Serverless Computing: What’s So Special About It?


Thanks to cloud computing, businesses get to enjoy many benefits — enterprise-level resources, zero hardware maintenance, and predictable costs. But even after migrating to the cloud, business computing still involves some complex and time-consuming configurations and processes.

For Australian businesses and software developers that need a simpler infrastructure; serverless computing could be the next big trend in cloud computing.

But since serverless computing is a relatively new phenomenon; there are still many questions and misconceptions surrounding it.  First we’ll cover what those are; and then discuss serverless computing’s pros and cons to help you decide whether you should consider employing it.

What is serverless computing?

To set things straight, the term “serverless” does not mean there are no servers involved. It means users no longer have to see or think about them.

Technically, with most cloud services, you aren’t responsible for physically managing servers either — that’s usually up to providers like Amazon Web Service (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. But as we’ve mentioned, it’s not completely hands free. To do any software development, for example, you still need to provision virtual machines, compute resources, and software for each workstation.

Serverless computing, also known as Function as a Service; improves traditional cloud services by leaving all the management and allocation of compute resources to the cloud provider. In this environment, apps are deployed as self-contained bits of code called “functions,” which consume cloud resources only when they’re needed.

For instance, apps have multiple functions like database search or password authentication. Whenever someone attempts to log in to your app, the correct function automatically requests resources (e.g., processing power or memory) from the cloud provider, which are provisioned instantly.

This allows developers to focus on building and running software without worrying about virtual machines and how much server capacity they’re taking up. Serverless platforms — such as AWS Lambda and Azure Functions — offer even more benefits to Australian businesses as well.

Cost efficiency

With traditional setups, you typically have to pay for equipment, power, cooling, security software, and maintenance staff. This can cost you thousands of dollars per month, and even more when you need to scale up and purchase more hardware. Cloud services allow you to dramatically cut costs by leasing computing capacity; even though you will still be billed for the time you’re not using it.

Serverless computing captures the true meaning of the term “pay-as-you-go.” It lets organisations pay only when a function is executed; so if a function that requires 500 MB of RAM runs for five seconds; only those five seconds will be billed. Rates for these services cost a fraction of a cent and there are no additional costs associated with hardware and maintenance.

It is therefore extremely cost effective, especially for cash-strapped companies whose app usage fluctuates on a daily basis.

Rapid deployment

If you want to decrease the time to market, serverless computing is the solution. Since apps are divided into bite-sized functions, they’re much easier to code than full-featured software. All you need to do is upload the function to the serverless provider in a compressed or executable format; and it will handle the rest. And if you wanted to add new features or make changes, you just need to upload new functions.

What’s more, resource provisioning is also lightning fast. Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service models can take hours because you have to request resources to run your apps. Meanwhile, serverless platforms have automatic provisioning; which means you don’t even need to waste time calling your provider.

Flexible scaling

Everyone wants their apps to be as popular as Facebook or YouTube, but they must be able to handle huge amounts of traffic. Sure, you can purchase extra computing power to anticipate your success, but that means you’re paying a fixed rate for idle resources until your app’s popularity rises. On the other hand, traditional cloud services don’t allow you to scale quickly enough.

With serverless computing, compute capacity is scaled up or down automatically. When Microsoft’s or Amazon’s servers detect a surge in traffic, they’ll automatically provision your app with the throughput, memory, and storage required to handle the load. In fact, your apps will be able to support millions of users without needing a single server.

Low latency

Latency, or the time it takes for apps to respond to requests, is absolutely critical to user experience. If they take too long to load, users will likely opt for faster, more reliable ones. Fortunately, major serverless providers like Amazon and Microsoft have multiple data centres that cover nearly every corner of the world. This ensures the lowest possible latency for everyone, no matter where they are located.

High availability and resiliency

Another benefit of serverless computing is that you get to take advantage of state-of-the-art facilities. Serverless providers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars securing and backing up their systems to guarantee your apps and data are always available.

Deploying apps as functions also increases overall resiliency. Because each function runs independently from the others, the software can continue working even if one function failed.

The drawbacks

Despite these benefits, serverless computing isn’t a silver bullet. For starters, each provider uses different processes to run serverless apps, making it difficult to switch back and forth. Secondly, pre-built applications can’t easily migrate to a serverless platform; they need to be broken up into functions. Finally, coding with functions may be easier than building one giant app, but it can be tricky to keep track of 100 different functions, especially if you’re not a software developer.

Of course, these drawbacks can be resolved if you have an expert IT team at your side. Here at Empower IT, we make it our business to know the latest developments in cloud technology and understand how we can use it to help our clients. If you’re planning to create an app or want to know whether your business is a perfect candidate for a serverless environment, call us today. We offer cutting-edge cloud solutions and expert advice to give you a winning edge.