The business advantages of a cloud application platform are seen everywhere. But the new, most innovative steps in cloud computing revolve around the deployment of serverless applications. My recent work with some of the innovators in this space demonstrated to me how a serverless approach exemplifies what the cloud can deliver. The essence of this is an opportunity to create an extreme focus on addressing core enterprise business value, while eliminating most low-value aspects of development along with traditional operational overhead.
Whereas in the distant past I might have rather flippantly described cloud deployments to just be a useful way to reduce fan noise levels in the server room, it's now obvious that the serverless cloud presents a very fundamental paradigm shift.
Serverless can be hard to define. No one can brand the term, so everyone uses it in different ways. But what just about everyone agrees on is that although there are, of course, servers running code out there somewhere, what makes something “serverless” is that IT teams don’t actually have to worry about those servers. At first this might sound “nice to have,” but not revolutionary, but taking the argument several steps further, we can see that its not only the physical servers that vanish, but also large elements of a typical application architecture that are essential, but almost totally generic in function.
That’s why serverless is more than just a technology, but can also be seen as a movement. Barriers to entry are never more apparent than when a new technology comes along and knocks them down, and serverless achieves just that. It’s providing simple ways for IT teams to build new software, with a focus on writing business critical code, instead of managing servers or sharding databases. The business application becomes a flow diagram of sorts that connects your business specific core logic to an ever expanding range of common infrastructure component services. And these services are themselves scalable, highly available and continuously improved. Enterprise teams can now use a serverless cloud-native paradigm of modern application implementation that eliminates traditional and costly operational responsibilities of capacity-provisioning and system maintenance.
But as transformational as these new services components and design freedom can feel, making them work for your organization is anything but magic. To deliver business positive outcomes, serverless platforms require key capabilities across the entire software life-cycle: from designing applications, to developing and testing them, to delivering them predictably across successive deployment tiers.
It doesn’t make sense in most cases to just take today’s monolithic enterprise applications and foist them onto a serverless platform. First of all, it might not even work: The big name serverless platforms have some resource constraints that would probably stop most large applications from even running in their environments. But that’s beside the point. Serverless platforms aren’t designed to be yet another place to run the same old applications. They’re a way to build software in a different, more efficient way.
But even for greenfield applications, there’s still plenty to think about, like how new applications will talk to existing technology within an organization, like datastores and compliance tools. Making the leap into microservices will mean more than just telling developers to start writing functions that can run on AWS Lambda or Azure Functions or some other service. It will mean rethinking the development process.
The modern software delivery life-cycle requires agility to iterate fast, automation to deploy continuously, and strong governance to ensure security is enforced consistently. The challenge to improvements on these fronts comes from the unnecessary infrastructure drag of common functional blocks, ever tighter security, flexible capacity scaling, and continuous maintenance cycles.
But the good news is that serverless makes it easier to do all of this than it’s ever been. And there are plenty of organizations that are already leading the way.
Thanks for reading!