What is Serverless?

By Anirudh Menon - Published on February 15, 2022

Serverless computing is a methodology of delivering back-end services depending upon the usage. The main factor of a serverless provider is the ability of users to write codes without worrying about the underlying infrastructure. An organization that receives services from a vendor who provides serverless computing, does not have to worry about paying a fixed cost for the bandwidth or any number of servers. On the contrary the organizations are charged based on their computation. What is to be noted is that in spite of the name serverless, there is a usage of physical servers, which developers need not be aware of.

During early days of the internet era, whenever anyone wanted to develop a web application, they were required to run a server, which was a never ending and a taxing work.  Then came the era of cloud computing, where a fixed quantity of servers or server space could be subscribed on rent. Developers and organizations who take these servers and server space usually tend to over purchase so that they don’t get into any adverse situation where sudden influx of website traffic should break their applications. Even though cloud vendors have come up with the method of auto scaling, it is not a cost-effective method in case of large spike such as DDoS Attack.

Serverless computing enables developers to use backend services on a “pay-per-use” basis; this means that developers must pay only for the services that they use. Serverless terminology is misleading, which actually means that developers do not have to worry about the server – and not the absence of servers totally.

Difference between backend and frontend?

Any application that is created, comprises of two components – the frontend and the backend. Frontend is essentially the part that users see, use and interact – mainly the visual layout. Backend is the component that users usually don’t see; the server where the files of the application resides and the database where business logic and user data is stored.

If we take the example of a website, the front end requests website data from the backend and the backend responds to the request and pushes the data to the front end.

Types of backend services provided by serverless computing

Most of the providers of serverless computing provide databases and storage services. Some of them also offer Function-as-a-service platforms; Cloudflare Workers is an example of the same. FaaS concept allows developers to develop and run small sections of code on the network edge. Using FaaS methodology, developers can create an architecture that makes the entire codebase extremely scalable, and the best part is – developers don’t have to spend their resources on the backend.

Advantages of serverless computing

Serverless computing has gained lot of popularity and that is mainly because of the key advantages that it brings to the table.

These advantages are as follows:

  • Cost reduction – serverless computing is relatively less costly because there is no concept of usage of idle time or unused space as found in cloud computing.
  • Easy to scale – Developers who are using serverless architecture or backend, do not have to worry about the different policies to scale up their code.
  • Simple backend code – with concepts like FaaS, developers can create functions as simple as an API call, which perform independently
  • Faster Turnaround – Having serverless architecture can help in quickly bring your product to market. Contrary to the traditional method of complex deployment and patch updates, serverless computing can help developers to add new features on an ad-hoc and piecemeal basis.

Comparison of serverless computing to other backend cloud models?

There are couple of technologies that are often compared with serverless computing. These are Backend-as-a-service and Platform-as-a-service. Though these two technologies have some similarities, they actually don’t meet the requirements of being defined as a serverless computing methodology.

Backend-as-a-service (BaaS): It is a service model where a cloud vendor provides back-end services such as storage of data, allowing developers to focus more on developing the front-end code. While most of the serverless applications are completely event driven and run on the edge, BaaS applications may not exactly meet the requirement of a serverless computing methodology.

Platform-as-a-service (PaaS):  This is a model, where developers take up all components of the application from the cloud service provider – to develop and deploy applications on the cloud server of the vendor. However, a major drawback is that PaaS applications cannot scale up easily like serverless applications. Another factor is that PaaS applications don’t run on the edge and there is a noticeable delay at the startup of the application.

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): Essentially it is a buzzword that is used quite interchangeably with serverless computing, but the two terminologies are not synonymous by any means. IaaS is a term used where infrastructure vendors host applications of their customers on their behalf.

Future of serverless computing

The methodology is continuously evolving as service providers are coming up with new and innovative ways to eliminate any sort of drawback – one that can be noted is cold start.

This means that if a particular serverless application has not been called in for quite some time, then the provider will shut down the server to save energy and avoid any sort of over allocation. Next time the application is called by the user, the service provider has to start all over again and start hosting that function again.

As soon as the function is up and running, it will run fast as it will be served more rapidly on next set of requests; however, if the function is not requested, then it will again stop. This essentially means that the next user to request the function will face a cold start.

Final Thoughts

As we see more and more drawbacks of serverless computing getting addressed, combined with the growing popularity of edge computing, we can expect serverless computing gaining widespread popularity among the developer and user community.

Anirudh Menon | I have adorned multiple hats during my professional journey. My experience of 14 years comes in areas like Sales, Customer Service and Marketing. My journey as a professional writer started 5 years back, when I started writing for an in-house magazine for my employer. Having successfully delivered many in-house projects, it encouraged me to take my skill to the world. As on day, I have written articles, blogs website content for various industries like Information Technology, Start-up, Retail and Government. The subjects that I have covered range from Digital Marketing, SAP Cloud Platform, Cloud Computing, Content Marketing , Politics. Enhancement is a process and I constantly thrive to add more subjects in my portfolio. Over and above content writing, I also train language and communication to students who want to brush up their speaking skills. I am a part time trainer for IELTS coaching and also work as a budding voice over artist.

Anirudh Menon | I have adorned multiple hats during my professional journey. My experience of 14 years comes in areas like Sales, Customer Service and Marketing. ...

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