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What’s serverless & can it save you money?

[fa icon="calendar"] Nov 9, 2017 9:40:00 AM / by Sarah de Castro

Sarah de Castro

So now that we’re all finally starting to understand the corporate cloud, IaaS and even be able to weigh up the advantages and identify certain problems that arise from binning the hard iron, the boundaries are getting pushed a step further with serverless, the latest buzz word in IT disruption.

Understanding Serverless

Serverless you say, what’s that? “Serverless means you don't have to think about the servers that you rely on to deploy and run an application. The idea is for the servers to exist in the background, as a resource that scales up or down automatically, according to the application's needs.” a tidy definition supplied by this article in Channel Futures, which goes on to note: “In essence, serverless computing is a way of taking the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model to the extreme. Not only does serverless computing relieve you of the need to maintain your own infrastructure, but it saves you from the hassle of having to provision or administer infrastructure in any way.

Look mom, no hands

So while IaaS meant renting out computing space and power as you might rent out a vacation home over summer -you don’t own it, so no upkeep but you still need to get there, provide supplies such as food, maybe even make up the beds. Serverless is like you’re now in Club Med. You don’t have to do much, organise much, and you’ll only pay for when you’re there.

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The most popular and well known backend coding language, that allows one to create a serverless environment is certainly AWS Lambda, (it’s Lambda that opened the door to the idea of FaaS, that’s Function as a Service, a way to avoid complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app,  FaaS technology provides a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage application functionalities more technical side.  Lambda is described by here Amazon as “letting you run code without provisioning or managing servers. You pay only for the compute time you consume - there is no charge when your code is not running. With Lambda, you can run code for virtually any type of application or backend service - all with zero administration. Just upload your code and Lambda takes care of everything required to run and scale your code with high availability.

Saving your Cloud Budget

Sounds great right? A real bargain? And, yes overall it will save you money. Check out this scenario provided by IT Pro Today, here, comparing serverless with last generation’s virtual machines: “As an example scenario: when a serverless function is active for just three quarters of the month, it only takes a 10-minute saving in operational overhead for serverless to beat virtual machines on TCO. Even without the savings in developer time, the ability of serverless to increase utilization means it is cheaper than using VMs when the code is executed fewer than 500,000 times each month.” That’s tech speak for, yes under certain conditions it’s the cheaper solution.

Locked into the Cloud

But like so many of these solutions that seem to underline a “user-friendly”, trend towards pay-you-go, there’s an (intangible) downside. The pay-as-you-go model adheres to a pretty rigid setup, just think of Apple products in the B-to-C world. Ironically, the advantages of flexibility too often mean locking yourself into a long time partnership, without so much as being able to check out the competition. Or as Container Adoption company CoreOS, CEO, Alex Polvi, as quoted in this article from The Register, put it “Lambda and serverless is one of the worst forms of proprietary lock-in that we've ever seen in the history of humanity. It’s code that tied not just to hardware – which we've seen before – but to a data center, you can't even get the hardware yourself. And that hardware is now custom fabbed for the cloud providers with dark fiber that runs all around the world, just for them. So literally the application you write will never get the performance or responsiveness or the ability to be ported somewhere else without having the deployment footprint of Amazon.

He continues, "We've heard from our customers, if you cross $100,000 a month on AWS, they'll negotiate your bill down. If you cross a million a month, they'll no longer negotiate with you because they know you're so locked that you're not going anywhere."

Riding the disruption wave

Serverless is another offer in the list of enterprise Cloud’s continuous move towards the extreme end of the flexibility and dematerialisation spectrum, just like the pay-per-second model announced last month. These innovations are paving the way for the higher level disruptive wave that is shaping the new business landscape and defining new ways of working. The impact will be felt across operations, security, financial management and more. Serverless will reshape the way technology is conceived of, the way in which apps are created and even the coding languages used to do so.

Free, but not free, free

We may rejoice in ridding ourselves of the headache of heavy hardware and give a sigh of relief at the thought of no more servers to manage (although let’s not forget reserved instances are still a thing for a reason) . Only one issue remains. And unfortunately it’s kind of important.  It’s all about keeping control and specifically keeping control of costs.

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Topics: AWS, CFO, Cloud service providers, Serverless

Sarah de Castro

Written by Sarah de Castro

Cloud-enthusiast and storyteller, Sarah is a content strategist at OneKloud. Explorer of the technology landscape, she boils down technical and complex ideas for everyday digestion (and enjoyment). With an appreciation for sophisticated simplicity, linguistics and branding, she is a global local in Paris from New Zealand.