Serverless architecture is an increasingly popular approach to application development, where deployment and maintenance of servers are outsourced to third parties. In a sense, the term serverless architecture is something of a misnomer because eventually, the code has to run on a server. The term serverless class architecture is used from the point of view of developers, who do not need to maintain the underlying infrastructure required for the testing, running, and deployment of application code.
Most of the cloud companies are already providing a serverless architecture facility. Some of the most prominent ones include Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Auth0 Webtask, and Google cloud.
What is serverless architecture?
In serverless architecture, the infrastructure is provided by third-party vendors as BaaS (back end as a service). Companies and individuals signing up for this cloud-based infrastructure need to install an API add their end to access the services provided by the window. The payment mode of using serverless architecture is paid as you use, which proves to be a viable option for companies of all sizes. The development team focuses only on writing the code, which is then submitted to the vendor for testing, debugging, deployment and maintenance.
The vendor provides the necessary tools for all tasks like testing, debugging, maintenance, monitoring, security, etc. The users simply need to decide which tool to use. Serverless architecture is completely event-driven. Each event at the developer's end calls a function rendered as function as a service (FaaS), which is used to perform all the required activities.
Frameworks of a serverless architecture
Now that we know that serverless architecture is not exactly serverless, let us see the components that are required to work with third-party servers. The framework of serverless architecture for application development must include these components.
1. Client application
Whatever the state of your server architecture, the client interface must be rendered on the client-side. So, a static web server is enough for running client applications.
2. Web server
3. FaaS solution
FaaS means Function as a Service, which is often interchanged with a serverless architecture. Although it is not a complete architecture in itself, it is the most important component of serverless computing. These functions enable teams to develop, run, deploy and manage applications without worrying about server software and infrastructure.
Whatever operating system, tool or framework required by the developer; it is available through FaaS with a few clicks.
4. Security token service (STS)
Users of serverless computing use the service provider API for logging into the system and using its various service. The serverless architecture must be able to generate a security token for each user, which then triggers access to API.
5. User authentication
In a typical serverless environment, the customer signs up for the service and then it is up to the serverless computing to ensure that each end-user is able to sign up and log into the application quickly and easily.
Even if an application has been developed and is being used through a serverless architecture, the data related to the application needs to be stored in a database. This database must be a part of serverless architecture.
Why should I choose serverless architecture?
Choose serverless architecture if:
- You want to invest time as well as resources in developing a solution rather than provisioning, implementing, debugging and maintaining the infrastructure.
- Reducing development costs without affecting quality is a priority.
- You have to develop flexible and lightweight applications that need to be updated frequently and immediately
- You need to set up many different types of environment in application development.
- You want automatic scaling up, without getting involved in the complexities.
How does the serverless app works?
Serverless applications are event-driven systems that run completely on the cloud. The triggering events make calls to compute containers and dynamic allocation of server capabilities is done by vendors providing backend services. The compute containers are provided as Function as a Service (FaaS) while vendors provide Backend as a (BaaS).
Examples of serverless applications
Some categories of serverless applications are very popular and have been developed time and again. Here are a few examples:
1. Web application architecture
You no longer need to maintain a dedicated shared server for your websites or web applications. The vendor providing back end services will help you build the API for connecting with the cloud services and the rest is as simple as logging into your account and running the code.
Building single-page applications are even easier and quick with a serverless architecture. These pages are lightweight, with few dependencies, making them perfect for going serverless.
2. IoT back end
When you have hundreds of applications connected to your IoT network, managing them and the data generated by them can be a nightmare for engineers maintaining the application server. Because the server must always perform to its fullest without any downtime. Using serverless architecture, you can focus on building the rules that will trigger device registration logic, database search for specific devices, activation code for activating the device is requesting access.
3. SaaS integration
Building SaaS applications is all about the ability to handle fluctuating load on the service in terms of tasks and customers both. Traditionally this has proved challenging for the solution architects, as they need to factor in the ever-changing demand landscape. With serverless architecture, this can become very easy because automatic scaling up is inherent to serverless computing. In fact, the consumption model of serverless architecture is precisely suited for the continuously changing requirements of SaaS applications.
4. Mobile back end
The most important aspect of serverless architecture is its ability to provide different types of environments in just a few keystrokes. Using serverless architecture, software engineers can build mobile applications that behave and perform like native apps. When it comes to end-users, mobile users can easily perform tasks by calling serverless functions that are actually rendered by the cloud vendor.
Benefits of serverless architecture
Serverless architecture provides lots of benefits to the developers and organization management.
1. Hassle free operations management
Legacy systems have always integrated software development with the infrastructure required to do so. This has proved to be an obstacle for innovation in solution development. Because the state of infrastructure must always be kept in mind while developing solutions. And it is a well-known fact that technology for software development has evolved at a much faster rate than that for infrastructure.
With serverless architecture, developers can think only about providing the best solution to the client, without worrying about the infrastructure required to develop and deploy the system. This is almost a dream come true for operations management team trying to bring development and operations on the same page.
Serverless architecture does away with the need for continuous integration and continuous delivery tools. If an organization uses the DevOps approach to solution development, going serverless can help implement it more fully.
2. Empowers development teams to innovate
With infrastructure issues out of the way, the team can now focus on delivering innovative solutions to client problems. Decreased operational time ensures smoother adoption of Agile methodologies and DevOps approaches during application development.
Product managers have all the freedom and resources to focus on developing business logic, providing innovative solutions, developing applications quickly and solving client concerns.
3. Reduced operational costs
For any project, the two main components of cost are infrastructure and human resource costs. Serverless architecture ensures that infrastructure costs are reduced to a fraction of the original cost. As people are also focusing more on developing solutions rather than maintaining the infrastructure, their productivity increases, thereby increasing RoI on human resource. Added up together, the overall operational costs reduced drastically as compared to maintaining your own infrastructure.
4. Quick scaling up
With serverless architecture, applications can be scaled up quickly without having to worry if the infrastructure will be is capable of this. Just with a few keystrokes, the developers can start using the new services and environment essential for scaling up.
Drawbacks of serverless architecture
Not everything is perfect with serverless architectures. It has its own bunch of issues that must be taken care of before it can be popularized further.
1. Third-party API issues
When developers use serverless architecture, they give up control of their own applications. When the end-users are using these serverless applications, rendering of third-party APIs may throw up many unexpected issues like forced updating, vendor control, security, loss of functionality, etc.
As most of these third-party service providers charge based on the amount of time resources are used or the number of functions running, costs may go up unexpectedly. If the vendor provides shared infrastructure, speed, security, and bug fixes may prove tricky.
2. Complexity of serverless architecture
Building distributed computing architectures is both complex and time-intensive, even if it is serverless. Due to this going serverless poses problems of its own. Deciding the size of each function is a very crucial step in developing serverless solutions. If the function sizes are too small, developers can end up with a huge conglomerate of functions in the name of the application. If the function sizes are too big, it’s development, testing, debugging and monitoring cannot be optimized.
Another common problem faced by developers is the selection of tools for each step of solution development.
3. Cold/warm start-up issues
The speed of service is not fixed in case of serverless functions. A function that has not been used for quite a long time is called a cold function. A function that has been used recently is called a warm function. A cold function takes longer to launch as compared to a warm function, which is undesirable.
4. Lack of operational tools and metrics
Most of the operations in serverless architecture are opaque and currently the amount of operational metrics released by the third party is also not sufficient. Developers face lots of trouble in debugging and monitoring applications. In the case of outages, developers do not have sufficient tools to redirect traffic or take any other step necessary to solve the problems.
Why serverless architecture is the future of modern app development
Despite all the issues listed here, serverless architecture is the future of modern application development. This is because it enables application development at low cost, time to market is very less and operations can be scaled up easily.
At just five years old, serverless architecture is still in a nascent stage. It is gaining popularity because of its many advantages but it needs to be made more robust, secure and transparent for wider adoption. Companies providing serverless architectures services must look towards releasing more operational metrics and providing more tools to the developers for debugging and maintenance.
Azure for serverless architecture
Microsoft Azure is a rich set of tools for implementing serverless architecture. The functions can be easily triggered by developers when they want to execute their code. The programming language is not an issue here and charges are levied only for the duration that it is used. The services can be scaled automatically as per requirement.
Here are some important tools in Microsoft Azure:
- Azure Functions for executing code
- Azure Storage for cloud storage
- Azure Cosmos DB for database services
- Azure Active Directory for security and access control
- Event Grid and Service Bus for cloud messaging
- Logic Apps for workflow orchestration
- API Management and Azure Functions Proxies for creating and managing microservice architectures
- Azure Stream Analytics and Event Hubs for analytics support
- Cognitive Services for artificial intelligence support
- Azure SDKs and Tools for API
- Visual Studio Developer Tools for integrated development experience and Continuous Integration/Continuous delivery
- Open source Serverless Framework to build a serverless architecture
AWS for serverless architecture
AWS also offers a set of fully managed services that can be used to build serverless applications regardless of scale and complexity. It will empower you to build focus on building solutions that drive your business growth.
Here are some important tools from the stable of AWS:
- AWS Lambda for executing code
- Amazon S3 for cloud storage
- Amazon DynamoDB for database services
- Amazon API gateway for API management
- Amazon SNS for application integration
- Amazon Event Bridge for event bus services
- AWS Step Functions for orchestrating components of distributed applications
- Amazon Kinesis for analytics
Serverless architecture made its appearance in 2014 and since then it has been growing slowly but steadily. It is the future of application development because every organization, irrespective of its size, prefers to channelize its resources prudently to achieve maximum return on investments. Using serverless architecture enables software engineers to deliver solutions that can perform at any scale, in record time, at reduced costs, without compromising on quality.
Serverless computing has to be a change in approach towards software development, where the focus is on providing innovative solutions rather than worrying about how those solutions will be implemented. As companies scale up and realize the potency of serverless computing, its usage will increase. It is also expected that serverless computing will become more secure, reliable and easy to use in future.