Function-as-a-Service (FaaS), or serverless computing, continues to increase in demand as large organizations seek to establish their data infrastructure beyond the limits of traditional hardware.

With this in mind, you may be wondering: What exactly is serverless computing?

Also referred to as FaaS, the term “serverless” makes an early appearance in an article by Ken Fromm, written in 2012. However, Zimki opened the door for FaaS by launching the first Platform as a Service (PaaS). Subsequently, as cloud computing was beginning to dominate the technological world – fuelled by the increasing number of internet connected devices (IoT) – Amazon Web Services introduced Lambda (PaaS) in 2014.

To be certain, “serverless” still involves using servers for all the usual functions such as deploying software, storing data, and so forth. However, by contracting with a FaaS provider, server acquisition, management, software update, and repair are no longer your responsibility (though there are situations where some applications provide limited server-side interactions with your developers). Accordingly, both traditional and virtual servers are becoming invisible within the business world.

Companies such as IBM, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google provide the infrastructure and maintenance activities normally associated with localized, dedicated servers. Thus, your time and resources are freed from the challenges of server configuration or concerns regarding your core operating system on the backend. Your focus can now shift to solving the pain points unique to your industry, and further positioning yourself as a market leader.

What is driving the trend of serverless computing?

Computer algorithms are increasingly mirroring the learning features of human intelligence. As such, artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly growing in size and scope. This will not only result in larger amounts of data, but consumer-facing applications will need to align with expanding capabilities of the devices which deploy AI. Consequently, it will be impossible for developers to keep pace if functionality on the backend is delayed for any reason.

Developers will, therefore, need to have the ability to respond to swift changes in the data signals entering each of your input channels. In summary, serverless computing allows developers to create, run, and manage separate, targeted application functions without being weighed down by additional burdens on the backend. Also if you need to scale a particular API endpoint, serverless computing facilities this with laser-like focus.

Such is the reason that serverless computing is continually listed as one of the top technology trends, and with good reason.

What does it mean for your business?

Scalability, fault tolerance, authentication, security patches, and hardware migration are just a few examples of issues attached to managing your own servers. The good news is, FaaS providers eliminate those challenges for you. While, arguably, there are many benefits to FaaS adoption, they all fall into two primary categories: cost and efficiency.

Cost:

  • As previously discussed, the purchasing or renting of servers is expensive. Then add the cost of employing individuals to maintain the hardware and software infrastructure. With serverless computing, you need not obtain and care for in-house servers.
  • Scaling is less costly given the targeted functionality. FaaS providers such as Amazon Web Services and IBM auto-scale the resources for you.
  • When not in use, the server cost to you is zero. This is different from traditional servers that are draining your pockets even when idle. In FaaS, you are charged only for the time your code is deployed.
  • No need to worry about over-provisioning as it is the provider’s responsibility to provision capacity.

Efficiency:

  • Essentially, the DevOps team is focused on writing excellent code rather than being concerned about the machines running the code.
  • On the FaaS infrastructure side, the code is deployed through event triggering.
  • Performance issues that are based on the risk of under-provisioning (and having to scramble to increase server capacity) are avoided.
  • Since the faster a code is executed, the cheaper the cost, this can help measure the efficiency of function design. In summary, the more efficient a developer's code, the less cost is incurred through using the FaaS provider’s infrastructure.

FaaS challenges

As with any such model, there are several challenges to serverless migration:

  • Only a limited number of programming languages are currently available: Python, Java, C#, Node.js and Swift (depending on the vendor).
  • You depend on the vendor to maintain functionality of their infrastructure properly.
  • You will still need to plan for the various functions to continue operating, should something disrupt the provider’s servers – which may merely mean running the FaaS on your own machine.
  • There will be some costs associated with having your DevOps team interact with the provider’s customer support when things do go awry (as they are ought to do).
  • Debugging is an issue – though AWS has developed tools to assist in the process.
  • Serverless function migration may be an issue should a vendor close up shop or you wish to change providers.
  • Serverless doesn't mean unlimited resource capacity. Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM, and Microsoft will need to manage scaling their infrastructure to meet the increasing demand for their services.

What’s ahead?

The serverless computing outlook depends on several factors. Of course, as long as consumers demand FaaS, there will be providers ready to reap financial benefit. Though Python and Java are widely used programming languages, additional programmatic lexicons may evolve and become dominant. For this reason, FaaS will need to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of software development on a perpetual basis. Meanwhile, smaller, localized FaaS providers are beginning to appear. This may add to the agility and innovation needed to propel the widespread use of serverless computing. No matter what ultimately takes shape, with each phase that passes, it seems to be becoming safer and safer to say that the future for serverless computing looks bright.