In a serverless environment, a company replaces dedicated servers for specific applications and features by outsourcing their infrastructure functions to a public cloud vendor like Amazon, Microsoft, or Google. This development provides the company with a powerful new tool for potentially lowering IT operational costs, deploying services faster, and responding more quickly to customer demand.
When an application isn’t in use, it sits dormant in a serverless, consuming no computing resources. However, when someone uses the application, the infrastructure behind it gathers all of the technology components required to process the business logic and respond to the request.
Serverless computing, also known as FaaS (Function-as-a-Service), is gaining traction, and many companies are adopting this technology. However, since the technology is relatively new, developers, architects, and DevOps engineers may lack the necessary knowledge and expertise to comprehend security concerns. Therefore, in this post, we’ll look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of serverless computing.
Advantages of serverless
Serverless offers different tradeoffs in terms of control, cost, and flexibility when compared to IaaS platforms. They force application developers to think about the cost of their code when modularizing their applications, rather than latency, scalability, and elasticity, which have traditionally been the focus of development efforts. Both consumers and providers benefit from the serverless paradigm.
From the consumer’s perspective, a cloud developer no longer needs to provide and manage servers, virtual machines, or containers as the basic computational building block for distributing services. Instead, the focus is on the business logic by defining a set of functions whose composition enables the desired application behavior. The state-less programming model gives the provider more control over the software stack, allowing them to deliver security patches more transparently and optimize the platform, among other things.
- No server, no operational work: Customers are not responsible for provisioning or maintaining any servers. There is no need to install, maintain, or administer any software or runtime. As a result, customers do not perform any operational work on servers or other infrastructure services. Customers debug, test, troubleshoot, and perform other operational tasks on their code.
- Flexible scaling: Customers’ applications can be automatically scaled horizontally, or their capacity can be adjusted by toggling consumption units (e.g., throughput, memory). A cloud service provider handles this. Serverless ensures that applications have the right amount of infrastructure support to handle all of the requests they receive.
- Pay for value: Customers pay only for the time it takes for a function to execute and the number of functions executed in a serverless computing model. Customers are not charged for ideal capacity, and there is no charge when their code is not running.
- Fully managed and automated high availability environment: The CSP (Cloud Service Provider) is in charge of managing the entire infrastructure and platform, as well as ensuring high availability and fault tolerance. Customers do not need to architect for these features because CSP provides them by default.
- Reduce costs: When you remove systems that don’t need to be on all the time, you’re left with an application that sits on a cloud hard drive until it’s used. Because you only pay for what you use, drop-in infrastructure costs can be substantial—ranging from 50% to 90%, with 70% to 80% being the average.
- Rapid development and deployment: Serverless architectures are designed to boost developer productivity and make development, testing, and release cycles more agile. You can run as many tests as you want with the serverless approach because you don’t have to worry about when your infrastructure will be ready or when other components of the solution will be ready for deployment. Cloud service providers are also investing in standardizing development environments to encourage the use of serverless architectures.
- Decrease time to market: Serverless applications typically take much less time to develop. Accenture, for example, can usually put together tailored serverless applications in a matter of weeks rather than months. Why is there a distinction? We’re working with a set of well-known, well-established infrastructure and runtime components with serverless. Developers can concentrate on what they do best: designing the core business logic. The developer has no access to the underlying software or infrastructure, which reduces its time to develop and deploy the software. We don’t have to worry about setting up servers, configuring environments, clustering, or other aspects of traditional system development.
- Reduce security risks: Most security organizations focus on perimeter security and access control before deploying serverless computing-based applications. However, in a serverless environment, security is delegated to application code orchestration, allowing for complete monitoring of activities, connections, and user behaviors. Security risks can potentially be reduced with the availability of robust application monitoring and alerting technology. Simple monitoring and alerting can serve as a baseline for detecting and stopping abnormal behavior, potentially lowering an organization’s overall risk profile.
Disadvantages of serverless
However, serverless has disadvantages for both consumers and providers. For some applications, the platform’s FaaS model may be too restrictive for consumers. It’s possible that the platform doesn’t support the most recent Python version or that certain libraries aren’t available. There is now a requirement for the provider to manage application-agnostic issues such as the lifecycle of the user’s functions, scalability, and fault tolerance. It means that developers must thoroughly comprehend the platform’s capabilities before designing an application around them.
One feature of serverless platforms that may not be immediately apparent is that the provider provides an ecosystem of services to supplement users’ functions. Services for managing the state, recording and monitoring logs, sending alerts, triggering events, and performing authentication and authorization, for example, may be available. Such diverse ecosystems can entice developers and provide a new revenue stream for cloud providers. However, using such services places you in the provider’s ecosystem and puts you at risk of vendor lock-in.
Let’s briefly look at the disadvantages of serverless:
- Loss of control over infrastructure: The cloud service provider controls the underlying infrastructure, so you won’t be able to customize or optimize it to meet your specific needs. The applicability of CSP-established service limits for serverless components may be questioned in your use case. Security concerns may arise if multiple customers use the same serverless architecture. Customers can use serverless offerings in a virtual private network, which CSPs address these concerns.
- Not for critical application and SLA: When we look at serverless architecture more closely, we can see that these applications are completely reliant on cloud service providers and other third-party dependencies, which is a risk for any critical application and SLA.
- Decentralization: The decentralized serverless approach has its own set of challenges, which can lead to a slew of problems when troubleshooting a failure, such as latency issues when calling third-party APIs or other cloud services.
- Vendor lock-in: Because serverless applications rely on the platform’s services and APIs, most of them are tightly coupled with cloud platforms. This problem causes a slew of issues, including data privacy concerns, cost, support, and the availability of new features, to name a few.
- Security concerns: Serverless architecture’s main concern is security, resulting in compromised company critical data, leaks of secrets, denial of service, and financial exhaustion, among other things.
- Compliance concerns: CSPs are in charge of vulnerability scanning and penetration testing on the infrastructure that supports serverless offerings. However, as a user of serverless services, you are unable to perform these tests. You can’t, for example, perform a penetration test on your AWS Lambda function’s underlying infrastructure. This may not be a problem for most customers. However, if your use case necessitates performing penetration tests on infrastructure for compliance or legal reasons, a more traditional, server-based approach may be preferable.
Adopting serverless has numerous advantages, but the path to serverless can be difficult depending on the use case. Like any new technology innovation, serverless architectures will evolve on their way to becoming a well-established obvious standard. While serverless architecture may not be the answer to all IT problems, it does represent the future of many types of computing solutions in the years ahead.