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Serverless cloud - Is it for everyone?

We take a look at the latest trend seeking to cut costs and ease deployment

Serverless cloud. It sounds impossible, doesn't it? How can cloud computing be serverless? All that deployed code, all that accumulated data being crunched, examined and interpreted. Surely servers are needed for these tasks?

Well, as it happens, 'serverless cloud' is a poor marketing term, as nothing runs in this day and age without some form of compute engine - it's false advertising if anything. Yet the term defines a particular type of cloud deployment - the ability to use cloud without having to have any servers in your business, and without having to specifically buy or rent any server resource from your cloud provider.

Sure, the provider (AWS, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and the rest) uses servers, but it allocates resources around these as needed, taking server related matters out of the financial relationship it has with clients.

So, why go serverless?

Serverless cloud has some very distinct advantages for organisations working in a cloud environment. Sue Daley, associate director, technology and innovation, techUK, explains that many customers are drawn to low costs and the convenience often associated with serverless.

"Paying for compute resources based upon the amount of transaction performed rather than specifying a virtual machine spec to handle the busiest predicted workloads often equates to compute charging by the microsecond rather than the hour," explains Daley. "Not having to consider or manage the underlying infrastructure, capacity or operating systems [means organisations can] just write and develop code."

Ramanan Ramakrishna, Cloud CoE Lead at Capgemini added that those organisations which operate across multiple sites stand to gain the most from serverless.

"[It can be used] as an impetus to promote event-driven computing and a micro-services mindset among developers," he explains. "This is because the applications being built have to be split into distinct services which can then be deployed and accessed from serverless cloud. This sets the stage for a quicker and easier adoption of agile development principles and CI/CD without falling into traditional waterfall methods."

Is serverless right for you?

Well, you might already be using it.

"Serverless solutions may already be used by organisations that are unaware of the fact if they are using third-party APIs in their solutions already," explains Tony Lock, distinguished analyst at Freeform Dynamics. Notwithstanding that, he explains, "it is certainly a good idea to learn a little about the practical implications of serverless computing to help understand when will be the right time to look more deeply or jump in and use".

A major advantage of serverless is the additional pricing options that come with paying for only what you use, rather than being forced to make a projection. This is particularly useful for small businesses and startups that are looking to trim costs and scale at the same time, but all businesses could stand to benefit.

"[Serverless] is a tool that can be used by any organisations regardless of size and scale", explains Daley. "Where it really can add value and impact is in helping small and growing organisations that only need computing power and resources when an event is triggered. For example, those innovative companies that are part of today's growing gig economy such as car ride share app or a site that allow files or photos to be uploaded which only need to be able to spin up computing resources when a customer request, like a car ride, is requested."

Things to consider

If serverless is something you feel would be a good fit for your business, there are a few things you need to consider.

Firstly, it's important to understand the various needs of your business. "Learn how you could exploit serverless, find somewhere simple to start that is likely to have a fast return of visible benefits, and look for partners who have already started down the road and learn from their experiences, good and bad," urges Lock.

It's also important to consider your skillsets. Serverless is still a relatively young technology trend and most organisations will lack the technical skills to architect a serverless setup effectively. Of course, that's doesn't stop organisations outsourcing to other providers, which may be a short-term solution for most.

Ramanan Ramakrishna suggests "organisations should work towards incorporating serverless cloud into a digital transformation agenda for 'born in the cloud' initiatives rather than force-fitting it into traditional applications and associated methodologies".

There is the issue of going all in on serverless needlessly. Daniel Kroening, a professor of Computer Science at Oxford University, argues that the best way to adopt a serverless strategy is to weave it into existing setups.

"It makes sense to see them as a valuable addition to the existing toolkit available to developers and system designers - not as a replacement," he explains.

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