App development keeps evolving and this evolution does not seem to have an end. Trends like cloud computing have helped developers to meet the new expectations of businesses, by building applications in a much faster and productive way. But in recent years, terms – “Serverless application” and “Serverless Architect” – have seen an increasing momentum, leading us to the concept of Serverless computing. Despite being a relatively new capability, the popularity that Serverless has gained in the IT industry makes it the next step in the app development. Cloud apps are shifting to Serverless world, but why? There’s a simple reason behind this hype – No infrastructure management. Benefits like less workload, less time to market, reliability, improved efficiency and affordability, Serverless architecture has managed to deliver what technologists desire. The role of Serverless computing in IT will only expand in the upcoming years. Therefore, if you still haven’t caught on with the technology, chances are you will soon have to update your imagination.
Since its launch in 2014, Serverless architecture has refined the ways of app development. According to RightScale’s 2018 State of the Cloud report, with the annual growth of 75%, Serverless is the fastest-growing cloud service model, at the moment. That’s not surprising, given the fact that the technology lowers costs, reduces operational complexity, and increases DevOps efficiencies. Furthermore, statistics show that by 2021, the market size of Serverless computing is estimated to grow to 7.72 Billion!
Stefan Bergstein, Chief Software Architect at Micro Focus, said the wheels were in motion for serverless adoption.
“We will see further adoption of serverless, especially in public clouds. The large cloud providers are going to invest into maturity, programming languages coverage and improved IDE integrations. These aspects will drive adoption.”
However, what really is Serverless Computing? What is a serverless application? How does serverless web application work? What potential and benefits does it hold for developers and business enterprises? And why is Serverless Architecture the right choice for you?
We will be tackling all these questions in this article. Let’s break it down with a step-by-step guide and get a better understanding of the concept.
What is Serverless?
The word “Serverless” does not mean “no servers”, in fact servers are an integral part of the concept. Serverless computing is an execution model of Cloud computing, where the need to manage infrastructure is eliminated. Meaning, the developers do not have to worry about server management, scaling or provisioning when deploying code. They only focus on building the application while the back-end system that supports the app i.e. server, is managed by cloud provider and the billing is done only for the time the code runs or requests / events are processed. This allows developers to reduce maintenance cost and increase productivity.
In Serverless, the whole application is split into two separate components, each performing a distinctive task.
- The first is BaaS (Back-End), which applies to applications featuring their backend on Cloud. This camp is managed by a third party, which handles the server-side logic and state.
- On the other end, there is FaaS (Function as a Service), featuring applications running parts of their code through event triggers, including http requests, database events, monitoring alerts, file uploads, cron jobs, queuing services etc. The application is housed in stateless containers which are event triggered and the third party handles them.
The serverless architect allows applications to evoke functions on demand and the cloud provider charges only for the compute time i.e. resources used for the execution and not a monthly fee.
The following are major cloud providers (FaaS):
Now that we have broken down the distinctive points, let’s dive deeper!
Cloud Computing Adoption
According to a global CIO survey, questioning their priorities regarding the technology adoption, it was found that public cloud adoption is the top focus and a major initiative for many companies in 2020. Around 79 percent of surveyed organizations are planning to have heavy to moderate adoption of cloud technology.
After Artificial intelligence and machine learning, Cloud containers are the most widely adopted emerging cloud technology in the United States and Europe as of 2019, as they help organizations to cut costs. According to statistica report, currently, it’s used by 18 percent of the respondents, which will further 20 percent increase by the end of 2020 as organizations are accelerating towards the cloud. Containers allow for the deployment of applications with access to a shared operating system without the need for virtual machines.
How does the Serverless app work?
Serverless sounds like a piece of cake, doesn’t it? But it’s not that easy. It makes a big difference when it comes to application architecture. An abrupt change, rather than gradual.
Serverless is relied upon by developers, for executing specific functions. Due to which, the cloud providers offer FaaS (Functions as a Service), which is an event-driven model.
Let’s take a look at how serverless functions are written and executed:
- Developer writes a function which serves a specific purpose within the application code.
- Developer defines an event which triggers the cloud service provider to execute the app function.
- If the event is an HTTP request, it is triggered with a simple click.
- To execute the function, the provider if an instance of is already running. If it’s not, a new instance is started for the function.
- When the function is executed, the client or user sees the result inside the application.
Understand Serverless Apps with Examples
1. Single Function Application
Take an example of Chatbots, which use minimal code and have a single function. Instead of hosting a chatbot on VMs, which run at capacity, service providers can run the logic on a serverless platform and decrease the operational cost. The company will only be billed when server requests.
2. Complex Application
Take an example of a video transcoding application. To create event-driven pipelines, developers can use FaaS, which will remove manual input from the users. Through a serverless application model, the client will only be charged when the videos are being uploaded and processed by encoders.
Components of a serverless app
It consists of a web server, FaaS (Lambda Functions), STS (Security token service), user authentication and database. In which, the UI of the application is rendered client side.
- Web Server – Amazon S3 acts as a robust and provides a simple web server for static file. It serves all the static files of the app i.e. HTML, CSS and JS.
- FaaS (Lambda Functions) – It acts as a key enabler in the serverless architect. AWS Lambda is used in a serverless framework for logging in and accessing data, built as lambda functions, to read and write from your database and provide JSON responses.
- Security Token Services (STS) – Temporary AWS Credentials (API Key and Serial Key) are generated for users, which are used by client to invoke the AWS API i.e. Lambda.
- User Authentication – Using Identity Service integrated with AWS Lambda, user login can be added to both mobile and web applications and help in authentication.
- Database – A fully managed NoSQL database is provided by AWS DynamoDB. Though Dynamo is just used as an example here and is not essential for a serverless app.
Function as a Service (FaaS) is a model of cloud computing, which allows developers to write business logic functions that are executed by cloud providers, in response to an event. It makes scaling easier and microservices are implemented cost-effectively. Developers upload pieces of functionalities into the cloud to be independently executed and the provider manages everything from execution to scaling.
What are Microservices?
Microservices architecture involves breaking the monolithic applications into smaller services using Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). This allows developers to easily modify the pieces of code and implement them into their database. Microservices can be deployed and scaled separately and can also be written in different programming languages.
With FaaS, developers only have to focus on writing the application code while the server allocation and backend services are handled by the provider.
Components of FaaS:
– Function – An independent unit of the Deployment i.e. performing a scheduled task.
– Events – Triggers to execute the function.
– Resources – Components or infrastructure used by the function.
Once the function is executed, FaaS tears it down. Although, it might keep the function until the next event has to be processed.
Advantages of FaaS:
– Developers do not have to worry about servers and deployment and can spend more time on writing application logic.
– FaaS code is inherently scalable.
– Clients only have to pay for the computation time.
Disadvantages of FaaS:
– Third-party manages a part of infrastructure thus, you have less system control. This makes it hard to understand the whole system.
– Incorporating FaaS code into a local testing environment and testing the application becomes a difficult task.
Benefits of a Serverless application
“Serverless computation is going to fundamentally not only change the economics of what is back-end computing, but it’s going to be the core of the future of distributed computing.”
— Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft.
Serverless computing offers various advantages over traditional cloud-based infrastructure. Building a serverless web application means the developer can focus on the core product and not worry about the operating or managing servers. Let’s establish why serverless framework is the right choice for app development. Here are some reasons.
· Easy Deployment
If you need to develop an app fast, serverless approach is the perfect choice for you. With serverless, you can deploy an app within days or even hours, instead of months because you only have to focus on the code. You don’t have to worry about infrastructure or provisioning needs. Moreover, scalability is also automatic. Thus, less time-to-market.
· Improved Efficiency
Traditional servers had to be running all the time but with serverless, you have to pay per request i.e. charged when the server is used. This improves efficiency as you do not have to worry about scaling, setup, capacity planning.
· Low Costs
Adopting Serverless means cutting costs. The reason behind this is outsourcing the responsibilities. Third-party manages servers and databases. In the case of traditional servers, developers have to scale, project the server capacity and purchase however much capacity is needed, whether it gets used or not. However, in serverless, developers pay for the resources they use. The code only runs when functions are needed and also automatically scales up accordingly. Sometimes, the charges are broken down into 100-millisecond increments.
· Better Latency
Your application response is one of the critical points that can affect an app’s performance. Latency depends on physical geography and with the access points on a global scale, serverless can handle users from around the world. Which means, Serverless ensures global coverage and improves the response time of the application.
What can you do with a Serverless application?
Some organizations might find the going serverless a bit daunting. However, with the correct understanding of the concept and the right tools, the entire application can be created in a short time, reducing the time-to-market. In contrast to traditional server-based approach, you can enhance the app development speed and there is more scope for experimentation in Serverless and services such as Amazon Lambda can help you achieve that. Here are some examples to where the serverless applications would be a good choice:
1. Backend applications for IoT
While building an IoT Solution, your main focus is on the devices and the goal. You might want to manage the devices, see how the data coming from a network of devices can be processed and analyzed but in order to do that, cloud infrastructure setup has to be enabled and managed. This is where the serverless approach comes in. There are many services like AWS Lambda Functions, Microsoft Azure Functions etc. which have the direct integration capabilities that allow devices data to be routed and processed by serverless functions. This takes away your burden of managing infrastructure and you can focus on core product business logic!
2.Web and mobile backend services
Using serverless, you can power your web or mobile backend. With the business logic in AWS Lambda, Amazon API Gateway exposes your cloud APIs to the application. In other words, Amazon API integrates user-facing content in an S3 bucket and the front-end content is integrated as a backend service API, with Amazon API Gateway. This triggers the business logic using Lambda functions, which ensures successful development of serverless web and mobile applications. With this approach, it will be easy to limit access to application users who have authenticated with any of the sign-in options.
3. Virtual Assistants and Chatbots
Serverless platforms can easily accomplish natural language input and user voice input responses. Using Amazon Lex and Alexa Skills Kit, you can apply natural language recognition to freeform text and voice inputs by users, which will further trigger a Lambda function that can engage with customers.
How does serverless resolve the most common app development problems?
We have discussed what serverless means, how it works and established it makes the scaling and maintaining the applications easy, but there’s more to it. Serverless allows you to easily build continuous integration and delivery. The code needs to be deployed on both the cloud and to a repository. This is where Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD) create a dualism in serverless.
Let’s understand the two concepts more clearly.
● Continuous integration (CI)
It is a practice where the code is integrated into a shared repository, several times a day. Each integration is then verified by automated build and tests. Basically, it automates the building process by testing the code each time something gets changed or updated to a version. This helps in detecting and locating the errors more easily. CI provides “Version Control”, also known as source control, which keeps multiple versions of your code files and allows you to access the previous ones while making modifications.
● Continuous delivery (CD)
Continuous Delivery comes into play where Continuous Integration ends. CD builds, tests and releases software continuously without interruption. It automates the delivery of the software to designated infrastructure environments. This reduces the time and risk of delivering needed changes.
The biggest challenge while working with serverless systems is deploying the serverless applications. The more complex the application, the more complex it is to deploy. It gets easier to maintain the applications when you have clear boundaries between the services which form the app. In serverless, there are many components and the integration problems between them is common. Therefore, to deploy your applications, they need automation multiple times a day i.e. release updates, for which you need an automated pipeline.
Why is serverless architecture the future of modern app development?
In the ever-evolving cloud computing environment, Serverless architecture is on its way to become the face of app development’s backend – A new revolution – one might say.
But before we dive into it, let’s look at a brief history of cloud computing:
There are four types of cloud computing – IaaS, PaaS, SaaS & Serverless.
IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)
It is the lowest level of XaaS, which provides only a base infrastructure that the developer has to maintain – Virtual machine, Software Defined Network, Storage attached. You’ll have to manage the platform and environment, do the configuration, and deploy applications on it. IaaS is more difficult to maintain, as compared to other XaaS.Examples of IaaS – AWS (EC2), Microsoft Azure (VM)
PaaS (Platform as a Service)
PaaS allows you to deploy the applications in a simple way, in a given technology. It allows you to develop, run and manage your apps without the headache of building or maintaining the infrastructure.Examples of PaaS – Google App Engine, Heroku, AWS (Beanstalk)
SaaS (Software as a Service)
It is also known as “on-demand software”, which doesn’t require you to deploy or maintain servers. Everything is managed by venders or third-parties – applications, runtime, data, virtualization, servers, storage, networking, middleware, OSes.Example of SaaS – Google Apps, specifically Gmail, where everything is managed by Google and you just have to use it via web or through clients. Moreover, some companies write SaaS on demand such as SAP.
Then comes the Serverless Architect, which completely removes the infrastructure management and lets developers build the application faster, reducing the time-to-market. Due to its many advantages, it has gained popularity and most of the organizations or businesses now prefer to channelize Serverless resources to reduce operational costs and maximize return on investments. Developers deliver solutions at less time using Serverless architecture.
Organizations are moving to FaaS from PaaS (Platform as a Service) because it scales better and takes complete control of infrastructure management. Most of the organizations are already providing serverless services but the top providers of serverless cloud service are AWS Lambda, Azure Functions, Google Cloud Functions.
Serverless may have a confusing name and might have people believe that it is “server-less” but it is still an impressive architect with various benefits. As all the architectures, there’s no doubt that the success and viability of a serverless approach too, depends on the requirements of the business. Despite having many advantages, it cannot solve every problem. Therefore, be careful before adopting a serverless approach.
From a business’ perspective, the best advantage of going serverless is reduced time-to-market. Others being, less operational costs, no infrastructural management and efficiency. But serverless is still at its infancy stage.
As we know, technology never stops evolving, thus, maybe in future, serverless will be able to solve and fit into many other architectural requirements.
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