Serverless technology is being called the next generation of the cloud. The first layer abstracted organizations from their physical servers. (Serverless, like cloud, of course, doesn’t literally mean ‘no server;’ it simply means not YOUR servers!)
In its simplest terms, serverless is about developers writing code as a function, which the cloud provider then hosts and runs on demand. The benefits are both economic — the organization behind the application only pays for its usage, not idle time — and agility.
Nate Taggart, CEO of a startup called Stackery, explained that serverless aligns with DevOps in that it’s about shipping software quickly. But it does introduce challenges, as developers become responsible for not just iterating the code, but now also the underlying infrastructure. Like it or not, Taggart said “developers are now part of provisioning and the monitoring cycle” of applications. There is a blurring of responsibilities between developers and operations teams, but organizations should be focused not on deploying software so much as maintaining the software’s health over time.
Serverless helps organizations drive the most value for customers while running on the least amount and lowest cost of infrastructure, he said. “Servers are traditionally overprovisioned to have availability and maximize customer experience, and companies are way overpaying for servers they aren’t running at 100 percent.” In a serverless world, he explained, an application composed of dozens or hundreds of functions sit in a cloud, and when they are idle, there is no cost. This architecture is function-as-a-service, where the code is a function that is triggered by events.
Cloud providers might put these functions on several servers, to balance them out by understanding which functions get triggered frequently and which are seldom activated — what is known as ‘traffic shaping,’ Taggart said.
Stackery grew out of the applicaton performance space, and has been in business a little over a year now, he said. Serverless has gone from being seen as development technology to being seen as operations technology with a broader business impact, he said. But, he noted, it is to the industry’s discredit “if we speak of serverless as a replacement for IT. Serverless is the compute layer, but we still have the database layer, and we still have the network. AWS Lambda (for example) doesn’t do those pieces. IT still needs to maintain data fidelity, backups, network security…”
Taggart said he sees serverless as the next generation of cloud. The first generation abstracted the physical server, and “now, we’re abstracting the virtual idea of the server.”
Mark Pillar is the founder of Backendless Corp.; the term backend-less predates serverless, he said. The company has built an abstraction layer that provides developers with a front-end console to see data, files or manage users, and lets the developers use API calls to save something in the database, or validate a user with all the business processes that follow — all functions traditionally handled on the server side. “As a result, developer productivity skyrockets, because they’re freed of all the tasks that normally they would have to allocate all their time for.”
But the biggest benefit, he said, is that by launching the app, it’s automatically ready to scale to millions of users on Day 1, because the back end is completely, automatically scalable. “If an app becomes extremely popular, and tens of thousands of users download the app, the servers continue chugging along and handling those transactions without any slowdown. As the user base grows, and there are more devices that have the application installed, all of the requests are being sent to our servers where we scale out the back end automatically.”
Pillar explained that the backend-less platform has three tiers on the back end. “There are virtual instances of the web tier, an app server, and the database. Depending upon where we see bottlenecks form, we do balancing and re-routing to handle every request as quickly as possible.”
Add to all this Codeless, which Pillar said was released in August, and developers can create custom business logic without writing a single line of code — his company’s entry into the low-code/nocode category.
So, we’re entering into a world where developers can create business applications without writing code, running with back ends on the cloud. It’s certainly an abstract view of the world.