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Serverless computing explained

Photo by Rosie Steggles on Unsplash

Is our server up? Developers who build serverless apps never ask that question. Although their software still runs on servers, they neither own nor rent any virtual machines. Instead, they run their code on the capacity of serverless computing platforms managed and maintained by major cloud providers.

If you’re building a cloud-native app with a small team, going serverless may be a good idea. Not only will you let your team focus on their core product but also optimize the usage of computing capacity. Let’s take a closer look at what serverless is and what benefits it brings to the table.

What serverless means

The term "serverless" refers to the method of building, deploying, and operating cloud-native software that became possible after the launch of the AWS Lambda serverless platform and its analogies. This method has changed the way how cloud resources are consumed, apps are architectured, and development processes are organized. To decide if this method is right for your project, you should know how it works.

How serverless works

Serverless platforms operate using the Functions-as-a-Service (FaaS) computing model. They dynamically allocate their resources to execute modular pieces of code that are stored on the platform in the form of independent functions. Those functions can be separate simple apps, like chatbots. They also can be microservices integrated into the architecture of a bigger app and be responsible for small parts of its business logic. For example, serverless functions can perform user authentication, run database queries, collect data from IoT devices, or process images and video.

Once deployed functions are stored on the serverless platform in an idle state and get executed only if triggered by user input, API calls, or some other events. When the platform receives a request for a particular function, it invokes the code and allocates computing resources to execute it.

When to use serverless

The beauty of serverless is that it allows building apps with the microservice architecture where each function can be scaled automatically and independently. Developers deploy code and the platform takes care of its availability and fault tolerance. It starts as many instances of each function as many requests it gets to meet the user demand and stops them after they are no longer used.

As for the tech stack, serverless functions can be written with Java, Go, PowerShell, Node.js, JavaScript, C#, Python, and Ruby. That being said, Node.js and Python are most commonly used to write serverless code. Those languages allow to spin up functions faster and are good for gluing microservices of one app together and funneling data from one function to the next.

Key benefits of going serverless

By and large, serverless computing promises a better use of your investment and a lower operational complexity of building and running apps. Let’s zoom into the three major benefits that contribute to this big promise.

Fast development

Going serverless removes the burden of provisioning and maintaining servers from your team. Developers can focus on writing code that tackles business logic while cloud providers take full care of the infrastructure. As a result, your team deploys new features faster as developers don’t get distracted by operational issues.

Flexible scaling

When building a serverless app you take advantage of automatic scaling of its capacity in response to its actual usage. You don’t have to worry about running out of capacity at peak times or if your user base grows fast. It means your team isn’t involved in managing scale and doesn’t have to plan for capacity and overprovision servers for future use.

Cost optimization

With serverless computing, you don’t have to pay flat monthly fees for a certain number of rented servers. Instead, you pay flexible fees for the computing capacity your app actually consumes. Cloud providers charge you per consumption units, such as the number of requests to your app and the time it takes to execute them. This billing model allows you to save money by not paying for idle resources.

Even though serverless computing has strong upsides, it’s not perfect. Microservice architecture complexity and debugging difficulty remain its major challenges. This is why it’s important that you hire serverless developers with solid expertise. Working with a team that knows the ins and outs of serverless computing will guarantee a shorter time-to-market and a flawless launch for your app.

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