascade failure – when a mistake in one of them leads to the inoperability of many others.
- The price of great scalability is that until your function is called, it is not running. And when you need to start it, it can take up to several seconds, which can be critical for your business.
- When a request from a client goes through a dozen functions, it becomes tough to debug the possible cause of the error, if any.
- The so-called vendor lock. Functions developed for AWS will be complicated to port to, for example, Google Cloud. And not because of the processes themselves, JS is also in Google JS, but because you rarely use Serverless functions in isolation. In addition, you will use a database, message queues, logging systems, and so on, which is entirely different from provider to provider. However, if you want to, you can make this functionality independent of the cloud provider.
For what tasks is it better to use serverless
Serverless computing is best suited for cases with uneven loads with peaks in consumption. Where their application provides effective cost management and cheaper data processing, based on this, we can distinguish the following scenarios for using serverless:
- Cloud management optimization. Serverless allows not only to automate the management of cloud resources but also to move to FinOps practices – cloud cost management based on the analysis of big data and business needs. For example, you can adjust the number of virtual servers so that the bill from the cloud provider does not exceed the planned values.
- Connecting telegram bots to monitor the status of information systems. This is a convenient and requested feature for the IT department of any business.
- Data collection from IoT devices – consumer (smart watches, scales, kettles, motion and light sensors in houses, etc.) and industrial (weather sensors, facility security systems, smart farms, greenhouses, etc.). As a rule, data from IoT devices is collected and sent to the cloud at a particular time. The rest of the time, smart devices “sleep.”
- Working off-peak loads on IT infrastructure. Relevant for online stores and delivery services, which are characterized by surges in demand. For example, during sales and on the eve of holidays, although, most likely, there is a basic minimum level of resources used in this type of business and systems.
- Testing marketing theories and creating and bringing to market an MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Serverless is effective when you need to create something new with unpredictable results and be able to make mistakes quickly and cheaply. This is what the startup industry needs.
When to avoid serverless architecture
When building cloud applications, there are better choices than serverless. You may want to ditch the serverless architecture altogether when it comes to the following situations:
- Fixed architecture applications. Software that requires explicit support and immutability of the underlying architecture. Security-sensitive and standalone software use cases in the defense and financial industries often face these requirements to ensure high application reliability.
- Tightly controlled environment. Use cases that require tight control over hardware and lower levels of the IT network, such as installing specific components, patching, and changing the hardcoding configuration.
- Low latency applications. Although the serverless architecture features are designed to provide speed at the system level, not all incoming requests and transactional operations are processed efficiently.
- Pre-migrated applications. A serverless architecture offers limited business value for legacy applications that have yet to move to the cloud because the internal IT service must manage the hardware regardless of the application’s architecture choice.
- Application performance limitations. Serverless functions face restrictions regarding capacity, speed, and execution time. The performance of serverless functions must meet or exceed the capacity limits of serverless services, such as the AWS Gateway timeout.
Because of these issues, a serverless architecture is usually not ideal for high-performance, complex application builds.
Future of serverless architecture in 2023
Serverless architecture is a relatively new technology and is still evolving, but it is widely believed that it has a bright future. As more companies adopt cloud computing and look for ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency, the adoption of serverless is likely to continue to grow.
One of the significant benefits of serverless is its ability to automatically scale to meet changing demand, which can help reduce costs and improve the customer experience. As more organizations seek to build scalable, highly available applications, serverless is likely to become an increasingly attractive option.
Additionally, as cloud providers continue to improve their offerings and make building and deploying serverless applications more accessible, more developers will likely begin to adopt this approach. This will lead to the development of more serverless-specific tools, frameworks, and best practices, further increasing its popularity.
Another important aspect is the increasing focus on the environment. In this case, the power consumption and serverless architecture are considered a more eco-friendly solution as it reduces the need for idle capacity, which could help reduce the environmental impact of the cloud.
In conclusion, serverless architecture’s future looks promising as more organizations adopt cloud computing and cloud providers continue to improve their offerings. It is expected to become a more critical part of many organizations’ IT strategies in the coming years. It will be a popular option for building highly available, scalable, cost-effective applications and services.
Many companies are already building their IT systems in a microservice architecture, relying on containers in Docker and Kubernetes. The nature of the work of such applications in many scenarios is uneven, and these are the cases where serverless computing is most effective. In the next couple of years, companies will start using serverless computing as an alternative or addition to containers and microservices.
Why is this business? In the first stage, the costs of operating applications will be significantly reduced. In the future, this approach will simplify and reduce the cost of scaling them, increase the level of information security and make it easier to integrate applications with third-party services.
In conclusion, serverless architecture is a way to build and run applications and services without managing the underlying infrastructure. This allows organizations to focus on writing code and to make their applications while the cloud provider handles the provisioning, scaling, and management of the servers. Serverless provides several benefits, including cost-effectiveness, better scalability, automatic scaling, and environmental sustainability. The future of serverless architecture looks promising as more organizations adopt cloud computing and cloud providers continue improving their offerings, making it easier to build and deploy serverless applications. Serverless is expected to become essential to many organizations’ IT strategies in the coming years. It will be a popular option for building highly available, scalable, cost-effective applications and services.