Implement a serverless architecture from the start of the transformation


Serverless can enable companies to go to market faster and reduce costs if approached the right way.

Chris Birkinshaw, Technology Principal at Merapar, discusses the benefits of adopting a serverless architecture early in an enterprise transformation

Faced with a range of external factors, we find that companies across many industries must adapt to new circumstances while ensuring innovation, scalability and the ability to rapidly develop and launch new products. Since agility is a necessity in the face of the unknown, what is the key to addressing these evolving market demands? The serverless-first mindset could be a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Why serverless

Implementing a serverless architecture generally means that a cloud provider provides the user with a backend-as-a-service that allows them to run discrete code functions. This eliminates the need for developers to manage the underlying infrastructure. While there is a wider variety of services that we can argue fit the definition of serverless, most people today have Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) in mind when they say serverless.

Serverless offers a variety of benefits, including faster time to market, reduced operational costs, increased scalability, and improved security. Perhaps the most enticing benefit, however, is the promise of faster time to market — in fact, Azure, AWS, and GCP all have this high on their promotional pages list at the time of writing.

Faster development of the idea is made possible by shifting the responsibility for managing the infrastructure to the cloud provider. There’s certainly a learning curve with serverless, but serverless teams can move much faster because they’re focused on the code that has the most nuanced business value. Ultimately, this makes the organization more adaptable and better prepared to respond to drastic market changes.

Serverless systems are typically built around a pay-as-you-go pricing structure, meaning there are no charges for resources when they are idle. As businesses strive to keep operational and infrastructure costs to a minimum, a cost model that correlates to business growth and usage is a big selling point.

Serverless first

Serverless-first is an intentionally radical statement that implies significant changes in the way teams design architectures. It means moving away from current always-on server solutions and instead towards message-based architectures, eliminating long-running processing jobs. It’s an inspirational statement that encourages teams to look for new ways of doing things and to step out of their comfort zones. The human aspects cannot be overstated – teams need training and support and not everyone will be happy at first. Job descriptions and interview questions also need to be revised.

This transformation is beyond the skills and mindset of the development team – unlocking agility through serverless deployment requires organizational change. An organization with a “DevOps team” responsible for managing the infrastructure, holding keys to cloud provider accounts, and controlling the release process will find this inconsistent with the serverless-first approach . Serverless first teams that have maximized the potential for agility deploy multiple times a day and are available to debug any issues found in production.

The good news is that organizations focused on agile transformation are already working to make development teams more autonomous. They may introduce concepts such as feature teams, where teams are organized around business functions rather than technical components, and deliver end-to-end customer features at high speed with limited reliance on other teams. Serverless fits this approach perfectly, as it allows generalist developers to deploy features all the way to production, with automatic scaling and high security by default, in record time.

The future of the cloud is serverless

If we look at the history of cloud computing, it’s easy to see that serverless is the next generation in a range of technologies. From virtual servers to Linux containers to serverless functions, the responsibility of the developer continues to shift upwards. The deployable unit that we need to scale to meet capacity demands is also getting smaller – from disk image to Docker containers to serverless functions. This means physical infrastructure is shared among a wider group of users, increasing hosting density and reducing CPU idle time.

Organizations must now play an active role in reducing carbon emissions. The European Commission has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, and carbon efficiency has become a metric used to judge the quality of a software architecture (see AWS Well Architected Framework). A properly designed serverless architecture is more efficient and therefore has a lower carbon footprint than a server-based or always-on container-based solution.

Other considerations

While a serverless-first mindset offers a number of benefits, some organizations may be reluctant to make the transition because of concerns about cloud provider security, vendor lock-in, sunk costs from other strategies, and ongoing issues with debugging and development environments to have. However, even among serverless attackers, this mindset can benefit a select portion of an organization.

Take running a bank, for example. While core operations typically rely on legacy databases and applications, a serverless approach at the edge can bring the freedom to free agility for consumer-centric applications to meet the rapidly changing needs of the marketplace.

Some organizations may seek a cloud-agnostic strategy in response to vendor lock-in concerns. Being cloud-agnostic and serverless is virtually impossible as many features are specific to a cloud provider. A cloud-agnostic approach means that competitive advantages in terms of features offered by a vendor cannot be leveraged – the lowest common denominator wins. Organizations that prioritize innovation are likely to worry less about having to rewrite applications in a few years’ time if their preferred cloud provider has changed.

The time is now

Organizations must act now to ensure they are not left behind. A serverless-first mindset brings a variety of benefits, from faster time to market to lower infrastructure costs and reduced environmental impact. Organizations must take action to adapt and bring the right skills and ideas to the organization to develop these systems. It is inevitable that serverless will become the norm in most industries, following in the footsteps of virtualization and containerization.

Written by Chris Birkinshaw, Director of Technology at Merapar


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