What is Serverless Computing?

Serverless computing uses cloud-based infrastructure and provides instant access to a scalable system that runs your code on-demand and scales automatically. Developers outsource infrastructure responsibilities to an external vendor or cloud provider. This frees resources for application development and growth without worrying about IT infrastructures. It’s a type of utility-based computing that allows users to access scalable compute capacity in a pay-as-you-go model.  

Because all maintenance, patching, etc., are handled by vendors like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Microsoft Azure, and others, developers can focus on writing clean code and deploying it. Furthermore, serverless computing isn’t just limited to web applications; IoT devices also use serverless architectures to process data from sensors in real-time.

Comparing serverless with traditional architectures

Traditional architectures rely on a dedicated server for each application. Creating, configuring, managing, and maintaining servers can require time and effort. Additionally, these systems can be expensive since you rent space on those servers all year round, even if your applications aren’t running that often. 

With serverless architecture, you don’t have to worry about managing or scaling your infrastructure. Instead, developers focus solely on writing and deploying code while cloud providers handle everything else behind the scenes. This model also makes costs more predictable because customers only pay for exactly what they need.

How does serverless computing work?

The term serverless is used to describe a class of applications designed to run without managing a server. It describes what’s known as Function-as-a-Service (FaaS), which is an approach that eliminates some of technology’s most costly and cumbersome management tasks: deploying, maintaining, and scaling a physical server. 

With FaaS, developers don’t have to worry about maintaining servers. Instead, they write code that executes when events occur—in response to incoming web requests or messages from other services, for example—and scales automatically based on demand. 

Benefits of serverless architecture

Serverless computing offers several advantages over traditional cloud computing environments. A few benefits you should consider when evaluating serverless solutions include:

  • Operational simplicity: A serverless architecture can simplify infrastructure management by cutting out complex operational tasks around scaling, deployment, and networking.
  • Cost efficiency: A serverless environment can reduce costs by removing administrative overhead associated with running your data center. 
  • Developer productivity: Serverless architecture frees developers from worrying about provisioning servers or other resources and setting up services such as load balancing or autoscaling.
  • Performance on demand: With a serverless architecture, you only pay for what you use—and only when you use it—which means you don’t have to over-provision resources for peak periods. 
  • High availability and resiliency built-in: Because each request runs in its own containerized environment, there’s no need to manage individual instances. Instead, failures are isolated within each function call, allowing them to be restarted automatically without affecting other functions or users.

Drawbacks of serverless architecture

While serverless computing offers numerous benefits, there are also some drawbacks. These include:

  • Response latency: Serverless architecture can increase your users’ response latency. It can take longer for your application code to execute in a serverless environment than in traditional settings where servers are always on. 
  • Vendor lock-in: Since most cloud vendors have proprietary technologies that only work with their services, you may find yourself limited in terms of which vendors you can use with your applications. If you want to switch providers at any point, you may need to rewrite some portions of your application. 
  • Debugging difficulty: Since your code is running in a serverless environment, you won’t be able to debug issues as quickly as you would be able to in other architectures.
  • Security concerns: With serverless architecture, security responsibility falls on the servicing company, not the consumer. This means that you don’t have full control over how your data is protected, thus making it harder to comply with specific regulations. 
  • Reliance on third parties: Serverless architecture relies heavily on service providers to perform tasks like scaling and load balancing for you. If something goes wrong with one of these services (e.g., an outage), your entire application could also go down.

Related: Advantages and Disadvantages of Serverless Computing

Key capabilities of serverless computing

Serverless computing capabilities include automatic scaling, instantaneous deployment, and on-demand availability. Because of these capabilities, a serverless environment also enables users to develop software without focusing on infrastructure and machine maintenance overhead. 

Pay only for what you use 

When operating in a serverless environment, you only pay when your code runs. There are no additional infrastructure costs, which means your application pays nothing unless it’s active. This is known as pay-per-use, and it makes serverless computing an extremely cost-effective way to run most applications at scale. 

Run more types of workloads 

Serverless environments give developers much more flexibility. In addition to building and deploying back-end microservices without managing servers and underlying software stacks, they can now build front-end web apps without thinking about servers or backend impact. 

Scale quickly 

Because there are no servers to maintain, scaling becomes a lot easier. You don’t need to worry about provisioning new instances when demand increases; instead, you simply increase compute power by running more functions. This approach is beneficial if you have sudden traffic spikes or usage requiring rapid scaling. 

Reduce operational overhead 

With serverless computing, you don’t have to worry about patching and updating your system—the vendor does all of that work for you. Most vendors handle security updates automatically, so you won’t notice them happening behind the scenes. 

Since there are no machines to patch or upgrade, serverless architecture offers a great deal of operational simplicity compared to traditional architectures. However, this simplicity may create challenges for your compliance efforts. 

Focus on business logic 

While you will still need to write code to take advantage of serverless computing capabilities, most of your development efforts will focus on writing business logic rather than worrying about how it’s deployed or managed. This means that you can develop faster while also reducing implementation risks. 

Serverless vs microservices

Microservices and serverless architectures are two different technologies. Microservices are ways to design applications, while serverless refers to how you deploy them. 

Microservice-based applications consist of multiple small services that support a common purpose. They communicate via APIs, making it easier for developers to build and scale these applications independently. 

Serverless architecture focus is on deployment rather than development. It allows users to run code without having to provision or manage servers. Instead, your code runs on a cloud provider’s infrastructure as needed when an event occurs. 

Both serverless and microservices architectures offer advantages over traditional approaches. In particular, they make systems more flexible and scalable by allowing developers to write code without worrying about where it will be deployed or how much capacity will be available at any given time. This can reduce costs because you don’t need to pay for unused resources—and because there are fewer resources overall, you can also achieve greater efficiency.

Read more: What are Microservices?

Top serverless computing providers

Most major cloud providers offer serverless computing. Five of the top serverless computing providers include AWS Lambda, Microsoft Azure Functions, Alibaba Functions, Google Cloud Functions, and IBM OpenWhisk.

AWS Lambda 

AWS Lambda is a computing service that allows you to execute code without setting up or managing servers. Instead, Lambda runs your code on high-availability computing infrastructure and manages all compute resources, including server and operating system maintenance, capacity provisioning and auto-scaling, code monitoring, and logging. 

Microsoft Azure Functions

Azure Functions is a serverless solution that lets you write less code and manage less infrastructure. Azure Functions allows you to turn your system’s logic into easily accessible code blocks. 

As the number of requests increases, Azure Functions fulfils the demand with as many resources and function instances as required. As needs decrease, any extra resources and application instances terminate automatically.

Alibaba Function Compute

Alibaba Function Compute is an event-driven, fully managed compute service. It lets you write code without worrying about infrastructure. It also includes log queries, performance monitoring, and alerts. In addition, you only pay for resources used by the codes. 

Google Cloud Functions

Google Cloud Functions is a serverless execution environment that allows you to build and connect cloud services. Cloud Functions eliminates the need for server management, software configuration, framework updates, and operating system patching. Instead, Google manages the software and infrastructure.

Additionally, resource provisioning occurs automatically in reaction to events. It implies that a function may scale from a few invocations per day to millions of invocations without user intervention. 

IBM OpenWhisk

IBM OpenWhisk is a serverless platform that works with triggers, rules, and events to power event-triggered applications. To handle infrastructure and servers for cloud-based apps servers, the platform uses a FaaS approach to manage infrastructure and servers for cloud-based apps and servers. In addition, by using Docker containers, OpenWhisk eliminates worries about infrastructure administration and scalability.

Why should enterprises use a serverless architecture?

As enterprises continue to embrace DevOps, many are looking for ways to manage their resources more efficiently. While a cloud-based infrastructure can undoubtedly help with increased flexibility and access, it’s also essential to choose an infrastructure that’s easy to scale. 

Serverless computing provides a way for companies of all sizes to manage their cloud-based resources quickly and efficiently. And best of all, serverless architectures can benefit organizations regardless of their size or operational complexity. 

There is no need to provision or maintain servers in your data center with a serverless architecture. Instead, you pay only for what you use when you use it—and you don’t have to worry about managing any of those servers yourself. It can be beneficial if your company needs to scale up quickly but doesn’t have time or budget to handle on-premises servers during rapid growth periods.

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an award-winning public speaker and a passionate writer. He writes to edutain (Educate + Entertain) his reader about Business, Technology, Growth, and everything in between. He is the coauthor of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook. Aminu loves to inspire greatness in the people around him through his actions and inactions.

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