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On-demand serverless architecture drives affordability, scalability

SERVERLESS architecture is a cloud-computing model where the service provider takes responsibility for managing the infrastructure and servers, allowing developers to focus solely on writing code. With serverless architectures, developers do not need to worry about managing the underlying infrastructure, including servers, operating systems, or network configurations. Instead, they can deploy their code on the provider’s platform and let the provider handle the scaling, security, and availability of the service.

One of the main benefits of serverless architecture is cost savings, as users only pay for the actual time their code runs, rather than maintaining a server that may be underutilized. Additionally, the scalability of serverless computing is automatic, meaning that the provider can handle sudden increases in traffic or workload without any action required from the developer.

According to a report by Gartner, serverless computing is redefining the way businesses build, consume and integrate cloud-native applications, eliminating the need for infrastructure provisioning and management. Serverless architectures have enabled developers to focus on writing and optimizing application design, resulting in greater business agility, elasticity and cost-effectiveness.

According to Mckinsey, a trifecta of technologies — software as a service, serverless architecture, and open-source code — is helping provide businesses with a formidable method to launch new ideas quickly, securely and at a lower cost. Each of these technologies offer significant benefits, but with all three combined, would enable businesses to drastically simplify and accelerate the development process and scaling new business.

Today, many businesses are adopting serverless architectures that act as an instance or node, that grow as needed as the data scales. The rethinking of infrastructure consumption has resulted in the industry gravitating towards this dominant design due to its scalability.  Serverless computing consists of two main components — computing abstraction known as Function as a Service (FaaS) and the backend infrastructure abstraction of Database or Backend as a Service (DBaaS/BaaS).

WHY SERVERLESS DATABASES?Serverless computing layer is the key enabler of this serverless architecture. It receives communication from the gateway and executes specific business logic according to the abstractions provided by the cloud provider. Today, popular FaaS such as AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions and Microsoft Azure Functions have evolved as the main computing platforms. The availability and horizontal scalability of distributed database architectures like NoSQL has enabled greater flexibility and agility for the business without imposing hidden and additional operational costs. 

With the adoption of serverless databases, came a new serverless data management system. Firstly, common CRUD operations using HTTPS based APIs (commonly referred to as Data APIs)  can be performed without worrying about servers and customer development kits. Secondly, users no longer need to manage connections to databases. Instead, Data APIs are utilized for access. This has opened the possibility of utilizing even HTTPS connections, which are lightweight and are not limited like database connections.

Next, serverless databases eliminate infrastructure provisioning and management, without the need for capacity planning. This frees up users from tedious hardware selection processes or time-consuming planning for cluster capacity throughout the application cycle. Instead, serverless databases have enabled the business to scale for computing or storage according to need without limits.

Here are the advantages that serverless infrastructures deliver:

• Paying for the instance as long as they are up, whether idle or not.

• Serverless architectures scale out and scale in automatically without having to spin up more or higher-powered instances, and with no downtime. An important characteristic of serverless architecture with its scaling dimensions is also the ability to scale to zero to eliminate costs when idle or not in use.  Customers only pay for the burst capacity across the infrastructure for the scaling spike or lull.

• On-demand and not truly automated scaling as an application demands.

• Scaling in a non-serverless environment is a stepwise function limited by the infrastructure and not necessarily application needs (e.g. scaling to the next instance – it may be 30% bigger (and 30% more expensive) when the app needs 5% more in the short term). In contrast, with serverless, the costs move in lockstep with usage. Since costs scale very closely with usage, customers only pay for what they use and are not charged for idle infrastructure.

ADOPTION CONSIDERATIONSAlthough serverless has emerged in the past few years as a compelling architectural alternative for building and running modern applications and services, Mckinsey suggests that many companies have yet to fully utilize their potential in production and time-to-market. Fearing cloud lock-in, many businesses have turned to containerisation, believing it helps them during migration. However, containers have their own hidden costs and often require technical skills.

While serverless technology is a boon to many industries, it should not be taken as a silver bullet as any form of technology will come with its own sets of limitations. It is imperative, however, to understand this technology, use case and benefits it can bring to various businesses. Businesses with on-premise datacenter and applications won’t be suitable candidates to adopt a serverless cloud. Furthermore, there are applications with requirements that serverless technology cannot meet, such as applications that need granular control, infrastructure provisioning, security or customizations. Serverless technology may not be for every business, but for the broader industries, it has proven itself as a game changer and enabled greater enterprise innovation and transformation.

Rahul Pradhan is the vice-president for cloud products of Couchbase, Inc.

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