Serverless architecture is a bit of a misnomer. The term itself implies your applications aren’t running on any servers, which isn’t the case. Serverless architecture means a cloud provider—such as Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS), or Microsoft Azure
—provides and owns the serverless platform and back-end infrastructure, which has its own pros and cons. Serverless architecture is sometimes also referred to as function as a service (FaaS) or stateless, serverless computing. Services like Kubernetes caused a rise in popularity, so now many companies pay to have their applications hosted on other servers.
Pros of Serverless Architecture
There are some benefits to not owning the back-end infrastructure on which your applications run. Developers, for example, don’t have to worry about capacity planning, as it’s done for them. The cloud services provider will automate the serverless functions, so it can provide additional resources for scalability or downsize as necessary, checking one more task off the to-do list for developers. Instead of being responsible for maintaining the back-end infrastructure—which includes things like provisioning and scaling—developers can spend more time on other, more meaningful projects.
This elasticity means organizations don’t have to worry about the same kinds of things they would with a server they own, like capacity planning. And because organizations aren’t responsible for the back-end infrastructure, they also aren’t the ones who have to fix things if something crashes or goes wrong. The auto-scaling and debugging offered by the cloud provider can help make serverless architecture a worthwhile investment.
Cost is also one of the benefits of serverless architecture (though it can also be a drawback), as it can sometimes be a cost-effective option. Saving your team time means saving money, and the less time teams spend on maintenance for the back-end infrastructure, the more an organization can reduce its costs. Additionally, using serverless architecture can mean a company doesn’t need an entire team to manage servers. This opens the door for more lenient hiring, as new developers don’t need to be server experts if the organization is using serverless applications because they aren’t managing the servers.
Cons of Serverless Architecture
Though there are advantages to serverless architecture, there are also some drawbacks companies should consider before shifting everything over to cloud computing. Not every application that goes through the application development process is meant to be a serverless app.
Because of the nature of serverless architecture, the applications running on it are almost impossible to monitor. When organizations don’t own the server, they have limited visibility into everything running on it, which can make it harder to gauge the performance of an application. This also means they won’t be able to see trends in performance issues easily or be proactive in preventing issues like latency. Since they’re not responsible for the back end, they can’t dive in to investigate logs, for example. Handing over this responsibility can be a good thing in some ways, but it also means organizations can’t see into key performance analytics and don’t know how well things are performing there.
Security is another potential drawback of serverless architecture. Serverless apps can be a greater security risk, as there’s a larger attack surface than companies would normally have with an in-house server. This also depends on the cloud services provider and the measures the third-party services are taking in comparison to the company’s ability to stay secure. If an organization doesn’t think they can keep their servers more secure than AWS Lambda can, for instance, it can make more sense to go with the cloud vendor instead.
Resource limitations can be another drawback to serverless architecture. Though serverless architecture offers elasticity and can spin up and down to allocate resources to your applications, there are limitations to how far it can go. If an organization has a larger application that would exceed these limits, serverless architecture may not be a good fit.
Certain applications also aren’t designed to be serverless applications, so serverless architecture doesn’t fit every use case. For example, because pricing can be based on the resources an application uses, applications designed to chew through the computing resources they’re given can spike the cost of serverless architecture. The application continually uses up more and more resources, and the organization has to pay for it.
Use Cases for Serverless Architecture
One of the main use cases for serverless architecture is when an organization has an application designed to run code and perform trigger-based tasks. When a user activity triggers something else to happen in the application, it’s popular to put it on serverless architecture. Because the application is more passive and waits for the trigger event before it does anything, it won’t use up more resources than the organization can afford. These “set-it-and-forget-it” applications can be great candidates for being hosted on serverless architecture.
Additionally, serverless architecture can be good for continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) projects
. Serverless architecture works well with these kinds of projects because developers can constantly update code in production without worrying about having to update the server. This real-time ability to update code can be incredibly important.
The Future of Serverless Architecture
Tech pros are always looking for new ways to improve processes, and serverless architecture is no exception. Serverless architecture is something niche right now with the potential to continue to grow. What we have now is a precursor to better things; in the future, we’ll hopefully see improvements in the predictability and security of serverless architecture. Reliability is another thing serverless architecture will likely address. Right now, organizations looking for reliability shy away from serverless architecture and lean more toward traditional on-premises servers, cloud hosted (but not owned) solutions, or microservices
, where they have more control over what happens.
As the developer community moves more toward CI/CD pipelines and leveraging the benefits of DevOps
across their processes, serverless architecture will continue to be an important tool. Developers are always looking for ways to avoid downtime for upgrades, and serverless architecture helps make this possible. As this trend continues, serverless architecture will continue to meet this need, and it will likely continue to evolve as the developer community changes course. We’re still in the beginning stages of where serverless architecture will go, and though it likely won’t go anywhere anytime soon, we’ll continue to see serverless architecture evolve.
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