In 2008, Netflix was struck by a disaster. A fast-growing global streaming service was well on its way to transform the entertainment industry when the management faced a problem exposed by a data center failure. Even though it was a single issue, it shut the entire service down, depriving the company of millions in profits and effectively ending the shipments of DVDs (they were still a thing in 2008).
The failure showed that the company’s management had to make a difficult choice that would define the future of the company: stick with the data centers or move the entire service to the public cloud. Since Netflix was already generating an enormous quantity of data, they would have to rack the servers in the data centers with impressive speed if they chose to go with the first respective option. The cloud, on the other hand, would allow them to add new servers within minutes, without having to maintain them.
Clearly, the cloud infrastructure was a better choice as well as an opportunity to innovate, so they went with it. The company has transferred all data to AWS Lambda to end up with a true cloud-native app, which made Netflix one of the biggest adopters of serverless at this moment. The choice has contributed to a fast expansion of their service and helped make Netflix a powerhouse it is today.
In recent years, serverless has been adopted by many companies, allowing them to save costs and grow faster. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how exactly serverless apps helped businesses to reach new heights and how you can benefit, too.
Serverless: The Most Common Use Cases
Even though the serverless technology is still pretty much in its early stages of evolution, it’s already being used to support a wide range of critical IT functions by well-known businesses. It’s a good sign since the applications of many technologies before have mostly been limited to side and research & development projects.
To know where entrepreneurs and developers use serverless architecture, we turn to the recent State of Serverless survey that defined the following use cases.
The most common uses of serverless architecture in business. Source: Serverless.com
Web server/API was the most popular use case for serverless, with more than 60 percent of the respondents relying on technology to run their apps. Data processing, chatbots, IoT, and mobile backend (the most popular use case in the Others category) were also mentioned. Clearly, these results show that businesses already rely on serverless to handle critical IT tasks.
Now, let’s talk about what serverless means business-wise and how it can help you to support your organizational goals.
1. Faster Delivery of Apps to the Market
This is definitely one of the most important benefits of serverless technology, as building serverless applications means you don’t have to write architecture code.
The abstraction of these challenges allows focusing on coding and business logic rather than hardware components, which is great news for developers. Simply explained, they can concentrate on managing apps, not servers, thus spending more time on what actually matters to a business.
“This also means that your app development process won’t include such low-value activities as infrastructure capacity planning and setup,” says Will Jones, a cloud expert from Trust My Paper. “They become the responsibility of the provider of the serverless platform.”
Not having to deal with infrastructure tasks is something that a lot of companies, especially startups, can benefit from. For example, if your company is small and you don’t have a DevOps team, the developers are typically the ones who have to set up and plan the infrastructure, which means more time spent on tasks that are not directly related to the app’s value for customers.
Unsurprisingly, most of the recent Dashbird survey respondents cited easier and quicker app development as the most important benefit of going serverless.
2. Easier Code Changes
If you’re building an app on the serverless infrastructure, it consists of many smaller parts that are often referred to as “micro services.” Thanks to them, the task of making changes in the app code becomes easier for programmers. This advantage of serverless draws a lot of attention from entrepreneurs whose companies are often forced to make changes in their software under the pressure from competitors.
“If you’d like to add a debug message to your code in traditional, server-based infrastructure, chances are you’ll have to write it locally, reupload it to the cloud and wait until everything is synchronized,” shares Ben Olszewski, a DevOps engineer from Best Essay Education. “With the serverless, however, you can make a quick change in the console and save it. That’s it.”
This is one of the reasons why 19 percent of IT decision-makers are already using serverless and 49 percent are planning to evaluate it within the next 24 months. Clearly, the ability of the serverless model to simplify a lot of tasks for developers is becoming widely known, with many IT heads considering giving it a try.
3. Unlimited App Scalability
Every business wants to build an app that will be used by millions of people worldwide. One of the essential requirements for that is proper planning. For example, if you don’t plan for success right away by failing to provide proper infrastructure, chances are that you’ll be panicking when your app really gets popular.
Well, this is a scenario faced by companies building their apps on traditional, server-based infrastructure. Remember how we talked about Netflix in the intro? The company delivers more than 10 billion hours of videos to 158 million paying users in over 50 countries around the world. This means transmitting petabytes of data in thousands of thousands of files every day, meaning that data center failures would be hard to avoid.
Going with serverless infrastructure means that they don’t have to think about the ability of the app scale with traffic volumes. Since serverless providers can reduce delays and performance issues by having presence points around users regardless of geolocation, the app built and run on this infrastructure will have fewer scalability problems.
AWS Lambda (Amazon’s serverless computing solution) ensures that scalability isn’t a problem by quickly cloning and distributing computing resources according to the load so your app could reliably handle peak loads.
A simple example of a business that could benefit from the unlimited scalability is a travel agency whose micro service-driven platforms should be able to deal with increased traffic volumes at seasonal peak booking times. Moreover, serverless allows developing AI-enabled chatbots for apps, which are also known to improve customer experience and increase bookings.
4. Less Waste in Development
Developing a function multiple times is a common occurrence in app development. For example, your app may require changes in user authentication to implement the latest security measures. As a result, developers need to work on the function all over again, which means waste.
On the other hand, if you build apps on the serverless infrastructure, you’ll be able to reuse app components because they’re developed independently. Your developers can upload a new function into the cloud and execute it without depending on other features.
5. Reduced Overall Development Costs
Cost reduction is one of the most important advantages of serverless for businesses (the findings of the Dashbird survey cited earlier also support this). This computing model is known to allow creating significant cost savings by reducing the expenses for idle servers. In other words, you pay only for code execution, not idle computing capacity, so you’ll be able to reduce infrastructure costs of traditional cloud deployments.
For example, if you have servers to handle such common business tasks as order processing, social media activity analysis, and metrics generation, chances are that you’re paying a lot to maintain them. With serverless computing, there’s simply no need to have servers to deal with these tasks, so operational costs can also be reduced.
For software expert Reggie Williams, for example, the task of developing and deploying APIs on serverless has been a good decision budget-wise. In his position as Chief Technology Officer at custom writing service Studicus, he has made this decision to ensure that the API responds quickly to requests.
“Deploying a serverless API made it much easier to secure and lightweight on the customer side,” says Williams, who is also the head of engineering at Pick The Writer, a copywriting agency. “Besides, it helped us to cut costs and time investments, as doing many backend tasks takes much faster in the serverless API.”
6. Greater Flexibility and Ability to Innovate
As mentioned, serverless eliminates all headaches related to configuration and hosting infrastructure, allowing product development teams to focus on delivering customer value. Moreover, if a SaaS business chooses to host their app on serverless infrastructure, it can reduce costs for both itself and customers, thus creating more chances to serve them better.
With all these benefits combined, serverless gives more opportunities to work on innovation and improvement. In fact, this Accenture report claims that with the ability to innovate becoming imperative for businesses in all industries, serverless is a good fit, as it provides the “agility to innovate.”
The Bottom Line
It’s clear that the migration to serverless has a number of real benefits that deliver true business value. Businesses and IT experts understand this; that’s why the vast majority of respondents in the State of Serverless survey were optimistic about the future of this technology.
As you research the use cases and features of serverless, keep in mind that it’s still evolving. For example, Deloitte wrote that 27 percent of app development professionals struggle with debugging and monitoring of serverless apps. That’s why tools like Dashbird providing visibility in the serverless environment as well as a fast error detection will become increasingly important for adopters of this technology.
The good news is, with tools like Dashbird becoming more and more effective, businesses will be more confident in trying serverless and ignoring Internet myths about full-scale migration being costly and disruptive. If it were, companies like Netflix, Coca Cola, Zalora, and Nordstrom would not have considered migration to serverless, but there they are, relying on it every day.