Most people don’t fully understand serverless architecture; after all, it isn’t really serverless. Ultimately, applications can only function if they run on a server somewhere. In simple terms, serverless architecture means a cloud provider—such as Google®, Amazon Web Services® (AWS®), or Microsoft® Azure®—provides the back-end infrastructure of an application. Part of its popularity is due to services like Kubernetes®, which caused many companies to suddenly gain an interest in paying to have their applications hosted on other services. However, despite the major benefits of serverless architecture, a few key challenges remain.
Buying Time While Reducing Costs
The most significant benefit to implementing a serverless architecture is relieving already time-poor developers of time-consuming operational maintenance and saving businesses from massive operational costs.
Not owning the back-end infrastructure on which applications run helps cut down the maintenance developers are responsible for, such as provisioning and scaling. As such, the auto scaling and debugging offered by cloud providers via serverless architecture has become one of the most attractive selling points of adopting decentralised back-end infrastructure.
By sharing the burden of back-end maintenance, developers are free to prioritise more critical projects. For example, capacity planning will no longer be a concern for developers, as it will already be done for them. Likewise, the cloud service provider will automate the serverless architecture, allowing it to downsize or upscale if necessary, all without developer direction.
Serverless architecture additionally causes responsibility and accountability to shift in the right direction. If something goes wrong on the back end, the onus will be on the provider—not the developer—to remedy the situation. So if something does crash, it will no longer be up to the developers to spend their time and allocate their resources towards fixing it.
Finally, serverless architecture can be a highly cost-effective option, depending on your business size and unique needs. Saving your developers time means saving money and reducing operational costs. Another benefit many people don’t consider: having off-site back-end infrastructure allows you to remove “server expert” from the long list of requirements when hiring.
So if operational costs are weighing your business down, serverless architecture might be a great option.
Potential Challenges to Consider
While the benefits are undeniable, as with much technology, serverless architecture is complex, and its decentralised nature can create a few problems.
First, without direct ownership and oversight of the back end, the applications running behind the scenes are almost impossible to monitor. This limited visibility can sometimes result in a dangerous guessing game, forcing developers to speculate about the performance of an application. This has a knock-on effect when it comes to trying to address performance issues or track key performance analytics.
The more significant concern is security. With a bigger attack surface area, there can be a greater security risk with serverless architecture compared to keeping everything in-house. Ultimately, it comes down to how well the cloud services provider manages risk. This is why it’s essential to always do your research when moving to the cloud to ensure everything is secure. As the old saying goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.
Finally, serverless architecture isn’t an instant universal solution to back-end grievances, and some applications simply weren’t designed for it. For example, provider pricing is often based on the resources an application uses. Applications built to consume massive amounts of computing resources will result in drastic increases in costs for your business, in which case, you may be better off hosting it in-house.
When to Give Serverless Architecture a Go
One of the main use cases for serverless architecture is when an organisation has an application designed to run code and perform trigger-based tasks, often referred to as a “set-it-and-forget-it” application. In such instances, the application remains passive on the infrastructure and waits for a trigger event. Serverless architectures are useful for these application types because the application increases resource utilisation as needed for the triggered event, keeping costs low.
Additionally, serverless architecture is great for continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) projects due to its real-time ability to update code. By allowing developers to constantly update code in production without worrying about having to update the server, serverless architecture creates a quicker time to delivery.
Overall, if operational maintenance is a major burden on your business, serverless architecture could be both a time-saving and cost-effective solution. However, this isn’t your sign to jump the gun; it’s important to still consider who your cloud provider is, ensure their security is airtight, and think about what your applications need before making the switch, ensuring benefits are maximised, and hurdles minimised.