Tapping into the benefits of a serverless-first mindset

By Anna Holden, marketing manager, Merapar.

Businesses, regardless of sector, need to uphold scalability, innovation and be able to rapidly design and launch new products and services, all against the backdrop of rapidly evolving market conditions and the need to adapt to changing circumstances. This is especially the case for companies with short product release cycles. Underlying systems need to provide a solid foundation while new features are being added. As unknown circumstances continue to arise, where does the solution lie when it comes to matching evolving market demands? One potential avenue is a serverless-first mindset. This approach moves away from always-on server solutions and towards message-based architectures, and also represents a change to the way teams design these architectures.

The move to serverless

So, how does serverless architecture work? Essentially, users receive a backend-as-a-service solution from a cloud provider that makes it possible to run discrete versions of code. Critically, this removes the requirement for developers to manage underlying infrastructure. While there’s varying iterations,, Function-as-a-Service (FaaS) is likely to be the version that professionals in the sector think of first when serverless is mentioned.

Serverless is the pathway to a plethora of benefits for businesses. Faster idea-to-development is made possible due to developers having the flexibility to add and modify serverless functions without the responsibility of managing supporting infrastructure. Even when faced with the most drastic of market shifts, organisations are empowered to deploy updates rapidly to enable adaptation.

Rather than be tied into a costly monthly contract for the long-term, serverless systems can be adopted under a pay-as-you-go structure. This is highly suited to businesses looking to keep operational and infrastructure costs down, and gives them the control to only pay for what they use. Expenditure therefore correlates with usage and scalability.

Cloud integration

The growth of cloud computing and the serverless mindset go hand-in-hand. Under the serverless banner, the cloud provider optimises resource utilisation, with continuous tweaking of allocated compute capacity based on the level of demand. This can then allow for scalability and reduced costs.

Serverless systems provide functionality, security and scalability to cloud providers, enabling infrastructure logic to be tweaked, which in turn allows developers the freedom to fine-tune the application logic. A serverless mindset is also highly suited to agile transformation, with generalist developers able to rapidly deliver new features with high levels of security.

A serverless approach also has a role to play in sustainability, with businesses needing to do their bit to reduce carbon emissions. The European Commission has set a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% in 2030. Unlike provisioned-capacity machines, serverless systems only run for the period they are used, which enables significant energy savings and reduced CO2 emissions. The higher hosting density enabled by serverless systems also drives efficiency, with usage shared among a wider set of users and servers.

Aspects to consider

With the advantages of a serverless-first mindset made clear, some organisations may still have reservations over adopting the technology due to long-standing concerns around sunk costs carried over from other strategies, the level of security offered by the cloud provider and the potential for vendor lock-in. In addition, there may be ongoing issues with debugging and development environments. However, even among the most serverless-adverse, this mindset can provide benefits to a select part of an organisation.

A prominent example of where a serverless-first mindset can facilitate benefits is with a bank’s operations. While undoubtedly the maintenance of a traditional network infrastructure is critical for continued operation of the underlying database, a serverless approach gives banks the opportunity to pursue agility with the development of consumer-facing applications and other technologies as demand expands. Agile and serverless strategies typically go hand-in-hand, and both can encourage quick development, modification and adaptation.

Another key feature of agile organisations is more cross-functional and autonomous teams, with a reduction on dependencies and the removal of barriers to change within departments. As an example, with the cloud provider responsible for practically the entire stack, serverless-first organisations can merge certain roles, such as in the case of a developer and infrastructure (DevOps) engineer.

Speed and quality is improved by adopting these changes. Simpler branching and merging strategies become possible as a single developer is able to write new code and deploy it immediately once approval has been given. This process can then be completed within days or even hours, with new features able to be released within a two-week iteration without having to rely on other teams before deployment. This agility is ideally suited for faster time-to-market and continuous or experimental development.

Overcoming cloud-agnosticism

For the businesses fearing the prospect of vendor lock-in, they may be tempted to integrate a cloud-agnostic strategy. However, such a strategy can often by outweighed by the drawbacks, with a high investment that often doesn’t prove financially viable. Moreover, [AE2] writing software for multiple clouds removes the ability to use features offered by one specific cloud, meaning any competitive advantage of using a specific vendor is then lost.

Unless a cloud-agnostic approach takes steps to move providers before software is refreshed, it’s unlikely that any initial investment will be made back, and rebuilding the software would likely be cheaper in the long term. In contrast, serverless users can gain more value with access to more services from their dedicated provider.

Don’t get left behind

To ensure that they don’t fall behind in the competitive landscape, organisations must now look towards serverless-first to keep pace with the ever-evolving landscape. Beyond just a strategy, it’s critical to adopt a serverless mindset across the business as solution architectures, training approaches and team structures will all need to adjust in order for it to make a tangible impact. When serverless is correctly implemented, it brings about a number of advantages, from faster time-to-market to lower infrastructure costs and a reduced impact on the wider environment. To make serverless work for them, companies need to bring the right talent into the business to develop these systems as a first step.

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