Serverless computing? – Are Servers not needed anymore?

One of the popular and intriguing technologies on the web is Serverless Applications. You may have heard about it; it is a trending topic. It grabbed my eye some days back when I was researching content for my blog. I found it very interesting and attention-seeking material. So, I dug a little deep and learned some things about Serverless that I will share with you. Let’s start with what exactly is Serverless computing, and how it differs from server-based applications.

What is Serverless computing?

Serverless Computing is a new form of cloud computing. Hence, right now, there are four types of cloud computing –

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a service (PaaS)
  • Software as a service (SaaS)
  • Function as a service (FaaS) – Serverless Computing

As per Amazon“Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of computing power, database storage, applications, and other IT resources through a cloud services platform via the internet with pay-as-you-go pricing.” 

It means that you have to pay for only the resources you use. You can scale up or scale down the resources according to requirements. But do we pay only for what we use?

Let’s take an example of a website hosted on a cloud. You started a website and initially opted for 1GB RAM and 500GB storage. After three months, you saw a spike in your users and easily upgraded the plan to 2 GB RAM and 1TB of storage because the cloud gives you this flexibility. But the problem is that your website gets traffic only at business hours and the traffic is very low at night.

Now, you have upgraded your cloud’s capacity, but that is only getting utilized in the daytime, and you are paying for a complete 24 hours a day. So this is a waste of your money and not exactly Pay-as-you-go pricing, is it? Here comes serverless computing.

Serverless computing is a pure pay-as-you-go model. You will only pay for what you use without getting worried about scalability issues. Serverless computing offers real-time scalability to the application. If in a moment, there are only 100 visitors who need 500MB of space, then only that amount of storage will be allocated to the application. If users increase, then the resources will also be scaled up automatically, without any downtime or website crashing.

Many websites have fluctuating demands for resources, and in these cases, Serverless computing is the best option. If in one month, your website has low traffic, then your bill will be less. If the next month, the number of users increases, your bill will also increase. Do you see the real pay-as-you-go model? It’s incredible.

Does Serverless mean no servers?

One of the popular misconceptions about serverless computing is that there are no servers involved. Is this possible? Does serverless mean no servers? No, it is just a marketing gimmick. Obviously, you need servers in serverless computing. The catch here is that the developer or the owner doesn’t have to deal with servers; for them, it is non-existent. The vendors manage all the servers. All the changes, security issues, etc., are taken care of by the service providers.

What is Function as a Service (FaaS) in serverless computing?

Function as a Service is a subset of serverless computing. Serverless offers Serverless Databases, Serverless Storage, and Function as a Service(Faas). Faas is the most popular form of serverless computing. In simple terms, in FaaS, an application is divided into functions triggered by any event.
In Faas, the user is responsible for the definition of the function and the event. This function will only run when a particular event occurs; otherwise, it will remain idle. For example, there is a function of sending an e-mail when a user subscribes to a website. This function will only get executed when a user subscribes, otherwise not. You will be charged only for the time when the function is running.

When it is in an idle state, there would be no charge. FaaS is a very convenient way to divide the application into small functions. It is very cost-effective and easy to use because it uses serverless computing. FaaS is interchangeably used with Serverless computing because it is the most popular feature of serverless computing.
In serverless computing, when a function is not used for a long time, it goes to a rest/sleep state. From the sleep state, it will take a little more time to again start execution than usual. But after that, it will run smoothly without any delay.

Advantages of Serverless Computing

I have given you a brief introduction to Serverless computing; let’s see some advantages that serverless computing has over non-serverless computing:

1. Low Cost: As you will never pay for the unused resources in serverless computing, you won’t get billed for those. All the resources are supplied only when needed, and you pay for the millisecond of those resources consumed. Traditional cloud computing makes you pay even for the underutilized resources.

2. Easily Scalable: In the traditional cloud, your application will get crashed in case of a sudden user spike. You can always increase the load capacity of your server as it is cloud computing, but you have to do it manually. But in serverless, the applications are easily scalable. They will be allocated resources automatically as per requirement. They can handle a very high number of requests at a time, without any anomalies. The serverless architecture very precisely allocates the resources to an application, according to the requirement.

3. No Server Management Issues: Serverless computing takes care of all the issues regarding the servers. The application developers have no control over the servers, so they do not worry about them. All their focus is on developing and improving the website. It is a very productive advantage of using serverless.

4. Quick Deployment: Developers can work stress-free by not worrying about server bug fixing. It results in faster deployment and updates for the application.

Disadvantages of Serverless Computing

Complex Debugging and Testing: Serverless architecture breaks the applications into many smaller functions, as it will take less space and resources. But it makes debugging and testing very complex. Developers don’t have access to the backend, and all the application is divided into small functions, which is a headache for debuggers.

Performance Issues: If some part of the application is not used for a long time, it will go to sleep. When it is required again, then it will take some time to wake-up and execute. It is called ‘cold start’. On the other hand, if a part of an application is used regularly, then it will execute faster, as it was already active. It is called a ‘warm start’. So, a cold start can create high latency issues that can sometimes result in degraded performance.

Over-Reliance on Vendors: As the vendors manage all the backend, they have their own applications. Each vendor like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft has developed its own set of software for handling serverless applications. It is not easy to migrate from one vendor to another because of their different features.

Security concerns: Serverless also has some security issues, as the vendors are more focused on backend management. Function Event data injection, Broken authentication, and improper exception handling are some of the high-risk security issues. Serverless vendors are working quite hard to overcome these issues and are getting success.

Serverless computing Leading Service providers

Amazon Web Services (AWS) – Amazon is the leading service provider for cloud computing. It provides many services related to the cloud, like AWS EC2 for IaaS, AWS Elastic Beanstalk for PaaS, etc. For Serverless computing, they launched AWS Lambda in 2014.

AWS Lambda is an event-driven platform that meters the price in milliseconds.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) Google Cloud Platform (GCP) is a full suite of Google’s cloud computing services. It offers Google App Engine for PaaS, Compute Engine for IaaS, Cloud Functions for Serverless Computing, etc. Google is the cheapest cloud provider in the market.

Microsoft Azure – The software giant Microsoft has its Azure Platform to offer cloud computing services. It has Virtual Machines for IaaS, App Services for PaaS, Azure Functions for Serverless computing, etc. Microsoft is the 2nd largest cloud vendor after Amazon.

Apart from all these top vendors, there are Cloudflare Workers, IBM Cloud Functions, Knative, etc.

It was brief information about serverless computing. Each cloud vendor has its own set of applications for serverless computing. These applications work differently, and one has to go through proper documentation to start working on them. I will take a look at all these applications like AWS, GCD, Azure, etc., and will share the takeaways with all of you on this blog.

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