Serverless Architecture

Serverless Architecture: A Thorough Guide

January 24, 2021

Amar Pandey

Software Engineer @ Radiansys

Serverless architecture has emerged as the new aid for organizations looking for better ways to manage their expanding technological ecosystems. Software architects no longer need to be platform management experts but only do what they must. Serverless has come to redefine the ways cloud applications are built, integrated, and consumed ultimately. This is substantiated by reports forecasting a growth of around 20.8% for the serverless market in 2020-2026.

As it grips organizations of various sizes, serverless is still a concept in shades for many. Is serverless really serverless? Is it safe to adopt? What good it is for? With so many more questions and concerns revolving around it, there prevails considerable confusion in the market about serverless architecture. We are here to dissolve the misnomers and draw a clearer picture of this succeeding technology so that you can reap the best benefits of it.

Understanding The Term

“Serverless architecture is a technology that lets you build the more important blocks of your application without worrying about the infrastructural base.”

Essentially, Serverless Architecture can be understood as an archetypal software design approach that conceptualizes an event-driven workflow. It involves third-party services hosting applications that eliminate the need for developer-side infrastructure management. The developers get free from server management responsibilities including execution, debugging, monitoring, and maintenance. Here, the domain providers become responsible for server provisioning and allocation.

Serverless architecture has also become an implementation prototype for cloud computing. It is an innovatively new thought process of creating wholesome cloud-led native software and applications. It has also marked an onsetting departure from communication-led architecture.

Importance Of Serverless Architecture

Any software or application utilizes some sort of host server to go live on the internet. This comes with the requirement of managing the server alongside the OS and additional web server processes. It is a resource and time-consuming task that cannot be skipped. Developers often use cloud services to ease physical hardware management but it still doesn’t solve the problem of OS and web server process management.

This is where serverless architecture comes to the rescue. Serverless services single-handedly manage all the infrastructure management concerns including OS, hardware, and a web server. They handle all the related intricacies of resource allocation, server management, computing, etc. Finally, developers are only left with one concern, their code!

Notably thus, serverless is not actually serverless! It only denotes the transfer of server management from software creators to service providers or vendors.

Software architecture in modern times is taking new shapes and dimensions. The general trend shows the path narrowing down and the elements getting smaller. Serverless architecture is the freshest outcome of this shifting trend. The serverless concept is booming, in close connection with the boom of cloud technology. There are tech giants like Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft that have rolled out serverless platforms like the AWS Lambda, Azure Functions, etc. These platforms host the local business processes of client companies for easier workflow management and software development.

Basic Concepts

Mastering serverless in the first place requires some extra effort due to the steep learning curve. Thus, let us give you a rundown of certain fundamental concepts involved but you may encounter unique terminologies for them being used by different cloud providers.

  1. Invocation: Execution of a single function.
  2. Concurrency limit: The maximum number of functions that can operate in a single region at once. This limit is set by the service provider.
  3. Duration: Execution time of any serverless function.
  4. Cold Start: Latency caused by the initiation of any new function or an inactive function.
  5. Timeout: The total run-time set by the cloud provider for any function before its final termination. The providers can have a maximum and default timeout.
Benefits Of Adopting the Serverless

Advocates of serverless are winning as there are plenty of benefits that come with the adoption of this software design approach. Let’s see them all:

  • The prime advantage of serverless architecture is that it lets the app makers put more attention on code writing and app design optimization. It frees them from manual infrastructure management by executing the codes as functions. They also can expand apps in the absence of any server capacity limitation.
  • Cost reduction is another great benefit of shifting to a serverless architecture. It causes a major cut in the internal server management costs, like DevOps investments. It works like a pay-as-you-go scheme where code runs and scales automatically. The provisioning, thereby, is done dynamically and precisely based on the real-time requirement of backend functions.
  • Using serverless architecture allows the disintegration of the app development process into smaller units that in turn boost observability along the process. This promotes error removal and easy modification.
  • There comes about a significant decrease in the time-to-market for the apps built through serverless architecture. It allows faster, smaller, flexible, and modular-based software releases.
  • Due to its event-based nature, serverless minimizes failure impact on the app development.
  • In case of any breakdown, the impact only falls on the particular event and not the whole log.
  • The applications can also be scaled as per the user demand and usage patterns when built with serverless infrastructure.
  • With serverless app development, quick updates along with are also a great advantage. It becomes easier to upload code faster and conveniently ultimately leading to the faster release of the newer product. Similarly, updates can also be applied to the apps wholly or wherever required.
  • Serverless computing allows app makers to meet the needs of the market. It holds the concept of remote close to its core, thus, helping app development irrespective of the platform, etc.
  • Serverless architecture promotes agility and innovation in the business process. This helps entrepreneurs gain an edge over their competitors.
  • The serverless functions help in the reduction of latency as they let the code run at any server. In that case, app makers can shorten the latency period by running codes on a server near the end customer.
  • The security of server infrastructure also doesn’t remain a worry anymore with the vendor taking care of it.
Limitations Of Serverless Architecture

The serverless concept is still in the phase of evolution. This indicates the inevitable existence of a few loopholes that some cannot settle with. Let us take you through a few drawbacks of using serverless architecture:

  • Using serverless architecture comes with a third-party dependency that leads to a partial loss of control on the app makers’ end. This can impact the overall architecture, availability, customization, and flexibility of your system. The server also comes with its own terms and conditions. Any fault or error occurring from the cloud providers’ end can impact your software.
  • Vendor lock-in can also prove a risk as switching vendors becomes a problem when using serverless.
  • One of the ways serverless can prove costlier is when the application involves running workloads. The longer-running ones can cost more than dedicated servers.
  • A cold start is when the serverless architecture takes some time in processing the primary function request. It is a common phenomenon in serverless scenarios and can be remedied by keeping the functions active through periodic initiation requests.
  • Security of the software data due to multitenancy is also a concern when using serverless architecture. This is because the same server is used for different codes and any configuration lag can lead to data leak or corruption.
  • Performing the integration tests of backend and frontend proves a task as there are smaller size modules involved.
Go With Serverless Architecture…
  • If you want to build light apps that are easily scalable and flexible
  • If you want to launch an app in record time
  • If your app requires frequent updates or expansion
  • If your app has inconsistent usage or is an on-demand app
  • If your app involves discrete functions with a short runtime
  • If you want to reduce the latency for application functions
At this stage, let us also tell you when using serverless architecture won’t be a very good idea:
  • If you are creating large scale applications that see regular to huge traffic
  • If you need to migrate legacy software to a newer infrastructure
Before You Adopt Serverless Architecture…

Consider the following things:

  • The level of control you would want on the components of your software or app
  • The pricing model and level of investment you prefer
  • Requirements related to the SLAs, uptime, and plan availability
  • Rethinking about the team involvement in the software development lifecycle for proper regulation of other components
Some Popular Applications of Serverless Architecture

There is a vast variety of use cases that serverless can fuel, from short-lived functions to comprehensive user-centered applications. The concept has certainly outgrown the boundaries of FaaS towards building dynamic apps. Here is a list of the popular use cases of serverless:

  • Developing and managing trigger-based tasks like user log-ins or sign-ups, etc.
  • Managing asynchronous processing or the background tasks without affecting the app flow
  • Implementing CI/CD through the automation of required stages in the software pipelines
  • Performing security checks including scanning vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, two-factor authentications, SSH verifications, etc.
  • Creating REST APIs that can be easily scaled
The Mindset That Serverless Is…

We can think of the serverless mindset as the producer of new tools that are future-ready with qualities and features never seen before.

It is innovatory at its core, build with loosely attached small-sized software modules, and a design without any self-provisioned resources. Serverless is beyond just being FaaS, BaaS, or any other service package. It is a whole concept that is proving its mettle in a great variety of engineering processes.

AWS Lambda- pioneer of the serverless world

The serverless model was put into top gear by the AWS Lambda service. FaaS or Function as a Service is one of the most popular examples of the serverless model that is expected to be adopted by over half of the total global enterprises by 2025. It involves sets of distinct functions associated with specific tasks that run when triggered. In this serverless service, developers only need to write the application code for the functions and the rest is taken care of by the service provider. The latter part is exactly what AWS Lambda does.

Starting in 2014, the AWS Lambda introduced the world to the serverless architecture model which also triggered many other leaders to enter the FaaS market. This championing cloud business model, named Lambda, involved the leasing of virtual machines or containers or servers to customers along with related resources for the required time. Lambda has proved great for numerous use cases ranging from comprehensive user-facing apps to even short runtime tasks. This has caused a steep spike in the total invocation instances of the Lambda functions. Datadog report shows that Lambda functions were invoked about 3.5 times more in 2021 than they were in 2019. This led AWS to lower the latency of Lambda functions as more customer-facing apps started using the Lambda functions.

This brings us to list down the reasons why AWS Lambda became and continues to be the hot property in the serverless or FaaS market. Here are some major advantages of the service:

  • Lambda facilitates the pay-per-use model that makes it the best hit. It is the most cost-effective billing option for the workloads that see fluctuating usage and traffic as clients need to pray specifically for the functions used.
  • There comes the benefit of automatic scaling with Lambda whereby functions are created as prompted and remain available as per the load intensity. What you are only charged for is the runtime of each function.
  • The list of Lambda use-cases is huge which is a delight for developers. You can execute daily tasks like automated backups, generate reports, create real-time notification prompts, build image-loaded apps, build automated chatbots, and much more.
  • As the foundational servers are provided by the AWS, there occurs a significant cut in the operational tasks as well as costs. The service manages the server infrastructure completely from management, upgrade, to security.
  • While using Lambda, you get access to other AWS products like API Gateway, S3, DynamoDB, etc. Thereby, you can build a fully-functional right on the AWS platform with closely integrated services of the Lambda functions.
  • The support offered for Lambda functions is a part of the legacy Amazon customer support. Thus, you can expect unflinching help regarding any query or concern that you may have at any hour.

All you need to do is to check if Lambda is the service for your use case and there you are- enjoying the limitless power of this superlative FaaS platform.

In Conclusion

Serverless architecture has a shining way ahead and adopting it will make your business future-ready. It is absolutely worth the investment for it helps you gain the supreme benefits of scalability, automatic resource allocation, faster response time, lower operation overhead cost, and an agile working environment among others. Surely, the world of serverless has unending opportunities and possibilities, and finding them all at once can get overwhelming.

Thanks for reading!

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