What is Serverless Computing?

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By Lokesh Joshi

Developers put significant effort into writing code that aims to solve certain business problems. The operations team then spends numerous hours figuring out the best way to run the code on whatever computers are available and ensuring that those computers run smoothly; this part of the development process is truly an endless challenge.

Digital computers, cloud computing, and containers are some of the key advancements in the IT sector over the last two decades that have concentrated on ensuring that you don’t have to worry about the actual physical system that your code runs on. Serverless computing is a growing paradigm that aims to minimize the time and effort required to maintain the systems that run code and support the proper operation of apps. You don’t have to worry about the hardware or operating system your code runs on with serverless computing because it’s all taken care of for you by a service provider.

What is Serverless Computing?

Serverless computing is a cloud execution model in which a cloud provider automatically allocates, and charges the user only for the compute and storage resources required to run a specific piece of code. Obviously, servers are utilized to store and run the code, but the provider is responsible for their provisioning and maintenance.

Serverless functions are event-driven. In other words, a piece of code will only be executed when a request triggers it. Instead of a flat monthly fee for running a physical or virtual server, the provider only charges for the computing time used by the execution. These functions can be linked to form a processing pipeline. They can be used as parts of a more extensive program, communicating with code running in containers or traditional servers.

Pros and Cons of Serverless Computing

Below are the four primary advantages of serverless computing:

  • It allows developers to concentrate on programming rather than infrastructure. It’s also a multilingual environment, allowing developers to code in any language or framework they’re familiar with, such as Java, Python, or Node.js.
  • It allows developers to purchase services they like. This means they would have to only pay for the services they have available. Serverless Computing, thus, implements a flexible ‘pay-as-you-go’ model as its pricing plan.
  • Serverless computing can be quicker and more cost-effective than other types of computing, especially for certain workloads, such as those that need parallel processing.
  • Serverless application development systems have near-complete insight into device and user times. Also, they have the ability to aggregate the data systematically.

On the flip side, serverless computing has some drawbacks too that are as follows:

  • Since serverless architectures avoid long-running processes in favor of scaling up and down to zero, they must sometimes restart from the beginning to satisfy a new request. This delay may not significantly affect some applications, but it would be unacceptable in others, such as a low-latency financial application.
  • In any distributed system, the operational tasks are complex, and the transition to microservices and serverless architectures (and the combination of the two) only adds more difficulty in managing these environments.
  • FaaS and serverless workloads are built to scale up and down ideally in response to workload, saving you money on spiky workloads. However, for workloads characterized by predictable, steady, or long-running processes, serverless does not deliver these savings, and maintaining a traditional server environment can be easier and more cost-effective.
  • Serverless architectures are designed to take advantage of a controlled cloud environment. In terms of architectural models, such architectural structures help in dissociating workload from anything more scalable, such as a virtual machine (VM) Docker container. For some businesses, much of the benefit of the cloud is seen in integration of the business with cloud providers’ native managed services; for others, these trends reflect material lock-in threats that must be mitigated.

How do Serverless Stacks Work?

The serverless environment has seen the evolution of stacks of software, which put together various components required to create a serverless application. Each stack consists of a programming language in which you’ll write the code, an application framework that gives the code structure, and a set of triggers that the platform can recognize and use to start code execution.

Although you can mix and match unique products in each of these categories, there are restrictions based on the vendor you choose, with some overlap. For example, on AWS Lambda, you can use Node.js, Java, Go, C#, and Python. However, when it comes to Azure Functions, only JavaScript, C#, and F# work natively. AWS Lambda has the most triggers, but many of them are exclusive to the AWS platform, such as Amazon Simple Email Service and AWS code Commit. Google Cloud Functions, on the other hand, can be activated by an HTTP request.

Understanding Serverless Frameworks

Serverless Framework offers solutions for deploying, alerting, monitoring, testing and security. It presents over two thousand plugins, and a larger database of examples and guides for the developer to go through. Additionally, it provides a plugin for offline development.

It is a popular choice for customers of Amazon Web Services (AWS), on the lookout for constructing and deploying relevant serverless applications. Serverless Framework makes it possible for developers to build and deploy code using a single command, “serverless deploy” and adds to the ease of their working.

Thus, deploying code becomes a whole lot easier and faster for professionals in this line of work.

Understanding serverless databases

Working with serverless code has a few quirks, one of which is that it has no permanent state. It means that the values of local variables don’t persist through instantiations. Any permanent data that your code needs to access must be stored somewhere else, and all of the major vendors’ trigger stacks contain triggers, which further include databases that your functions can communicate with. Some of these databases are referred to as serverless databases.

They work similarly to the other serverless functions, except for the fact that the data is stored indefinitely. However, much of the management overhead associated with setting up and managing a database is eliminated. You pay for the time you use the database, and resources are spun up and down as required to meet changing demands, just like the function-as-a-service offerings.

Amazon’s Aurora Serverless and DynamoDB, Microsoft’s Azure Cosmos DB, and Google’s Cloud Firestore are the three major serverless database providers.

Understanding Serverless Computing

Containers provide the underpinnings for serverless technology, but the overhead of managing them is handled by the provider and therefore invisible to the consumer. Many people see serverless computing as a way to enjoy several benefits of containerized microservices without dealing with their complexities. Experts are terming it as a post-container environment defined as a shift to serverless computing. Containers and serverless computing can almost certainly coexist for several years to come. Serverless functions may also coexist with containerized microservices in the same application.

What are the Applications of Serverless Computing?

Asynchronous, stateless apps that can be started instantly benefit from serverless architecture. Serverless is also a good match for use cases of infrequent, unpredictable high demands.

Consider a job like batch image file processing, which can run infrequently but must be ready when a large batch of images arrives all at once. Or a task such as monitoring incoming database changes and then performing a series of actions, such as reviewing the changes against quality standards or automatically translating them.

Incoming data sources, chatbots, planned activities, and business logic are solid candidates for serverless applications. Backend APIs and web applications, business process automation, serverless websites, and convergence through multiple systems are typical serverless use cases.

The Future of Serverless Computing

  • You can expect it everywhere

Serverless computing models make it easier for developers to build and manage code. It adds to their ease of development of software. Thus, it enables businesses to focus on other parameters, like customer service and the quality of their products, due to this cloud platform. Many experts associated with this line of study contemplate the rising importance and prevalence of serverless computing as software architecture.

DingTalk, WeChat and Didi are a few platforms using APIs that have incorporated serverless computing.

  • It will sync everything in the cloud and its ecosystem.

So far in this article, we have discussed why we need to link Function Compute with other cloud services, using an event-driven approach. In the future, it will link both cloud resources and their ecosystem. Whether the events occur in on-premises environments or public clouds, all events related to users’ applications or partners’ services can be processed in a serverless manner. The cloud and its ecosystem would become more interconnected, allowing users to create more versatile and highly accessible applications.

  • It will create higher performance to power and performance to price ratios.

Virtual machines and containers are two distinct types of virtualization technologies. The former has high overheads and good protection, while the latter has the opposite. At the same time, serverless computing systems need the highest level of security and the smallest amount of resources. In addition, serverless computing systems must be consistent with the original methods of program execution. A serverless computing platform must be capable of supporting arbitrary binary files. That makes using language-specific VMs to build a serverless computing platform pretty much impractical. As a result, new lightweight virtualization technologies have emerged, such as AWS Firecracker and Google gVisor.

Take AWS Firecracker for example. It provides the bare minimum system model and optimizes kernel loading, resulting in startup times of less than 100 milliseconds and low memory use. Thousands of instances can run on a single bare metal case. Cloud service providers hope to increase the oversell rate by order of magnitude while retaining reliable efficiency with the aid of resource scheduling algorithms.

As the size and influence of serverless computing grow, it becomes increasingly necessary to incorporate end-to-end optimization based on the load characteristics of serverless computing at the application context, language, and hardware levels. The startup speed of Java applications has been improved thanks to a new Java virtual machine technology. Non-volatile memory aids instances in waking up faster from sleep mode. In high-density computing settings, CPUs and operating systems work together to achieve fine-grained isolation of output disruption factors. These emerging developments are all contributing to the development of new computing environments.

Supporting heterogeneous hardware is another way to improve performance-to-power and performance-to-price ratios. For a long time, it has been challenging to boost the efficiency of x86 processors. GPUs, FPGAs, and TPUs have more computational performance advantages in some situations that require high computing power, such as when AI is involved.

The computing power of heterogeneous hardware can be supported in a serverless manner with more mature virtualization of heterogeneous hardware, resource pooling, heterogeneous resource scheduling, and application framework help. It would make serverless computing more accessible to consumers.


If you only need to host a few functions, you should consider using a serverless provider. Serverless architecture can still be helpful if your application is more complex, but you would need to architect your application differently. If you already have an application, this might not be possible.

It might make more sense to move small portions of the application to serverless functions gradually. Serverless computing’s success is due to the rationale that led to its creation and growth. Serverless computing would undoubtedly reshape the way businesses innovate over the next decade, assisting the cloud to become a dominant force for social development.

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