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Serverless Computing

Posted By Anuj Victor on 28th July 2016

What is serverless computing and what does it mean for application development?

Application development keeps involving towards a model that allows mobile app developers to get apps into production faster. However, in today’s rapidly evolving market it seems that no matter how fast you deliver the app, it’s just not fast enough.

The need for rapid application development explains why serverless computing has become quite the talking point in the mobile application development industry. What potential does serverless computing hold for enterprises and what benefits does it offer the app developer?

Let’s break it down to get a better understanding.

Serverless Computing
What is Serverless Computing in Application Development?

Servers are where the mobile apps run. Servers communicate with each other, have IP addresses which need to be discovered, and servers go down occasionally. Until now before you developed an app, you had to pay a lot of attention to the development of server. But not anymore. 

Serverless computing means that the developer only focuses on building the app, and the back-end system that supports the application (a.k.a. the server) is taken care of by someone else (another enterprise). The term serverless computing is actually a misnomer – because it does not mean that there is no server. Serverless computing merely implies that the app developer is oblivious, to some extent at least, of the infrastructure that hosts the app.

Instead of a single server supporting a particular application, in serverless computing, a cluster of servers provides an execution system for multiple applications.

Benefits of Serverless Computing in Application Development

The main advantages of serverless computing in mobile application development are faster time-to-market, improved resource efficiency, and lower cost of app development for the app developer, and superior app experience for the customer.

Reduced app launch time and better use of resources:

In the traditional mobile app development scenario, the app developer must have an acute understanding of the concept of the server. In serverless computing, the app developer does what he knows best i.e. develop code. The developer is relieved of the administrative hassle of managing the backend operations of running and managing the app, which includes aspects such as app scalability, high-availability, and infrastructure security. Hence, serverless computing allows app development companies, such as us, to focus on developing value-adding code and launching the app quicker.

Reduced expense and improved competitiveness:

Another significant benefit is the lowering of your CapEx and Opex outlay. Building your own infrastructure would require massive investments in manpower and resources. But with serverless computing, this is done away with. Plus, in serverless computing you do not have to expend resources to keep the app running 24*7 -  you only pay for the time that your app functions are running. Also, making micro changes to your app becomes that much easier with the serverless framework.

Serverless computing reduces app idle time while improving user experience. The cost savings of managing your app if passed on to the end-user can make you more competitive in the app marketplace.

So what’s the downside to serverless computing?

In serverless computing, the single big app is broken down into smaller ‘microservices’ and ‘functions’.  The aim is to help the app developer manage and scale various aspects of the app independently and swiftly. Some critics argue that having so many different microservices/ functions to manage, rather than one monolithic app, increases the complexity of the system.

It’s important to mention here that your customer cannot distinguish whether the app is being run on a single server, or on a cluster of servers as is the case with serverless computing.

As cloud computing costs continue to fall, a serverless architecture for app building seems more and more attractive. And this is further validated by the fact that giants such as Google and Amazon and Microsoft are all offering serverless functionality.

Here are four of the popular cloud frameworks and the programming languages they support

  • Amazon Web Services or AWS Lambda  – This is one of the more stable cloud computing frameworks available in the market. The application languages supported by AWS Lambda include Node.js, Java, and Python.
  • Google Cloud Functions: As of now the platform only supports Node.js, but Google is expected to add more languages shortly.
  • Iron.io :The company’s Project Kratos enables enterprises to run AWS Lambda functionality in any cloud provider. The company also claims to be the only ones enabling on-premise serverless computing.
  • IBM OpenWhisk:The framework supports apps written in Node.js and Swift. 

Serverless computing is changing the way we write and execute apps. It allows for rapid application development to keep up with demand, as well as facilitates independent deployment of small chunks of code to modify an application.

For enterprises, serverless computing offers the ability to make frequent changes in software to respond quickly to customer/ product lifecycle requirements.

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