Serverless Computing

As we move into a more Internet-connected world, we’ll naturally see interesting new innovations in the technology space. Serverless computing is one such example, an increasingly popular paradigm; it advertises itself as a means for developers to set up web-based services without any of the stress of running a server.

Let’s take a thorough look at what serverless computing is and its other important details.

What Is Serverless Computing?

Here is a little technical answer to this question:

Serverless computing is a cloud-based application architecture where the application’s infrastructure and support services layer is completely abstracted from the software layer.

Now let’s get down to simple English:

In a world where everyone, from individuals to companies needs a website, hosting services need to make site creating as easy as possible. And that’s exactly what serverless computing is here for; by eliminating the server, it removes one big thing from the worry-list of the clients when they’re setting up their digital space.

Now how does serverless computing achieve this? Well, the answer to this question is simple; by hosting websites in the cloud. The site developers no longer has to worry about setting up the server, meaning they spend less time on backend development and more time writing application code, and once done lets the cloud handle the rest. The cloud provider or host dynamically allocates and then charges the user for only the compute resources and storage needed to execute a particular piece of code.

To date, serverless is the most scalable and cost-effective method for cloud computing and edge computing.

Is it really “Serverless”?

Despite the name, serverless computing does not actually involve running code without servers. The term “cloud” used above refers to a server farm that is connected to the Internet. If it’s still not clear let me make it even simpler, yes there are definitely servers working in the background.

This name is used because the users that owns the website does not have to purchase, rent or provision servers or VMs for the back-end code to run on. In this way they experience a “serverless” experience, despite the fact that servers are still very much used to host the website.

How Serverless Works?

Let’s say you want to host a website, and you go for a serverless option. As stated above (and that too a lot of times), in serverless computing the user has no role in the provisioning and maintenance of servers, meaning he does not have to worry about calculating parameters such as storage space and memory, it’s all taken care of by the server itself.

This uses what’s called FaaS (Function-as-a-Service). When the cloud receives some code to run by the user, it calculates how many resources are required to compute it. Afterwards, it looks into its servers and doles out the required resources.

The server recognizes when a process needs to be scaled up or down. When the frequency of your website visitors increases, the server automatically adapts to this and assigns more resources to the website. When it goes down, the server can use fewer resources to keep the site online. It then calculates how many resources were used over a month and bills the user for the total.

Common use cases of serverless

One of the canonical examples of a serverless architecture use case is a service that uploads and processes a series of individual image files and sends them along to another part of the application.

Some of the most common use cases of serverless also include: performing authentication, serving static web content, running ETL jobs and database queries, processing IoT and streaming data as well as real time file processing.

What’s the Benefit of Serverless Computing?

Now that we understand what it is, here are some benefits of Serverless Architecture (and which also contribute to the reason for it to be getting so popular).

  • From the description above, this biggest benefit of serverless computing should be clear: there is almost zero operational maintenance cost, while the application developers only have to concentrate on the app’s functionality.
  • The application automatically scales with load. No matter how many users, five or thousands; the underlying infrastructure elastically scales to meet demand.
  • There are no wasted resources. The underlying container running serverless code is ephemeral (it’s also a downside, as it makes serverless functions unsuitable for long-term tasks): it’s destroyed once the code finishes running.
  • It’s a pay-per-use model, users only pay for the compute resources they actually use in a very granular fashion, rather than buying physical hardware or renting cloud instances that mostly sit idle. Time is measured in the form of requests, often billed per million requests. For instance, StackPath charges around $0.60 per million requests for its serverless product. This drastically reduces an application’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
  • Low management overhead means agile teams can develop, test and deploy new features more frequently, decreasing the overall time-to-market.

Who Should Use Serverless?

You should especially consider using a serverless provider if you have a small number of functions that you need hosted. If your application is more complex, a serverless architecture can still be beneficial, but you will need to architect your application very differently. This may not be feasible if you have an existing application.

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