Development costs are not the only expense in the software life cycle. As practice shows, updates and bug-fixing after the initial go-live take up to 80 percent of the total costs of the project. Can a serverless architecture save your wallet and help reduce your project costs significantly beyond the development of your software solution?
In a nutshell, despite its name, this type of architecture doesn’t work exactly as it sounds: applications still use servers to operate. So what exactly is serverless architecture? What are its main specifics? For which applications is it the best option? Let’s find out all of these in our article.
Serverless architecture (also known as serverless computing) as one of the main cloud trends provides on-demand interaction with the cloud provider’s capacities, i.e. serverless functions are only run the moment a certain event is triggered. Upon completion of the operations, the function and the working environment involving servers are immediately shut down, remaining in this state until the next request comes in. This approach allows us to call the serverless architecture an on-demand application development infrastructure.
This technology uses cloud integration services to shift the back-end infrastructure to the cloud, making it extremely suitable for serverless applications.
Serverless architecture essentially means that a cloud provider—like Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), or Microsoft Azure—provides the back-end infrastructure of their own for our application. Services such as Kubernetes contribute to their popularity, as a result of which many companies have quickly become interested in having their applications hosted via cloud services for a fee. But despite many advantages, this approach also brings challenges.
Architectural designs in the past were often monolithic and lacked manageability, scalability, and flexibility. During this time, companies had to deploy the complete program on a single application server running on a single computer.
Sometimes even the entire database was installed on the same system. Even after spinning this all up, a problem in a single component of this setup could lead to a complete system shutdown and termination of all the ongoing activities. As a result, there was an endless loop of coding, debugging, and deploying, which decreased business productivity.
But as architectural ideas changed, the industry experienced a dramatic upheaval resulting in two main architectures—serverless and microservice. Both have solid reasons to be used in scalable and flexible systems. Let’s discuss the benefits and challenges of serverless architecture.
Hosting software always requires some sort of server infrastructure. And whereas before,for most companies, there was a choice only between local servers and services of cloud providers, now these two options have gained many more highly specialized branches.
In particular, unfortunately, traditional cloud deployment, even from leading cloud vendors such as AWS, IBM Cloud, or Microsoft Azure, does not completely eliminate typical problems that local hosting advocates face (such as maintaining local servers, cost inefficiencies, and difficulties in scaling) . So, when it comes to complex applications that over time are optimized and enhanced with high-performance functionality, paying for a cloud provider can create a huge hole in your budget.
However, for the serverless architecture, this is not the case, as it allows companies to pay only for the resources that were actually used when executing individual functions. That is, if these functions are idle for some time, you do not need to pay for them.
At the same time, serverless applications still retain the main characteristics of ordinary cloud-based ones: server management tasks still lie with the responsibilities of the cloud vendor, and the company’s IT staff still remains responsible only for the application code and its update (this does not apply to updates for general security policies, workload balancing, scaling, and network monitoring, which are all the responsibility of the cloud provider, just like in standard cloud deployments).
Note that to make your application serverless, you do not need to reimplement your software solution completely: you can make only a separate part of it serverless. As a serverless architecture example, we can review in more detail backend-as-a-service (BaaS) and function-as-a-service (FaaS) solutions.
BaaS is one of the latest cloud models and is most commonly used in the deployment of mobile software, single page applications, chatbots, and mobile friendly web apps. It provides such features as push notifications, geolocation, interaction with email services, authentication, etc. In particular, there are many built-in APIs and SDKs that greatly simplify the work of developers and allow them to concentrate their main efforts on building business logic.
BaaS replaces traditional server components with ready-made services, which allows developers to shift system tasks to the cloud provider and deal only with writing and maintaining custom application logic. An example of a BaaS solution is Google Firebase, a fully managed database that can be used from within an application without additional configuration.
As for FaaS, these solutions implement interaction with individual parts of the program code (microservices), calling them on demand, while BaaS interacts with the entire program code of a particular software solution.
FaaS provides a software runtime, allowing developers to implement code that will run in a triggered sandbox. However, each FaaS feature usually only corresponds to a small part of the entire application. The execution time of functions is most often limited. For example, in AWS Lambda, the limit is 15 minutes, which is the amount of time the FaaS platform waits for a function instance to finish processing the given event. If the processing was not finished within this time limit, the function is terminated. Such events can be a client request, an event in an external system, a data stream, etc. The FaaS provider is responsible for the horizontal scaling required to execute functions, the number of which increases as the number of events grows.
FaaS can be provided as customized templates differentiated by industry. To quickly deploy and launch software solutions, FaaS uses containers (software packages that contain all of the necessary elements to run in any environment) to ensure high scalability and/or implementation of the project on several software platforms at once (for example, on Android, iOS, and a web version). However, compared to BaaS, the functionality of FaaS is somewhat more limited. The main criteria that are important for choosing one or another FaaS are the ease of use and the availability of support from the previously selected cloud provider.
Both of these models are suitable for serverless deployments.
Serverless architecture is the most efficient in terms of reducing the costs (financial and time) required to create and deploy software. This is also a more cost-effective way to host software for cases when it is not intended to run continuously and some of its features are used only occasionally. The reliance on triggers makes this type of architecture the holy grail for companies implementing IoT solutions.
Also, a serverless architecture is more likely to suit your needs if you are a startup founder. In particular, you will be able to launch your product faster than with other approaches to build an architecture and significantly optimize the budget, because an idle server costs you nothing.
The most significant benefit of implementing a serverless architecture is its cost-effectiveness. In particular, infrastructure and operations management tasks are the responsibility of cloud service providers. This allows product owners to focus their efforts on creating software features. In this way, software solutions are released faster, resulting in faster feedback from end users and hence further improvements over the next software release cycles.
In addition, when developers don’t own the back-end infrastructure that applications run on, they have much less to worry about as far as maintaining, provisioning, and scaling. Thus, another of the most compelling reasons to use decentralized server infrastructures is the automated scaling and troubleshooting offered by cloud providers with serverless architectures.
Systems based on serverless architecture are also ideal for event processing and low resource-intensive tasks, scaling automatically without a dedicated infrastructure and thereby reducing the cost of execution.
A serverless architecture also has a positive impact on accountability and responsibility segregation. For instance, when something goes wrong in the server side of the app, the responsibility for problem-fixing lies with the cloud vendor, not the developer. Thus, the developers do not have to spend any time or tools on it.
Generally speaking, a serverless architecture is not always the most optimal solution. In particular, this architecture is best avoided in the following cases.
Despite all the advantages, a serverless architecture is quite difficult to implement, and its decentralized nature can also cause some problems. The fact is that the nature of this infrastructure does not imply full access by the IT team, which means that monitoring of all services running out of their sight becomes almost impossible.
This lack of transparency hinders a thorough understanding of how applications work. For example, in the case of performance issues, critical parameter analytics may not be effective or lead to no optimization results.
Another significant issue of serverless applications is security gaps. The fact is that serverless architecture attacks are quite common. Ultimately, it all comes down to how well the cloud service provider manages risk. Thorough research before starting the cloud migration is therefore essential. After all, it is well known that any system is only as strong as its weakest link.
Finally, some applications (for example, the ones described above) aren’t suited to a serverless architecture, because it’s more than just a one-size-fits-all solution to all back-end problems. Thus, even if you are aware of the bad serverless architecture examples mentioned above, you will not be able to protect yourself from the fact that the updated solution does not meet your expectations. So let’s recap.
Does the current trend toward serverless architecture give us a glimpse into the future of web development? Will this make it faster, cheaper, more reliable, and less error-prone?
Even for organizations where ongoing maintenance is a burden, serverless architectures can be cost-effective. Serverless architecture is a fantastic option when you want to deploy quickly and cheaply. However, you should only rush into something after you research who exactly the cloud provider is, how robust the security measures are, and whether the requirements of your own applications are really met by serverless architectures.
If you want to implement serverless architecture for your digital solution and get the most out of Azure and AWS vendors offer, contact us.
Yevhenii has more than a decade of experience in the software engineering industry and dozens of completed projects under his belt. He has a knack for building cost-effective solutions and processes, and is confident there is nothing impossible with the right approach.
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