Serverless Vs Containers – The Differences

Serverless technologies like AWS Lambda functions first offered in late 2014 is changing how developers deploy their applications. Developers saw the convenience and started using AWS Lambda for some basic use cases. As the technology matured, we are seeing more and more use cases for Functions as Service offerings like AWS Lambda, Zoho Catalyst, Azure Functions, etc.. With large scale adoption, serverless is becoming mainstream with increased enterprise adoption because it offers three main advantages to an organization: increased agility, seamless scalability and availability, and infrastructure cost savings. The key question is how does containers stack up against serverless in terms of these advantages.

  • Increased Agility: In current software development model, developers should consider where the code is deployed and create the necessary configuration file and other artifacts to support the deployment process. For example, developers writing a microservice to be deployed in a Kubernetes environment should create the necessary Kubernetes artifacts to support the deployment. They also have to understand Kubernetes concepts, as well as figure out how to run the microservice and artifacts on their development machine to test them before pushing it to the DevOps pipeline. By contrast, with Functions as a Service like AWS Lambda or Zoho Catalyst, developers only need to worry only about the business logic they have to code, which could even follow a certain template, and then just upload the code to the serverless platform. This speeds up things significantly and helps organizations to ship products and solutions quickly and rapidly make changes based on feedback. Agility without the unnecessary operational overhead for developers is the biggest advantage for serverless
  • Scalability and Availability: With traditional approaches, developers and DevOps teams have to factor in the scalability and availability for the application they build it is deployed. It typically includes the peak load expectations, whether an auto-scaling is needed or a static deployment will suffice, setting up the necessary automation for auto-scaling and requirements for ensuring the required availability. This is the case for applications deployed on virtual machines as well as containers. Serverless platforms remove the need to worry about these factors, since they are capable of executing the code when needed, and ensuring availability. The scalability is easily achieved by invoking the functions parallely to meet the load. It is the responsibility of the cloud provider to handle this in a seamless way. So, scalability and availability are provided by default and handled by the cloud provider without any overhead for the developers
  • Infrastructure Cost Savings: When we deploy an application in a production environment, we generally need to keep it running 24×7 since in most cases it is hard to predict the specific time periods the app needs to be available. That means there are many idle times between requests even though we pay for the infrastructure full time. For an organization that has to deploy hundreds of services the costs can escalate quickly. With serverless functions, it is guaranteed that your code will get computing resources allocated only when it is executed, which means you pay exactly for what is being used. This can cut costs significantly. However, this also constraints users from running only certain types of use cases

How is serverless computing different from containers?

Containers are essentially what the name describes: a comprehensive software encapsulation that gets delivered and used as a standalone application environment. The most common form of this is how applications get distributed at runtime. Everything and anything that’s needed to run and interact with a piece of software gets included or packaged together. That often entails bundling the software code, runtime and system tools, software and foundational libraries and default settings. In the case of containers – through platforms like Docker – they help solve the more common problems that arise from cross-platform use.

When moving from one computing environment to another, developers often run into obstacles. If the supporting software is not identical, it can cause a series of hiccups. And since it’s not uncommon for developers to move from a dev environment to a test environment, or even from staging into production, this becomes a widespread issue. That’s just concerning the software itself, as other issues can appear from network topologies, security and privacy policies, as well as varying tools or technologies. Containers solve this by wrapping everything up nicely into a runtime environment. Even though containers offered this advantage of encapsulating entire environments and removing the friction due to different environments on DevOps pipeline, they came with operational overhead which became a burden for developers.

In the case of Serverless, all these tasks are completely abstracted away by the cloud service provider, giving developers a simple interface to deploy their code. Developers need not bother about the application dependencies, environments, etc.. They just need to encapsulate the business logic into code and this can then be deployed onto serverless platform. Developers need not worry about the deployment environment and since the same service will be used for both development and production, they are not faced with the issues of making the code work in different environments. The entire heavy lifting is done by the cloud provider and the developers focus on the innovation.

Why Enterprises Should Go Serverless?

Most of the discussions in the enterprise user community is focussed more on Containers than on Serverless computing. Part of the reason for this focus on containers is due to the legacy enterprise mindset which is still focussed on the idea of managing servers. Containers are seen as a natural evolution to the legacy idea of servers. But, many enterprises are facing the risk of missing out on the Serverless advantages due to their mindset of “clinging to servers”.

Relative to on-premises and private cloud solutions, the public cloud makes it significantly simpler to build, deploy, and manage fleets of virtual servers and to run applications on them. However, companies today have additional options beyond classic server or VM-based architectures when they take advantage of the public cloud. Although the cloud eliminates the need for companies to purchase and maintain their own hardware, any server-based architecture still requires them to architect their applications for scalability and reliability. This adds high development costs to organizations. Plus, companies need to own the challenges of patching and deploying to those (virtual) server fleets as their applications evolve over time. Moreover, they must also handle the scaling of their server fleets to account for peak load and then scale them down after the load returns to normal to lower their costs—all while protecting the experience of end users and the integrity of internal systems. Idle, underutilized servers prove to be costly and wasteful. Analysts estimate that as much as 85 percent of servers in practice have underutilized capacity. By “clinging to servers”, organizations are wasting their resources and not maximizing their move to public cloud.

Serverless compute services like AWS LambdaGoogle Cloud FunctionsZoho CatalystAzure Functions, are designed to address these challenges by offering companies a different way of handling the application design, development and deployment, one with inherently lower costs and faster time to market. These Functions as a Service offerings eliminates the complexity of dealing with servers or server based architectures at all levels of the technology stack, and introduces a more fluid pay-per-request billing model where there are no costs from idle compute capacity. Additionally, these FaaS offerings enable organizations to easily adopt microservice architectures that are more modular and resilient. Eliminating the need to manage the infrastructure and moving to a Serverless model offers enterprises dual cost advantages:

  • Problems like idle servers simply cease to exist, along with their economic consequences. A serverless compute service like AWS Lambda is never “cold” because charges only accrue when useful work is being performed, with millisecond-level billing granularity. Enterprises can offload the idle compute costs to the cloud provider and this adds up big over a period of time
  • Infrastructure management and server operations (including the security patching, deployments, and monitoring of servers) are no longer necessary. This means that it isn’t necessary to maintain the associated tools, processes, and on-call rotations required to support 24×7 server management to ensure uptime. Without the high costs of operations, organizations can direct their scarce IT resources to foster innovation, thereby benefiting the bottom line

Clearly, moving to Serverless computing can help enterprises save costs, be agile and ensure continuous innovation. The biggest roadblock to achieving this nirvana is their legacy “clinging to servers” mindset. If enterprises can overcome this legacy mindset and embrace Serverless, they can face the needs of modern economy with more confidence.

Serverless – SMBs to Enterprises

Serverless cloud computing handles virtually all the systems operations needed to make it easier for developers to use the cloud for their application needs. It provides an interface that greatly simplifies cloud programming, and represents an evolution that parallels the transition from assembly language to high-level programming languages. During the past few years, serverless computing has grown from being a promising business idea to one of the fastest growing sectors which is going to dramatically reshape business landscape.

How Serverless Computing Is Reshaping Businesses?

Serverless computing enables companies to build and run applications and services without thinking about servers. The serverless approach is applicable to many types of applications, and for all sizes and maturity of organizations, from startups to large enterprises. With serverless compute services such as AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, Zoho Catalyst, Azure Functions, provisioning, scaling, and management of servers are handled by the respective cloud service providers. Building serverless applications means that developers can focus on their app’s core business logic instead of worrying about managing and operating servers or runtimes. This reduced overhead lets developers reclaim time and energy that can be better spent on developing innovative, scalable and reliable products. It also allows for the ability to achieve massive scale with minimal human capital, making developers and companies alike more agile in today’s fast-moving economy.

In addition to accelerating innovation, serverless approaches offer a second advantage that’s particularly critical for startups and SMBs at large: lower costs. Compute power is often a key element of the small business cost structures. Usually, consumer-oriented businesses (B2C) often run services that are used by hundreds to millions of users 24/7 and need to optimize their cloud costs. Business-to-business companies (B2B) often require APIs and cross-company services with tight service-level agreements (SLAs), requiring the cloud service provider to deliver on their own SLA. Business-to-employee services and apps strive to make employees productive with real-time information and processing capabilities. Serverless computing allows organizations to develop and deploy applications meeting the needs across all the above categories.

In delivering these experiences, small businesses struggle with a common problem: They want to “get off on the right foot” with customers by providing a reliable service that scales effectively, while simultaneously being cost-conscious and using their limited resources wisely. Serverless computing like AWS Lambda or Zoho Catalyst enables small businesses and startups to achieve these two seemingly opposing goals more easily. At the heart of serverless computing is a simple but revolutionary idea – that companies only pay for compute when they actually use it. The pricing model of Serverless computing has disrupted the economics of application infrastructure because it made computation proportional to the workload than based on the sizing of the underlying infrastructure. If an application or service has little or no workload (for example, in the middle of the night), there are no charges. If there’s a sudden spike, such as a flash sale, Serverless compute will instantly scale to accommodate the massive load. If the computational task is lightweight requiring shorter execution time, it costs less. If the execution of code takes times, it costs more. With such fine grained pricing, the compute usage is always exactly aligned to customer and workload needs, never higher (which would result in low utilization and wasted money) or lower (which would result in low availability and poor end user experiences). Compared to server-based architectures, Lambda’s pay-per-use model can reduce cost of goods sold (COGs) and lead to more competitive margins. It makes it easy for companies to assign costs on a per-customer, per-use basis. Serverless architectures double down on the cloud-enabled software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model by providing recurring revenue and higher gross margins even for companies not yet operating at scale, enabling new models of selling and consuming services.

SMB or Enterprise?

There is a quite a bit of confusion in the industry about whether Serverless compute services are more suitable for enterprises or SMBs. This is an unnecessary confusion and the technology is well suited to meet the needs of both sectors. While enterprises realize their value from the agility offered by Serverless, SMBs can gain from both the agility and cost perspective. In fact, these technologies make it easy for SMBs to build applications taking advantage of the proprietary data they have as many SaaS offerings cannot meet their specific needs. This puts SMBs on equal footing with enterprises when it comes to gaining insights from their own data. While Serverless might be part of the larger application deployment toolkit for enterprises, SMBs can use these technologies as their only infrastructure for their custom applications. Whether you are a small business or a large organization, you can leverage Serverless compute and benefit from it.

Serverless – A Developer Perspective

Serverless technologies are changing application development and deployment, making it easy for developers to take their idea to market fast and at a lower cost. This combination of agility and low costs leads to experimentation, leading to rapid innovation. With serverless technologies offering robust cloud-based IDE, SDK, and frameworks, developers have robust tools and frameworks at their disposal to address specific needs in development, testing, debugging, and deployment. Developers can gain immensely using serverless technologies for app development, greatly enhancing their productivity.

Developer Advantage with Serverless

From enhanced scalability to greater flexibility, reduced liability, innovation, and many more, serverless architectures offer the developer a wide range of benefits, all at a reduced cost and a quicker time to market. In this section, let us consider some of the benefits:

  • Fosters innovation: Applications hosted in a serverless environments are usually broken up into smaller functions and the abstraction adds many constraints. As developers are forced to face the challenges imposed by such constraints, they are expected to change their development process. With time, all these challenges foster innovation as developers adopt a wide range of strategies to deliver functional apps. When the Serverless abstractions are used along with modern technologies like machine learning service for text analysis or image recognition, innovations accelerate. The abstraction provided by Serverless along with the constraints leads to rapid innovation, meeting the business needs of today’s globalized economy
  • Advanced coding: Higher-level programming abstractions offered to developers by some serverless frameworks can advance their coding skills. From function packaging to advanced sequencing and composition, you take your coding skills to the next level by exploiting these programming abstractions to construct highly complex serverless apps easily.
  • Seamless Upgrades: Apps developed for the serverless environment are collections of functions instead of single monolithic stacks. This means that developers have the option of uploading all their code at once or a single function at a time without having to manage servers and the stacks on top of operating system. With this advantage, developers can update, patch, or add new features by changing one function at a time instead of reworking the entire app. This accelerates applications updates and upgrades and makes it easy to upgrade without any downtime.
  • Enhanced scalability: Serverless architectures are highly scalable, which means that developers can code without worrying about growth or the number of concurrent requests. During coding, developers can exploit seamless scaling features of such services by taking advantage of stateless application architectures. This allows for seamless scaling without having to wait for servers to be provisioned
  • Greater flexibility: With the tools like browser based IDEs, SDK and API access, developers get more flexibility in their application development and deployment. With Microservices architecture becoming the norm, Serverless technologies are helping developers build applications using modular architectures.
  • Event driven apps: Since Functions as a Service model uses Action and Trigger as the two major primitives, newer programming paradigms that invoke Actions asynchronously, directly via REST API, is available for developers. Developers can benefit from executing event requests using a variety of sources to trigger parallel invocations or sequential invocations. This opens up new vistas for developers, helping them innovate much rapidly than in the past.
  • Zero system administration: With zero system administration, developers using Serverless technologies are free to adopt creative and novel coding strategies to expand their apps without worrying about server capacity constraints or the operational burden that comes with managing the underlying infrastructure stack.

With the developer advantage offered by serverless technologies, it is easy to see why serverless computing is growing rapidly in popularity.

Shortcomings

Even though Serverless technologies offers many benefits to developers, it also puts some limits on the type of applications that can be deployed using these technologies. Developers should be mindful of this limitation while planning their deployment stack,

Welcome to TalkingServerless.com

Welcome to TalkingServerless.com, a one-stop website for all things serverless. Serverless technologies are reshaping the landscape and this site will help developers navigate this trend and take advantage of these technologies to meet the business needs.

Serverless technologies remove all the operational hassles behind deploying the code, giving developers a simple interface to deploy their code without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure. It provides an interface that greatly simplifies cloud programming and represents an evolution that parallels the transition from assembly language to high-level programming languages.

However, there is quite a bit of confusion about how these technologies can be leveraged by developers to ensure business agility. The aim of this site is to help the developer community understand the nuances associated with this newer trend and help them move from their traditional approaches to deploying virtual machines and containers. The blog posts in this site will be both conceptual as well as technical, helping developers gain confidence to deploy their code using serverless technologies.

This site is sponsored by Zoho Catalyst, a serverless platform for developers without any unnecessary overhead. Even though this site is exclusively sponsored by Zoho, the articles will be diverse focusing on the wider landscape of serverless technologies. There may be Zoho specific articles published from time to time but we will have a developer-centric focus on the entire Serverless landscape.

Stay safe and join us on this exciting journey exploring Serverless technologies on this freshly minted website.

Welcome to TalkingServerless.com

Welcome to TalkingServerless.com, a one-stop website for all things serverless. Serverless technologies are reshaping the landscape and this site will help developers navigate this trend and take advantage of these technologies to meet the business needs.

Serverless technologies remove all the operational hassles behind deploying the code, giving developers a simple interface to deploy their code without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure. It provides an interface that greatly simplifies cloud programming and represents an evolution that parallels the transition from assembly language to high-level programming languages.

However, there is quite a bit of confusion about how these technologies can be leveraged by developers to ensure business agility. The aim of this site is to help the developer community understand the nuances associated with this newer trend and help them move from their traditional approaches to deploying virtual machines and containers. The blog posts in this site will be both conceptual as well as technical, helping developers gain confidence to deploy their code using serverless technologies.

This site is sponsored by Zoho Catalyst, a serverless platform for developers without any unnecessary overhead. Even though this site is exclusively sponsored by Zoho, the articles will be diverse focusing on the wider landscape of serverless technologies. There may be Zoho specific articles published from time to time but we will have a developer-centric focus on the entire Serverless landscape.

Stay safe and join us in this exciting journey exploring Serverless technologies.