Pros and Cons of Serverless Computing for Your Business

As the business landscape transitions towards cloud adoption, serverless computing has gained notable traction as a preferred option for application development. This approach delegates infrastructure management to cloud providers, enabling developers to concentrate on coding, thereby expediting the development cycle and lowering costs. Despite its rising popularity, it’s imperative for enterprises to assess the suitability of serverless computing for their specific needs, weighing its merits and drawbacks. This article will delve into the pros and cons of serverless computing, providing insights and guidance to assist enterprises in determining whether it aligns with the optimal choice for their applications.


What is Serverless Computing?

Serverless computing empowers developers to concentrate on the front-end of a website or application without the burden of managing back-end functions. The front-end encompasses the visible elements that users interact with, such as graphics and text. Conversely, the back-end, unseen by users, is essential for seamless website experiences, encompassing data files (e.g., product inventories), processing capabilities, and security features like user logins.

In the serverless model, these back-end functions exist as discrete pieces of code lying dormant until user interaction triggers their activation. When a user initiates an action, the serverless computing provider engages, allocates necessary resources, and seamlessly facilitates the transition. Developers write application code loaded into the serverless computing environment where it remains dormant until an event prompts its execution. Once the event concludes, the code reverts to dormancy.

Termed “functions” in the serverless computing model, these events exemplify specific functionalities. For instance, a website might feature a function enabling users to upload photos, initiating the resizing and reformatting process upon upload. The serverless model’s flexibility stems from these functions, which may run intermittently, allowing for scalable solutions. Consequently, in times of heightened website or app traffic, the cloud can accommodate increased demand by providing additional space and processing power (with associated fees), adjusting accordingly during periods of reduced activity.


Advantages of Serverless Computing

  1. Effortless Server Management

Serverless computing eliminates the need for developers to grapple with server management tasks. While it operates on servers, these are expertly handled by the vendor. This reduces the reliance on DevOps investment, cutting down expenses and granting developers the freedom to innovate without constraints imposed by server capacity.


  1. Cost-Efficiency

Developers are exclusively billed for the server space they actively use, akin to a ‘pay-as-you-go’ phone plan. Code execution occurs solely when backend functions are required, automatically scaling in real-time. Some services even break down charges into 100-millisecond increments. This contrasts with traditional server-full architectures where developers must project and purchase server capacity in advance, irrespective of actual usage.


  1. Inherent Scalability

Serverless architectures inherently possess the ability to scale dynamically, likened to a post office adjusting its fleet of delivery trucks based on mail volume fluctuations. Applications built with serverless infrastructure seamlessly scale as the user base expands or usage intensifies. The vendor’s servers efficiently initiate, run, and terminate multiple instances of functions as needed, often utilizing containers for optimal efficiency.


  1. Rapid Deployments and Updates

Serverless infrastructure enables swift deployments and updates without the need for uploading code to servers or intricate backend configurations. Developers can efficiently upload code fragments or release new features one function at a time. This agile approach allows for quick updates, patches, and additions without disrupting the entire application.


  1. Proximity to End Users, Reduced Latency

Serverless computing allows code execution to occur closer to end users, diminishing latency. Since the application is not tied to an origin server, application functions can be run on servers in close proximity to the end user. The Cloudflare Workers platform, for example, facilitates this reduction in latency, enhancing the overall user experience.


Disadvantages of Serverless Computing

  1. Challenges in Testing and Debugging

Testing and debugging become intricate in a serverless environment. Replicating the conditions for code performance after deployment is difficult. Debugging is further complicated due to limited visibility into back-end processes, exacerbated by the application’s segmentation into smaller functions. Mitigating this friction is the Cloudflare Workers Playground, a sandbox facilitating smoother testing and debugging.


  1. Heightened Security Concerns

Serverless computing introduces new security challenges as vendors manage the entire back-end. Fully vetting vendor security becomes complex, particularly for applications dealing with personal or sensitive data. The shared use of servers by multiple customers, known as ‘multitenancy,’ raises the potential for data exposure if not configured properly. Effective sandboxing and robust infrastructure, as exemplified by Cloudflare’s 15 Tbps network, can mitigate these concerns.


  1. Limitations for Long-Running Processes

Serverless architectures are not optimized for applications with prolonged, continuous processes. The pay-per-execution model, where providers charge based on code running time, may render serverless infrastructure less cost-effective for applications requiring extended periods of execution compared to traditional setups.


  1. Potential Performance Impact

Serverless code, not constantly running, may experience startup delays when activated, potentially impacting performance. This startup time, known as a ‘cold start,’ can be mitigated for regularly used code through ‘warm starts.’ However, infrequently used code may still incur delays. This aspect should be considered when evaluating the performance requirements of specific applications in a serverless environment.


Use Cases for Serverless Architecture

Serverless architecture proves highly beneficial when an organization’s application is geared towards executing code and undertaking trigger-based tasks. Particularly, applications designed to respond to user activities and perform specific actions upon trigger events find a natural fit in serverless architecture. Due to the passive nature of these applications, waiting for trigger events before consuming resources, they align well with the cost constraints of organizations. Such ;set-it-and-forget-it’ applications are prime candidates for hosting on serverless architecture.

Furthermore, serverless architecture emerges as a robust solution for Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) projects. Its seamless compatibility with these projects allows developers to continuously update code in production without the hassle of server updates. This real-time code update capability becomes invaluable in dynamic development environments.


The Future of Serverless Architecture

As technology professionals continually seek innovations to enhance processes, serverless architecture stands as a niche with significant growth potential. The current state of serverless architecture serves as a foundation for future advancements, offering glimpses of a future marked by improved predictability and security. Reliability, a current concern deterring some organizations from adopting serverless architecture, is expected to be addressed in future iterations.

Presently, organizations valuing reliability tend to favor traditional on-premises servers, cloud-hosted (yet not owned) solutions, or microservices where they retain more control. However, as the development community increasingly adopts Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) pipelines and embraces DevOps methodologies, serverless architecture will continue to play a pivotal role. The ongoing trend of minimizing downtime for upgrades aligns seamlessly with the capabilities of serverless architecture, making it an integral tool for developers.

While we are still in the early stages of serverless architecture’s trajectory, it is anticipated to persist and evolve. Developers’ persistent pursuit of streamlined processes and enhanced efficiency ensures that serverless architecture will remain a vital component in the ever-changing landscape of application development. The evolution of serverless architecture is an ongoing journey, and its continued refinement will parallel the shifts in the broader developer community.