Serverless computing has been gaining popularity over the years as a means for building modern applications with greater speed and at lower costs. They allow developers to focus on their main product rather than having to concern themselves with managing or operating servers and runtimes.
What Is Serverless Computing?
Serverless applications are event-driven cloud-based systems. People who are interested in building web applications can access a cloud from which they can rent a fixed number of servers or amounts of server space remotely. This saves them the trouble of having to own physical hardware servers, which are often expensive and time-consuming to maintain.
Application development using cloud servers usually involves some combination of third party services, client-side logic, and cloud-based remote procedure calls.
Developers and those who rent serverless clouds usually over-purchase server space so that any spikes in traffic do not exceed their monthly limits and overwhelm their applications.
Serverless systems are becoming one of the most used cloud services in the modern era, and cloud providers have been spending heavily to keep up with the increasing demand for such services.
Some notable cloud services providers include:
- Google Cloud Functions
- AWS Lambda (Amazon Web Services)
- IBM OpenWhisk
- Alibaba Function Compute
- Azure Functions
Types of Services Offered by Cloud Vendors
Serverless systems typically handle back-end services such as database and storage services. Some will also provide Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) platform, which provides a platform in which customers can develop, run, and manage application functionalities without having to build and maintain the infrastructure required to develop and launch apps.
Such systems are able to execute pieces of code without having to store any data.
What Are Back-End Services?
Development of an application typically involves the interaction between distinct two areas: the front-end and the back-end.
Front end services are usually what customers see and interact with on the application or website they open on their devices. Forms, text, and images on websites are considered front-end.
Any interactions a customer would have with a website, such as filling out forms or running search functions triggers a request that is sent to the back-end. The back-end consults the data it has available and then provides the relevant data back to the front-end (i.e: the website). This selected data is then presented to the customer in a manner that satisfies their initial request.
Benefits of Serverless Computing.
Traditionally, applications would run on servers that required time-consuming maintenance that included patching and updates which needed to be monitored throughout the day and night to smooth out the errors that disrupt the application development process. You were responsible for their smooth functioning and operation.
The main advantage of a serverless system is that such tasks are taken care of for you by cloud vendors. This frees up precious time which could be better spent on the actual application development process.
These services however are not actually “serverless” as servers are still being used to provide backend services. The “serverless” aspect refers to the fact that concerns pertaining to server space and infrastructure are handled by the vendor rather than developers.
Serverless computing enables developers to purchase backend services on the basis of the services they use. This “pay-as-you-use” service charges developers only for the amount of server time they use.
Other advantages include:
- Low Costs: Serverless computing systems are considered cost-effective due to the “pay-as-you-use” model where you’re charged for the number of executions. With traditional servers, you’re often paying for space that is unused or times when the CPU is idle. The fact that you don’t have to pay for 24/7 server team to maintain your servers can also save you a lot of money.
- Flexible Scalability: Developers don’t have to concern themselves with scaling up their code as applications can be scaled automatically or by adjusting their capacity via toggling their throughput memory instead of individual server units.
- Faster Turnaround: Platform provided by serverless architecture can speed up the process of delivering the application to the market. This speedy deployment process makes it easier to add or modify code as needed without upending the entire application.
- Ease of Setting Up Environments: The pay-as-you-use model makes it easier to set up different environments for serverless systems. This is an improvement over traditional server systems that require development, staging, and production machines.
Drawbacks of Using Serverless Systems
Serverless systems also possess some drawbacks and limitations. These include:
- They Require Networking: Serverless functions can be accessed only as private application programming interfaces (API), and require an API gateway to access. The downside to this is that you can’t access serverless functions through your regular IP.
- Timeouts: It’s difficult to perform complex or long-running functions on serverless systems due to the 300 second timeout limit. This can make some tasks completely impossible to perform, and render serverless systems unusable for applications with variable execution times. This issue can also occur for services that rely on information from external sources.
- Scaling Can Be Flawed: Since the scaling process is automatic, there is little to control over it. This can make it difficult to resolve issues that could occur during scaling.
- Unpredictable Costs: One drawback of the “pay-as-you use” system is that the cost can sometimes be unpredictable due to the number of executions not being predefined.
Are Serverless Systems Right for Me
If you’re looking for faster setup, lower operation costs, and elastic scalability, then serverless systems are the right choice for you. However, they may not be suitable for all types of applications. Applications that feature lengthier and more complex functions would be better off using traditional server systems.
It’s best to consult the application developers and see what the requirements are for your application before making the decision to go with a serverless option.