Serverless Applications Basics

Learn about serverless applications and their benefits.

AWS Lambda is a type of serverless application. In this lesson, we’ll learn more about serverless applications and how they work.

Serverless application overview

A serverless application is a type of cloud computing model in which the developers focus on writing and deploying code without the need to manage the underlying infrastructure or servers. In a serverless architecture, the cloud provider takes care of server management, provisioning, and scaling, allowing developers to focus solely on writing application logic.

Press + to interact

Here are some key characteristics of serverless applications.

  • No server management: Developers do not need to provision or manage servers. The cloud provider abstracts away the infrastructure management, including server setup, maintenance, and capacity planning. This allows developers to concentrate on writing code and building the application’s functionality.

  • Autoscaling: Serverless applications are often designed to respond to events or triggers. For example, an event can be an HTTP request, a message from a queue, a file upload, or a scheduled time. The cloud provider automatically scales the application to handle the incoming events, ensuring that there are enough resources to meet demand. Scaling happens dynamically based on the workload, so developers don’t need to worry about capacity planning or manual scaling.

  • Pay-per-use pricing: Serverless platforms typically follow a pay-per-use pricing model. Owners of the application are billed based on actual usage, such as the number of invocations, execution duration, and resource consumption. This granular pricing allows for cost optimization because we only pay for the resources our application needs during its execution rather than paying for idle servers.

  • Function-as-a-service (FaaS): FaaS is a common implementation of serverless computing. Developers write discrete units of functionality (often referred to as functions) that are triggered by events. These functions are deployed to the serverless platform and executed in response to specific events. Each function typically performs a specific task, and they can be combined to build complex applications.

  • Third-party service integration: Serverless applications often leverage various third-party services, such as databases, storage systems, authentication providers, and messaging services. These services are typically provided by the cloud platform and can be easily integrated into the application. This allows developers to focus on business logic and leverage prebuilt services for common functionalities.

Press + to interact
Traditional vs. serverless application
Traditional vs. serverless application

Benefits of using serverless applications

Serverless architecture offers several benefits. It has gained popularity because it can streamline development processes and allow developers to build scalable applications without the need to manage servers or infrastructure. Here are the main advantages of using serverless applications.

  • Reduced operational complexity: Developers can focus solely on writing application logic without the need to manage servers or infrastructure. This eliminates the operational overhead of server provisioning, maintenance, and scaling. The cloud provider takes care of these tasks, allowing developers to focus on core business logic and accelerating development cycles.

  • Improved scalability and elasticity: Serverless platforms are designed to automatically scale the application in response to workload demands. As the number of incoming events or requests increases, the platform dynamically provisions resources to handle the load. This scalability ensures that our application can handle spikes in traffic without manual intervention. It also allows us to scale down automatically during periods of low demand, reducing costs.

  • Cost efficiency: Serverless platforms often follow a pay-per-use pricing model. We’re billed based on the actual usage of our application, such as the number of invocations, execution duration, and resource consumption. This granular pricing model eliminates the need to pay for idle servers or overprovisioning resources. We can optimize costs by paying only for the resources used during execution, making it particularly beneficial for applications with varying workloads.

  • Faster time to market: Serverless architecture promotes rapid development and deployment. By abstracting away server management and infrastructure concerns, developers can focus on writing code and building application features. This streamlined development process allows for faster iteration and shorter release cycles, so businesses can bring new features and applications to market faster.

  • High availability: Serverless platforms handle the high availability of our application automatically. Infrastructure is often distributed across multiple data centers, ensuring high availability and fault tolerance. This eliminates the need for developers to design and implement complex, high-availability solutions.

Press + to interact

These advantages make serverless architecture an attractive choice for building modern, scalable, and efficient applications.

Downsides of using serverless applications

While serverless applications offer numerous benefits, there are also a few downsides to consider.

  • Cold start latency: Serverless platforms dynamically allocate resources to functions on demand. When a function is triggered after being inactive for a while, it might experience a “cold start,” in which the platform needs to provision resources before executing the function. This can result in increased latency for the first request, impacting the user experience, especially for applications with strict real-time requirements.

  • Vendor lock-in: Adopting a specific serverless platform might lead to vendor lock-in, meaning your application becomes tightly coupled to a provider’s ecosystem and services. Migrating your application to another platform or hosting environment could require significant modifications to your code and architecture, making it less portable.

  • Complexity in local development: Developing and testing serverless applications locally can be more complex than traditional development. Emulating the exact behavior of a serverless platform in a local environment might be challenging, potentially leading to discrepancies between local testing and actual production behavior.

The downsides of using serverless applications can vary based on the specific use case and the maturity of the serverless technology. We need to carefully consider these drawbacks alongside the benefits when making architectural decisions for our applications.