What Is Serverless Architecture? Pros, Cons, and How to Get Started

January 18,2021 - 4 min read
 What Is Serverless Architecture? Pros, Cons, and How to Get Started

Serverless architecture is also known by the name FaaS which stands for serverless computing or function as a service. It is basically a software design pattern in which applications are hosted by a third-party service. This eliminates the need for server software and hardware management. In serverless architecture, applications are divided into individual functions that can be invoked and scaled individually.

When a software application is hosted on the internet, it usually involves managing some kind of server infrastructure like a virtual or physical server that needs to be managed along with the operating system and other web server hosting processes required for the application to run. When a virtual server is used, it eliminates the concerns associated with a physical hardware. However, it still requires management of the operating system and the web server software processes to an extent.

The advent of serverless architecture has enabled you to focus purely on the code of your application and its functions. There are various services such as AWS Lambda and Microsoft Functions that provide serverless function and hence take care of all the physical hardware, virtual machine operating system, and web server software management so that you can focus on your code solely.

There is a lot of confusion between Serverless or FaaS and PaaS or Platform as a Service. The primary difference between Faas and Paas is in the way the application is composes and deployed. Hence, the scalability of the application is affected. When it comes to Platform as a Service, the application is deployed as a single unit but the application is developed conventionally using a web framework. On the other hand, scaling of an application in PaaS is at the entire application level. The additional load can be handled by running multiple instances of it.

When it comes to FaaS, the application is composed into individual and independent functions where each of them is hosted by a FaaS provider. It can be scaled automatically depending on the function call frequency. Faas is a cost- effective method as you only pay when the functions get called.

Now that we have had a basic idea of serverless architecture, let’s understand the potential developers who should use serverless and whether it is right for you to use serverless, before moving to its pros and cons.

Should You Use Serverless?

It is said that serverless has many advantages and it is probably a modern technology that several developers are using. However, if you make an intelligent analysis, you would know that it is beneficial to use a serverless provider if you have a small number of functions that are hosted. However, even if your application is complex, it can still be beneficial to use a serverless architecture. However, the architecture of the application would be very different.

If you have an existing application, then you would have to contemplate and check for its feasibility as you would want to migrate small pieces of the application into serverless functions over a period of time.

We have had sufficient discussion on serverless architecture, its application and whether you should use it or not. However, just like every other technology, serverless architecture too has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s discuss the various pros and cons of Serverless Architecture which would help you make a better decision and also understand the concept better. Let’s get started with an intelligent analysis of Serverless Architecture!

Pros and Cons of Serverless Architecture

There are a lot of evident advantages of serverless architecture and hence many reasons why serverless architecture is better than traditional architecture. In this segment, we would discuss the various advantages of Serverless applications for application development. Let’s get started.

One evident advantage of serverless architecture is low cost. As mentioned above, in serverless architecture you only have to pay for what you use because there are no hardware costs involved and also you don’t have to pay anything when the services are not in use. Hence, when you use serverless architecture, reduced cost is one of the main advantages and if your services aren’t heavily used every time, then serverless architecture gives you optimal resource utilization.

Another major advantage of serverless architecture is that developers have less things to worry about. The servers are now in the hands of a third-party service provider and hence you don’t need to be concerned with keeping up with minor patches and bug fixes or the latest security features.

Other than these evident advantages, one technical benefit of serverless architecture is enhanced scalability. Serverless architecture has the ability to automatically scale with traffic volumes. Scaling depends on the location and network connection of users. However, Serverless providers diminishes delays and allows applications to perform irrespective of the geographic location of their users.

Hence, all these advantages of serverless architecture lets the developer focus on user experience. Hence, developers should take care of the features of the application rather that the infrastructure. With the help of serverless architecture, the maintenance of server is not the developer’s concern and hence they can dedicate more time, effort and resources to improve the elements of the application that are user- oriented and hence users are more engaged with application.

Now that we have discussed the various benefits of serverless architecture, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin. There are some great features that serverless architecture brings with itself, however, it’s not all the time that serverless scores a point against traditional architecture. In this segment, we discuss some potential drawbacks of serverless architecture.

One major disadvantage of serverless architecture is vendor lock-in. When you opt for serverless architecture, the control of your hardware, run times and updates is with the third-party providers and hence there might be issues with consistency and might limit the available resources. Also, when you commit to a service provider, it is difficult to make a switch to another vendor. Also, serverless involves third- party services, there is the risk that your vendor might change its pricing or service terms or might also stop offering services of serverless architecture and your application might feel the brunt of it.

Serverless architecture is also unsuitable for long- term tasks.

Serverless is not suitable for tasks of longer duration in which the functions are running constantly. In this situation, you might end up paying more. Additionally, we would be required to call additional functions when there is a task like uploading large video files.

Another feature of serverless architecture is cold starts. In this mode, you pay only for what you use, however, if you don’t use the function often, the vendor imposes a dramatic performance penalty. This is a disadvantage of serverless architecture, however, there can be an attempt to minimize cold starts by keeping the functions of your applications small and precise because cold starts increase with the size of code and memory utilised. This might avoid cold starts but in turn, it would become complicate and inefficient to manage numerous small functions.

Another issue with serverless architecture is complexity by that we mean that the learning curve is steep. A lot of time, resources and energy is invested in deployment and versioning in a serverless architecture.

We discussed the various disadvantages of serverless architecture, for businesses, the main drawback is vendor lock-in because the loss of control could be damaging. Many organisations are opting for serverless because it is cost-effective. However, it should also be noted that it is an unpredictable option because the number of operations is not defined prior to the execution. On the other hand, if you are a developer, the main disadvantage is that it is a relatively new technology and hence it can be very complex to learn and test. If developers do not adapt to the new environment and not develop applications correctly, they can lose customers or projects due to poor performance.

Although serverless has a couple of disadvantages, but also numerous benefits that we discussed earlier. The major reason behind its popularity is its cost-saving abilities and increased speed.

For developers, serverless architecture reduces the time spent on infrastructure and the need of worrying about scalability and focus on the product instead.

Whether you want to go serverless or not is a decision which involves trade-offs and the developers along with different companies would have to weigh the costs and benefits before finally committing to one method.

Now that we have understood the basic concept of serverless architecture and hopefully you would have made a decision of whether to learn and adapt serverless or not. If the decision you made is positive, the next segment would help you get started with serverless architecture.

Getting Started with Serverless Architecture

Conventionally, build an application required a developer to spend significant time and effort in managing servers and ensuring that the application scales up and is able to handle large volume of requests. However, with the advent of serverless architecture, you can run applications without worrying about managing and scaling servers. In order to get started with serverless architecture, the first thing is to upload the applications’ code to a cloud provider’s service. The provider would automatically provide an ephemeral environment. There are a lot of details and complexities involved in order to set up your application on a serverless architecture. Once you have deployed your application, the application would be able scale up so that it can handle thousands of requests in an instant. Also, as mentioned earlier in the blog, you only pay for the time during which the code is being executed.

With this we come to an end of our blog dedicated to serverless architecture. We hope that this blog proved to be useful and got you interested in serverless architecture. If it did, we have one course in mind that you might also find useful. This course aims at teaching web development and would be particularly helpful in making a lucrative career in the technology industry.

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