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Serverless Computing 101: What it is, Core Elements of its Architecture, and Key Players Overview

March 12, 2021
Andrii Rybakov

Serverless computing is one of the hottest trends in cloud computing and also one of the most complicated. Since the appearance in 2014, its popularity is continuously growing, which means that this technology is mature enough and has a great potential for broad future implementation.

According to Globenewswire, the key reason for companies to migrate to the cloud is the need to reduce business costs. Multisoft Virtual Academy also states that ‘cloud computing is 40% more cost-effective than in-house IT systems’ for small and medium businesses. With serverless, organizations can use cloud computing at the most pristine level as there is no need for them to run different long-lived servers. That makes such a pure service-based approach attractive to businesses worldwide, including SMBs as well.

So what is serverless computing? What core elements does serverless architecture include? What are the main serverless providers? Read in our blog post.

What is Serverless Computing?

Serverless computing is a cloud execution model, which puts responsibility for main infrastructure management tasks, such as scaling, scheduling, or provisioning, on cloud providers. That allows software developers to focus their efforts only on the business logic relevant to their applications or processes.

The most useful approach to defining and understanding serverless computing is to focus on several fundamental attributes that distinguish this model from other compute models, including:

  • Serverless computing requires no management or operation of infrastructure, which enables engineers to concentrate narrowly on code.
  • The serverless model runs code only on-demand depending on a per-request, which provides transparent scaling of the number of served requests
  • With serverless computing, end users can pay only for the resources they use and never pay for idle capacity.

Serverless computing as a term is a misnomer because this technology uses servers. But they are maintained by a chosen provider. Serverless represents a new generation of PaaS (Platform as a Service), where the cloud service provider receives client requests and responds to them, monitors operations, schedules tasks, and plans capacity. Thus, there is no need for companies to worry about servers and infrastructure issues.

Besides, serverless computing is considered FaaS (Function as a Service) or event-driven computing due to using functions as a relevant deployment unit. Such an event-based approach means that when an application does not run or there is no function execution, the resources are not used. Also, serverless ensures auto-scaling that allows applications to provide services to users despite the increase in workload.

Thanks to all of the mentioned features, many businesses implement serverless computing as a cost-saving, resource-limited, and fault-tolerant solution to their software development.

Serverless Architecture and its Core Elements

Serverless architecture runs applications that rely on external FaaS and BaaS (Backend as a Service) providers that run the application code in specific temporary containers.

Therefore, a serverless architecture consists of the next three core elements:

  • API gateway. The fully managed service is used for defining, deploying, and maintaining APIs. An API gateway is responsible for taking all API calls from clients, then routing them to the proper microservice along with request routing, composition, and protocol translation. A typical API gateway handles a request due to invoking numerous microservices and collecting the results to define the best path. Several serverless providers such as Amazon allow clients to use their own API gateways.

  • FaaS. In the industry of pre-packaged services, FaaS (Function as a Service) takes place between SaaS (Software as a Service) and PaaS. FaaS is a ready-to-implement framework that you can easily tailor to the needs of your business. You can deliver FaaS in customizable templates, for example, by industry vertical. Clients purchase FaaS from third-party vendors and pay for actual runtimes, not pre-allocated units. Thus, companies that use this technology spend fewer resources to provide rapid development of apps.

  • BaaS. This service model of cloud computing is considered a cloud-based distributed database that eliminates the necessity of administrative overhead. BaaS key features involve cloud storage, push notifications, user administration, file management, and other backend services. For instance, a modern cloud provider can offer additional encryption, authentication services, or high-fidelity usage data. Nowadays, BaaS provides developers with access to various third-party services and applications.

Main Serverless Providers

With the launch of Amazon’s AWS Lambda, the term serverless computing became popular. A few years later, other vendors started introducing their own serverless solutions to the market. These solutions involve autoscaling of functions, so providers can automatically allocate the required level of resources for executing the function due to demand growth. Today, all tech giants offer multiple frameworks and services for businesses to choose from.

Here we will mention some of the main products in the serverless market:

  • AWS Lambda. Amazon’s serverless computing service remains the standard of high quality for other ones. Since the release, AWS Lambda has held the leading position on the market and offers the widest range of serverless services available. Integrating with a broader AWS portfolio such as storage, database, or streaming provides easy access to current resources. All the clients need is to decide the memory size required for a function, while Lambda autoscales and provides the right to bandwidth and processing power.

  • Google Cloud Functions. For companies using Google Cloud, this service is the appropriate option that allows integration with other Google services. You can trigger Cloud Functions by events from current Google Cloud Platform resources or even Google Assistant. That provides a straightforward approach to applying serverless. Lastly, Cloud Functions focuses on microservices development and creates a rapid and effective development environment.

  • Microsoft Azure Functions. This serverless solution is a good option for companies whose developers use Visual Studio Code. Azure Functions can work with other services such as DevOps workflow and the Azure Pipelines. Microsoft has also simplified setting up functions and made it easier for software engineers to define declarative workflows. Besides, the service has integrated monitoring to help troubleshoot various performance issues.

  • IBM Cloud Functions. Depending on OpenWhisk, the particular service offers an open, portable serverless computing model. Your company can run it in IBM’s cloud and even in other deployments options like on-premises. This service has integrated performance monitoring, which helps businesses track the operation of their serverless deployments. Lastly, integration with the IBM API Gateway allows managing the API endpoints that you can use to trigger the function.

All mentioned serverless computing providers offer similar services that allow your company to launch an app on a managed infrastructure. Although they may perform differently, they propose sufficient capabilities to gain multiple benefits from the FaaS concept.

The Bottomline

Serverless computing aims to eliminate the complexity of working with servers and reduce development costs due to pay-per-use billing. Although serverless is a new concept full of challenges, many companies have already used it in their projects. Fortune Business Insights states that ‘the global serverless computing market is expected to rise with an impressive CAGR and generate the highest revenue by 2026’. Thus, the particular technology serves as the best approach for businesses that look for cost-effective and high-quality software.

Are you already using serverless computing? What key values or differentiators of your provider do you appreciate the most? Or what factors prevent your company from using serverless? Share with us in the comments below.

How AgileVision Can Help

Over the past several years, AgileVision has helped many businesses to start using serverless computing and cut costs on software development. Are you considering serverless as a new approach to implement or need advice on your existing serverless architecture?

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