Serverless computing: What could your organisation be missing out on?

Andrew de Rozario, Lead Engineer, AND Digital, Edinburgh

By Andrew de Rozario, Lead Engineer, AND Digital, Edinburgh

FINDING tech solutions that bring agility, efficiency, and effectiveness to operations is the so-called ‘holy grail’ of all organisations. In fact, given the impact of the pandemic over the last 18 months, we have seen a renewed impetus for businesses to look again at technology and the competitive advantages it can provide in crowded global markets.

Enter serverless computing. It’s the technology that’s recently exploded thanks to its ability to satiate the operational needs of businesses. Developers and infrastructure engineering teams in particular now have the technology they need to help them work more strategically and on the work that matters most – adding even more value to their organisation’s operations in the long term. This creates a ripple effect across an organisation, with resources and teams freed up to make a bigger impact when it comes to accelerating innovation. In today’s hyper-digital world, that’s an immensely valuable thing to be able to leverage.

What is serverless computing?

Serverless is the next-generation of cloud computing. As a term in its own right the word ‘severless’ is a bit of a misnomer: servers are still actually involved. However, the key difference with more traditional forms of the tech is in how the servers are implemented and managed.

Going serverless means the service provider or vendor takes care of provisioning a larger proportion of the infrastructure and many of the associated responsibilities. This means organisations can save themselves the time and hassle spent on server provisioning, ensuring functionality, creating test environments, or maintaining server uptime. As a result, you could say that serverless represents the purest form of cloud application development available. 

A paradigm shift?

It’s not overstating things when we say that serverless architecture represents a positive paradigm shift, particularly for engineers. The tech enables them to break free of the typical obstacles that often side-track IT transformations, and enables them to bring more value to an organisation’s digital infrastructure. For instance, they can spend a larger proportion of their time on optimising things like backup operations, real time security, compliance and improved observability allowing for better metrics and optimisation of systems.

One huge benefit is that serverless computing is event-driven and 100 percent automated, meaning it only dedicates underlying computing resources to what is absolutely necessary. It doesn’t even require the full interaction or maintenance of humans – unlike more traditional servers, some of which can be extremely labour intensive to maintain and operate.

The benefits don’t stop there either. Others include:

  • Providing bespoke scalability

One of the key benefits that we see with serverless is that it can leverage cloud platform services to simplify or even eliminate boilerplate code at any scale. For instance, developers looking to satisfy demand for cross-business concerns such as storage, security, enhanced user experience and messaging (such as customer emails or push notifications), can develop bespoke solutions based on custom code in a short space of time. This is a great example of where developersare being empowered to provide maximum value for minimal effort.  

  • Leveraging cost-effectiveness

Switching to serverless computing can have a positive impact on the overall IT budget.  Without the hardware of a server, maintenance costs are relatively low.  Resource cost is potentially lower, too, since round-the-clock monitoring and maintenance of servers is not required. Serverless computing services charge based on runtimes, so you’re never paying for more of a service than you use. This enables companies to shift their IT spending from a capital expenditure (capex) to an operations expenditure (opex) model for the entire duration of application development. What’s not to love?

  • Simplifying operations

Since the third-party vendor ensures that server performance meets enterprise demands, operations can be greatly simplified. As a result, companies can benefit from allocating resources to other projects and drastically simplify scalability planning that comes with traditional computing models. Responsibility for scalability, fault tolerance and security is a sliding scale.  Serverless is certainly the closest to 100% we have ever been, but there is always some setting or configuration you have to set up if only to eliminate scaling (and spending) infinitely.

Serverless also provides improved fault tolerance; when issues arise (and they will, of course), it’s also often easier to tackle them when you’re running serverless. Many serverless computing services also offer extensive options for secure transport and storage, which can make it easier to meet security and compliance requirements.

  • Speed and productivity

Speed is everything in today’s competitive global market. Cloud by its very nature provides businesses with the agility and speed they need to meet the digital demands of customers and end-users. As serverless requires zero hardware maintenance, engineering teams are freed up to focus on innovation. As a result, new applications and enhancements to existing ones can be spun up at a faster rate and on a more regular basis. Not only does this provide developers with greater job satisfaction, it also means that business can stay ahead of the competition. Everyone’s a winner!

  • Effortless efficiency

With fewer people, processes and technologies required to deploy applications, serverless computing offers an efficient way to launch fully scalable applications. It offers reduced operational overheads and eliminates idle capacity. In addition, it also boosts scaling options and provides optimal availability.

The limitations of serverless

Although there are many benefits of severless, it’s essential to consider the technology in the context of your specific business needs. Although it can be very powerful when used in the right way, it isn’t always the best option. By considering the drawbacks of serverless you’ll be able to deploy it in the areas where it can be most effective.

  • Beware response latency

One drawback of switching to serverless computing may be response latency. This is the time between when a request is stimulated and when a program reacts. In the cloud, serverless computing is not continually running – it gets powered down between requests.  As a result, having to start from dormant serverless code can cause response latency. If your business lives or dies on immediate response, then you’ll need to explore the latency challenges that serverless can sometimes present.

  • Limitations and lock-ins

Third-party vendors restrict resource limits, which means serverless computing is not ideal for high performance computing operations. Even if there were no such limits, certain applications would not be cost effective from a third-party vendor. As with any cloud service, you’ll also want to be aware of vendor lock-in, and what you’d need to do in order to switch serverless providers.

  • Security

Security is a paramount concern for all digitally reliant organisations. When it comes to serverless computing the cloud vendors have a shared responsibility model for security, not the consumer. There is a larger attack surface to create vulnerability in terms of application availability. If an attack does happen, consumers are powerless against it, relying instead on the provider to disclose, remediate, and recover. That said, most of the more established cloud vendors do have robust protections in place.

  • Debugging

Serverless applications tend to leverage integration with underlying hardware or software. This is great in terms of far less code to write overall but introduces the challenge of the user journey taking place over multiple “building blocks” in the cloud. Being able to correlate and debug issues in such an environment requires a good observability strategy from the outset.  However, most cloud platforms do offer easy integration between their serverless services and their own logging and monitoring products which can remediate this particular challenge.

Are you ready to embrace the severless era?

Serverless computing is accessible to all businesses regardless of size or sector. Its on-demand computing, operational automation and minimal maintenance approach – along with all of the other benefits we’ve outlined above – mean it should be an important consideration for any business that wants to innovate. After all, the ability to lower time-to-market for applications, digital services, and platforms is already dictating success in the slowly re-emerging post-COVID economy.

However, serverless shouldn’t be employed without care and attention. You’ll need the time and the right level of technical and organisational awareness to ensure it’s effective.

Fortunately, AND Digital is here to help. We’re equipped to provide the consultancy, expertise and knowledge you’ll need to kickstart your severless journey. It’s all part of our goal to support clients in delivering tech that makes life better for 200 million people, every day.

For those looking to build event-based applications quickly and efficiently, serverless computing is the way to conserve resources, increase efficiency, and boost productivity. Now you’re armed with some of the facts, it’s time to consider what you could be missing out on.

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