Serverless, like Kubernetes and microservices, is a new technology. Yet, despite the amount of blog, forum and news-related posts published about serverless, it represents only a fraction of all IT deployments.
Aside from the new factor, serverless shares few similarities with Kubernetes and microservices. Organizations turn to Kubernetes and microservices platforms to add more agility and, in many cases, computing power to their IT operations. Serverless deployments, meanwhile, are seen mainly as a way to save resources by relegating server management to third parties.
Ultimately, cost savings is the main benefit. A successful migration largely hinges on DevOps, especially at the early adoption stage.
“There are ways to use serverless while delivering a very rich customer experience. It is about putting the pieces together in a very right way to do that,” said Sanjay Challa, senior product marketing manager at Datical. “DevOps is about breaking down silos and about and bringing transparency into the development process, which is why DevOps is very important for serverless.”
The definition of serverless can vary, but among the many offerings available, it usually refers to functions-as-a-service (FaaS) and backend-as-a-service (BaaS) services. Despite its name, serverless has a lot to do with servers—but organizations delegate the management of those servers and the associated infrastructure to third-party cloud providers. In this way, organizations upload code or applications and the third party maintains and runs the servers. Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) Lambda, Google’s Cloud Functions, IBM’s OpenWhisk and Docker’s Serverless Docker are among the leading offerings.
When an organization decides to migrate some or all of its data to a serverless platform, it’s important to note the technology’s drawbacks, especially as they relate to DevOps. Common downsides include slower computing performance and less capacity to run code compared to what is available when using servers on-premises or on the cloud. In the case of AWS Lambda, for example, the maximum total of concurrent executions per account is set to 1,000 by default per region and memory capacity for applications is limited to just over 3GB.
Also, by shifting server management to a third party, organizations also are delegating those management functions, including many associated server-related security and monitoring capabilities.
Ultimately, it will be up to the DevOps group to weigh the advantages versus the disadvantages when deciding whether to migrate to serverless platforms.
“A developer might say, ‘I don’t get the same level of performance on serverless,’ but that might be a detail for a business or IT leader to worry about,” Challa said. “The only place the performance issue would manifest itself so that will matter is when end users are trying to use our application and are experiencing a performance degradation. That’s when a performance slowdown is a problem and the only instance when you are going to revisit whether you did it right or did it wrong.”
Migrating to serverless also means job responsibilities will be affected, which will require DevOps to manage. “When you move to serverless, a lot of roles are disrupted. You need your network and infrastructure guys less than you did before, for example,” Challa said. “So, your team will look very different, since serverless teams in general looks very different compared to traditional IT operations. With DevOps, you have to be make sure you have nimble and agile processes to reassign roles.”
Allocating the management of servers to a third party is also not as straightforward as it might seem, Challa said.
“You need to solve any existing DevOps challenges you have first, before you make the switch to serverless, because otherwise, you are setting yourself up to failure. If there is a narrative around serverless as well as the cloud, it is that making a transition to such a new delivery mechanism will explode in your face if you cannot figure it out first with DevOps,” he noted. “The transparency and coordination with DevOps must be figured out, because if not, these types of new things will only slow you down or bring you to a grinding halt, especially if it is implemented in silos.”
However, once a serverless platform has been successfully set up and is running, DevOps’ workloads should decrease, since there will be less server maintenance work to do, said Holger Mueller, an analyst for Constellation Research.
“With FaaS, DevOps is less relevant as deployments take place within the FaaS framework,” Mueller said. “There is no need for DevOps to write scripts or manually do anything. Normally, everything should just run itself.”
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