Modernizing With Serverless? Know These Things Before Starting Your Journey
November 22, 2021

While serverless architecture offers numerous advantages to your business, it can also become complex and costly if you are not careful. In this article, Anil Inamdar, the VP & head of data solutions, Instaclustr, talks about a few things you should know before starting your Serverless journey.

Serverless architecture offers no shortage of advantages for enterprises. But chief among them, it empowers their application developers to build functions into services in a way that’s highly scalable, flexible, efficient, and cost-effective. Adoption isn’t without risk, though, and it’s critical to understand that when modernizing around serverless architecture. Starting out with serverless is relatively straightforward, but complexity increases as developers begin to take advantage of more sophisticated resources.

As the degree to which an enterprise leverages serverless architecture increases, costs and the threat of vendor lock-in also rise rapidly. Serverless must be approached with a keen awareness of this to verify the strategy as a viable long-term solution that can sidestep both vendor and security-based risks. Developing this awareness allows enterprises to snatch the cheese out of the trap when it comes to realizing the tremendous benefits of serverless while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Be Certain Your Enterprise Is a Strong Candidate for Serverless

Serverless architecture is not an appropriate fit for all use cases. For example, if your application requires significant scale, with a constant high volume of traffic for prolonged periods, serverless may turn out to be more expensive than deploying the application on an available compute cloud like Amazon EC2. Or, serverless architecture may not be suitable if you need very low latency response times, such as with real-time applications or similar use cases.

Technology leaders should thoroughly evaluate the potential shift to serverless and make decisions based on the merits and thorough cost-benefit analysis. It’s all too common for technology teams to initiate projects driven by Shiny Object Syndrome. However, the risks and consequences are severe if implementing serverless without first proving its merits for the specific use case and establishing accurate foresight into the ultimate costs and results.

Looking at the serverless decision from another angle: coding for serverless will require a shift in developer mindset. It also calls for a thorough understanding of serverless architecture, vendor platform specifications and limitations, event-driven architecture and, most importantly, application and data security. Serverless has a steep learning curve, and technology teams need to ensure that serverless architecture is indeed the right design choice for their business application needs before investing in it.

Be Wary of Vendor Lock-in

Vendor lock-in can be a major challenge with serverless architecture. Most serverless code is built for a specific vendor. Once incorporated into a business application, it can be very hard to port serverless code to another platform or rewrite the whole application for a new vendor platform.

To mitigate the risks of vendor lock-in, it’s worthwhile to evaluate open-source serverless frameworks, such as Apache OpenWhiskFission, and others. However, because these are relatively new solutions, you may have to build and deploy the underlying serverless frameworks yourself, which is complex and time-consuming. If you do find a managed cloud services provider that supports an open-source serverless framework that works for your needs, go for it.

See More: DevOps Roadmap: 7-Step Complete Guide

Be Aware of All Serverless Security Responsibilities

Another potential risk is the dangerous assumption that the vendor is fully responsible for securing the serverless application. Although server, OS, platform, and infrastructure layer security are owned by the vendor, the application code and its security are the developer’s responsibility. Developers must understand that it is on them to make sure application code is written using secure coding practices (and that data is secured). As part of any transition to serverless, technology leaders need to invest heavily in training and education across the team to make sure developers know their responsibilities in this new paradigm.

Serverless can also introduce an increased number of threat vectors while presenting some blind spots and large security risks. As application code becomes smaller and smaller and runs autonomously as needed, it becomes harder to implement access control and data security in transit, at rest, and when exchanging information with third-party functions, libraries, and plugins. The application is also exposed to a morphed version of denial-of-service attacks; instead of denying service to normal customers, these attacks result in triggering unnecessary scaling on the serverless platform (which you can’t control but will have to pay for)

While the risks of implementing serverless architecture are significant and must be addressed head-on, in many cases, the potential advantages are well worth the challenge. By taking a careful and deliberate approach to exploring serverless adoption and finding the right partners for eschewing vendor lock-in and lowering security risk, organizations can achieve serverless modernization initiatives with confidence.

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