What Is a Serverless Architecture?


The term ‘serverless’ has been one of the most trending topics in the IT world. The popularity of serverless architecture has not been limited to the software community discussion but has also been a part of the IT solutions of major cloud vendors including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. So what exactly is serverless and how did it manage to gain such traction in the IT sphere?

Problem

Traditionally, software developers have to develop their web or mobile applications and deploy the back-end on a physical server. The server then has to be configured accordingly to generate optimum results. Moreover, as the application undergoes changing and requires maintenance, the server requires continuous changes related to the updating, installing, patching and testing.

Recently, monolithic architectures have been shunned by the software community as the microservices architectures have enjoyed considerable popularity. The reason behind this paradigm shift is the tight coupling of the monolithic applications that really make it hard to update and maintain their codebases. Microservices help to address the pre-existing issues of monolithic architecture by empowering software teams to code in parallel for developing loosely coupled and robust applications. These applications can be quickly modified and scaled.

However, the adoption of the microservices architecture results in tremendous costs when they are run on physical servers. Whether a server is idle or responding to a request, the expenses are the same for software developers. This raises a question: why should a developer pay when the server is idle?

Earlier, attempts were made at eliminating server complexities through the use of cloud technologies like IaaS and virtualization. Although these solutions can delegate the server requirements to a third-party cloud provider, they cannot remove the servers from the scene altogether.

What Is a Serverless Architecture?

Serverless computing helps to reduce the above-mentioned issues by the total abolishment of the physical IT infrastructure in the development of an application. Instead, the application is managed by a third-party like Amazon’s Lambda. In layman terms, serverless architecture is coding without worrying about the servers. Other prominent names in serverless computing like Amazon’s Lambda include Google Cloud Functions, Microsoft’s Azure etc. Serverless computing also includes the use of appropriate APIs for an application as well as choosing the right design patterns.

Serverless architecture improves the scalability of an application as well as provides a massive boost to its performance. Instagram serves as a noteworthy example of the magic of serverless computing. When Instagram was initially launched, it had a limited amount of users. However, as the social media app gained popularity among users, its servers were unable to deal with the application requests, causing the performance of the app to deteriorate. Thankfully, Instagram was saved with the adoption of the serverless architecture.

However, this does not mean that every failing app can be saved by the introduction of the serverless architecture. Serverless computing is an approach that can fit certain use cases like that of the development of enterprise applications.

Simply put, serverless architectures are focused on streamlining the difficulties that exist in traditional architectures (like monolithic) through the removal of the servers. The vision behind the architecture is to empower the developer. Why should a developer focus on the patching, testing, and management of servers and operating systems? The serverless architecture provides an opportunity for software developers to concentrate on their front-end and back-end logic with greater attention to detail.

Additionally, it also eases the workload of developers by minimizing their codebases. As a result, developers can design and develop applications that are not only scalable but are also loosely coupled. ‘Loosely coupled’ means that each module or component of an application is independent and can be maintained separately, resulting in a noticeable decrease in code redundancy. With a serverless compute, applications will be able to execute their code when they are responding to events in parallel.

However, traditional architectures cannot coexist with serverless architecture due to its out-of-the-box vision. On the other hand, modern architecture like event-driven and microservices are well equipped to be integrated with the serverless architectures.

Advantages

We have discussed some of the advantages above. We will now look at some additional benefits of the serverless architectures.

Fair Charges

Perhaps, the biggest reason behind the success of serverless architecture is its reduced costs. Unlike traditional IT setups in which developers have to pay for 24/7 use of servers, the charges here are only incurred when an application utilizes the third-party resources. For example, there is a physical server with 50 GB memory. No matter if the customer is using 5GB or 20GB of its capacity, the costs associated with it will remain the same. However, in the case of serverless computing, the customer would have to pay exactly for 5 or 20 GB of memory usage, depending upon their usage.

Rapid Development

Traditional architecture often requires a lot of time on a specific module of a system. As a result, developers are working day and night to complete a certain module and then deploy it further.

Serverless architecture helps to break down the development phases into small and manageable components. These components can be quickly added to the development lifecycle, increasing the pace of the development and deployment. Additionally, it helps in the iterative feedback that can help to continuously improve the components of the systems.

Disadvantages

The serverless architecture is not without its faults.

Dependence on the Vendors

Since the server is managed by a vendor, hence there are issues related to the control and governance of the IT solutions as well as the security vulnerabilities related to the access aspect of an application.

High Latency

As the web and mobile applications generally deal with a lot of calls, there is the problem for startup latency. Latency for different functions can vary and may take greater time in some cases.

Final Thoughts

Serverless is not just a buzzword. It is a vastly powerful architecture that can speed up the development life cycles. More importantly, it can rescue software developers from dealing with lower level hardware and architectural complexities and can completely eliminate this hardware from the scene. As a result, certain added costs are also saved while the modern-day architectures like microservices can be easily integrated with serverless architectures for the robust development of mobile and web applications.

 

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