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Serverless Infrastructure – When To Use and When Not To Use

Serverless technology has grown to be a boon for organizations that have been constantly looking to reduce their IT spend and deploy applications without having to manage servers. Often, a serverless infrastructure is being used for background processes, such as user authentication, and keeping the databases updated. Apart from these, event-driven systems, web applications, and static websites run seamlessly at scale on serverless infrastructures. 

Without serverless, it becomes statuary to run all parts of applications constantly, thereby resulting in resource overspend. Here comes its primary advantage. It doesn’t mandate running the code on continuous basis for its execution. Serverless functions allow configuring only certain parts of applications to run, whenever required. This secure lenience of need-specific use and highly efficient nature of serverless has led all major cloud providers to include it in their offerings. 

When To Use Serverless Infrastructure? 

Gartner estimates over 50% organizations to go serverless by 2025, which is up from close to 20% at present. But the question is when must serverless be used? Let’s go through some areas where serverless facilitates the process and brings efficiency for organizations. 

  • Cloud Monitoring and Security: Numerous tools are available for monitoring the cloud, such as New Relic, and there are custom needs based on the nature of the cloud infrastructure. For active monitoring of metrics or security of a specific component of the environment, Lambda functions are integrated with services such as CloudWatch. This eliminates the need for an underlying infrastructure dedicated to monitoring tools. It further allows DevOps or Operations teams to focus only on development of tools to enhance security and efficiency of the infrastructure. 
  • Data Processing: Working much similar to a pipeline, data processing is the type of workload that is given lower priority. There are various managed services provided by AWS for data processing, AWS Athena, Glue, and Elastic Map Reduce (EMR). In key scenarios, organizations must combine services for resolving a range of challenges that have potential to get more complicated over time. 
  • Organizing Tasks: Migration of the process of organizing tasks to AWS Lambda is a no-brainer. In the past, for running scheduled jobs on servers, organizations would set up program triggers, which led to waste when tasks were idle. The integration of AWS Lambda with CloudWatch events helps organizations achieve the same without focusing on the infrastructure. However, there are limits to AWS Lambda in terms of time duration. Hence, it is always recommended to dismantle it into minute batches. This is considered to be a more flexible approach for organizing tasks in the long run. 
  • Authentication: When organizations establish complicated web services i.e. serverless applications, it is important to address permission controls. For example, secure serverless web services can be built by combining AWS Lambda and Amazon API Gateway with Amazon Cognito, which is a robust authorization and authentication service. Here the authorizer of Lambda plays a vital role in denying or allowing requests to access API Gateway. 
  • API with High Scalability: May it be serverless or a traditional framework, building APIs remains essentially the same. However, the effort required is near zero to support and maintain a serverless application. For example, API Gateway, along with Route53, gives a set of API endpoints that are highly scalable and deployable on different environments.  
  • Front-End Hosting: Moving from legacy systems to serverless environment has been smooth with services such as Amazon CloudFront and Amazon S3. This has allowed organizations to improve performance of content delivery and reduce operation overhead, thereby offering front-end applications at low latency. Moreover, serverless infrastructures speed up the integration of front-end software development with resources deployed using IaC tools such as Terraform. 

When Not To Use Serverless Infrastructure?  

Although Serverless is an advantageous technology, it is not always the suited solution. There are use cases where serverless technology might not be the right fit. Following are a few of them. 

  • Maximizing the outcomes of leveraging a framework needs organizations to develop applications using high-level services. However, as the application evolves, refactoring to third-party services with respect to components such as databases will bring an immense challenge in disguise of a major overhaul. 
  • It is inevitable for organizations to remodel their code around events and functions when deploying on serverless. Even though fundamentals of the cloud can be grasped in a couple of months, the innate skill of working with the cloud needs talent with tested & proven achievements. 
  • The monthly bill for using the public cloud or serverless either extends or ends up in a tie when using the pay-as-you-go model. In such scenarios, making the switch to serverless is unnecessary. 
  • There are limits to serverless infrastructures when it comes to processing the number of tasks. Denial-of-service (DoS) is evident if the users are uploading huge documents on several fronts. 

The End of The Line 

Gartner defines serverless as ‘a key technology that is redefining the way we build, consume, and integrate cloud-native applications.’ It is a straight ‘NO’ to thinking about adopting serverless for monolithic applications. The technology is meant for applications with minimal code, the ones that are required to be deployed rapidly. 

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