Serverless computing is a method of providing backend services on an as-used basis. Servers are still used, but a company that gets backend services from a serverless vendor is charged based on usage, not a fixed amount of bandwidth or number of servers.

What is Serverless Computing?

Serverless computing is a cloud-based, on-demand execution model where customers consume resources solely based on their application usage. Unlike a traditional virtual machine model where customers must build and manage an entire VM, serverless computing provides the ability to purchase only the CPU cycles and memory needed to support an application using an event-based pay-per-use model. This allows teams to sidestep much of the cost and time associated with managing hardware, platforms, and operating systems on-premises, while also gaining the flexibility to scale rapidly and efficiently.

Within this paradigm, it’s possible to run entire architectures without touching a traditional virtual server, either locally or in the cloud. Serverless resources are highly flexible and customized based on the application. REST APIs, authentication, databases, email, and video processing all have a home on serverless platforms. Services scale to meet demand. There is no need to plan for extra resources, update operating systems, or install frameworks because the provider is essentially your system administrator.

In contrast, traditional computing models rely on virtual or physical machines, where each instance includes a complete operating system, CPU cycles, and memory. Virtualization is a great example. VMware commercialized the idea of virtual machines (VMs), and cloud providers embraced the same concept with services like Amazon EC2, Google Compute, and Azure virtual machines. Serverless computing is a newer approach that simplifies manageability and reduces costs.

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How does Serverless Computing work?

Managing a server is a complex process and often involves much legwork. Setting up a server and deploying servers to your application is only the first step. You also have to monitor it, do regular maintenance, configure it, keep the servers and applications up to date, scale according to demand, etc.

In contrast, serverless divests you of all these responsibilities. Everything is abstracted away, so developers can focus on business requirements without worrying about managing any underlying infrastructure.

By using a programming language of their choice, most commonly Python and Node.js, developers use third-party resources to host applications. Thus, app-hosting becomes fast and efficient.

However, from the developer’s point of view, it is almost as if the servers are non-existent. Hence the term “serverless.” The fact is, servers are still giving you back-end services, but they are in the background with the vendor handling everything.

Key capabilities of serverless computing

At its foundational level, serverless functions eliminate the need for end users to manually manage the infrastructure. In turn, it provides these key capabilities:

  • Runs code residing as functions without the need for the user to explicitly provision or manage infrastructures such as servers, VMs, and containers.
  • Automatically provisions and scales the runtime environment, including all the necessary underlying resources (specifically the compute, storage, networking, and language execution environment) required to execute many concurrent function instances.
  • Offers additional capabilities for test and development environments along with service assurance purposes, such as monitoring, logging, tracing, and debugging.

Serverless computing advantages and disadvantages

Should you abandon your current setup and move to a serverless stack? Let’s dig into the pros and cons.

Advantages of serverless computing include:

  • Cost. You’ll only pay for what you use. In some other cloud-based models, you’ll reserve space (whether you use it or not).
  • Flexibility. Serverless models scale without your intervention.
  • Accuracy. Developers can focus on a specific function rather than worrying about the back-end architecture that supports that action. This separation of powers could allow for a cleaner code.
  • Speed. Developers don’t need to waste time worrying about estimating and allocating server space.

Drawbacks of serverless computing include:

  • Security. You’ll hand part of your data to another company that may or may not protect it. Of the 60 percent of companies that don’t adopt serverless systems, their leading concerns with the model are security and fear of the unknown.
  • Privacy. Your resources are shared in cloud environments that could also be inhabited by others.
  • Complexity. If something isn’t working as it should, spotting the issue could be difficult. You’ll have multiple spaces in which to look.
  • Contracts. Some vendors lock their clients into long-term agreements.

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Future of Serverless

With the global serverless market expected to grow at a  Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 30% and reach USD 16 billion by 2026, serverless will continue to be a lasting and viable computing option. Serverless computing is a cost-effective option for customers who want to execute code without the additional burden of capacity planning and provisioning resources.

In addition, the event-driven approach promises to be a game-changer for companies looking for low operational costs along with faster time-to-market options. However, since it may not be ideal for all scenarios, businesses need to be wary of the pitfalls before jumping on to the serverless bandwagon.

Summary

Serverless computing is a powerful technique for simplifying application deployment while saving money. However, due to limitations such as platform lock-in and limited control, it’s important to use serverless functions strategically by sticking with use cases where serverless makes good sense.