- Shifting to a serverless architecture is often the only option to continue to use and expand an application with sufficient efficiency.
- Serverless has numerous advantages, like limitless scalability, the ability to counter traffic surges, the ability to support rapid growth, the ability to reduce the product’s time-to-market, and more.
- Serverless has several downsides (security-related, technical, and other ones), some of which appear in the form of development challenges one can usually either mitigate or overcome.
Why Can Serverless Often Be a Great Option to Improve and Enhance a Monolithic Web Application?
All major monolithic software solutions start small. Some of them are not even planned to grow big, but do so in the longer run. Others are planned big from the outset but start small with an MVP.
In either case, during the nascent stage of a Web development project, it is impossible to properly allow for all the functionality that will need to be added later. Moreover, it then becomes impossible to do this seamlessly later as these monoliths grow into massive-scaled, hulking creations that are difficult to expand, upgrade, or test.
When deploying a build starts taking a half hour or more and maintaining the solution turns disruptive and too irksome to the company’s clients, the need for change becomes too pressing to ignore. Shifting to a serverless architecture is then regarded as a natural solution, and rightfully so. However, it is vital to know not only the numerous benefits of Serverless computing, but also the risks it brings. One can then eliminate or mitigate these risks and make Serverless even more of an effective solution.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways to make Serverless development a great option for your Web application development project.
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What Are the Benefits of Serverless Architecture And Why Is It a Solution to Many Problems?
Unlike monoliths, Serverless solutions are composite applications that consist of multiple parts or microservices.
The easiest way to get a handle on a Serverless (or, in other words, a microservice-based) architecture is to conjure up a honeycomb, where each of the cells is a separate microservice. Each of the microservices is completely responsible for a certain action in a workflow. The microservices can interact with one another to run various workflows, but always retain full autonomy within their areas of responsibility. The ability of microservices to stay independent of one another is their key trait. This trait helps blot out several fundamental problems in the development, testing, and deployment of Web applications and gives several clearcut advantages.
What are these problems and advantages, aside from the well-known infinite scalability?
Firstly, microservices make it possible to develop and test independently any of the parts your solution is fragmented into without having to modify any of the application’s other parts. This allows much better fault isolation. Furthermore, you can seamlessly use different development and testing means (for example, different programming languages) for the different microservices if these technologies, approaches, or tools are better fits for the corresponding parts of the functionality.
Deploying new functionality becomes much faster and easier with microservices too. You simply deploy a single microservice-represented function without redeploying the rest of your solution. This eliminates any downtime completely or dramatically minimizes it. The deployment takes mere seconds. On a larger scale, Serverless architecture makes it possible to introduce the Continuous Delivery and Continuous integration processes that can significantly reduce your solution’s time-to-market.
By the same token, it becomes a great deal easier to troubleshoot: you fix the problem in one single microservice and no longer have to delve into one or more of the other parts of your application. Correspondingly, there will be fewer complex bugs and less effort spent on eradicating all their ramifications and implications.
If your solution is intended to be customized to the individual needs of multiple customers, a microservice-based architecture will substantially facilitate any related work. Again, your developers will alter only the one or more parts of the functionality that need to vary. They won’t have to make any changes on a larger scale.
Due to the growing number of various cyber threats, solution security is one of the increasingly hot issues In the present-day Web application development. The comprehensive approach, advanced knowledge, and sustained effort it requires make it difficult for many businesses to cope.
With Serverless, these businesses quickly and effortlessly gain the means to counter the threats they would otherwise have difficulty in averting. The modern Cloud providers ensure the security of the Cloud infrastructures where they host serverless applications. The protections they provide usually include Identity and Access Management, Network Security, Security Groups and Network ACLs, Data Encryption, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Protection, Security Automation and Orchestration, Penetration Testing and Vulnerability Scanning, and more.
Serverless makes your solution immune not only to cyber risks but also to any hardware failures. It is a good option for applications that process a lot of multimedia or data, have unpredictable server loads, or need to have a shorter time-to-market.
Lastly, one cannot but mention the significant and diverse amount of readily available Cloud functionality you can receive from a Cloud provider and will not have to develop. For example, this functionality can include log-in functionality, a search capability, a load balancer, various analytics tools, and other functions.
At first glance, the advantages that allow solving some of the critical Web development problems make Serverless look like a bed of roses. In the technical realm this is never the case. So what’s on the flip side?
The Disadvantages of Using Serverless Computing and Ways to Mitigate or Avoid the Pitfalls
Fortunately, the disadvantages of Serverless computing do not eclipse its numerous advantages. However, they are unfortunately still tangible enough to be necessarily factored in.
In most instances, one can mitigate these disadvantages or even dispose of some of them altogether, and we’ll now look at some of the ways that can be done. Implementing Serverless can also pose quite serious technical challenges we’ll dwell on too.
Difficulties In Splitting a Monolithic Architecture Into Microservices
It may be very difficult to split a monolith into microservices. Usually, the developers either slice off pieces of functionality from a legacy application and turn them into microservices, or create a new architecture and add functions from the legacy application. However, a poor legacy architecture often necessitates implementing some temporary custom solutions. These solutions play the role of adapters that simultaneously support both the legacy and new applications. Typically, the need for such adapter solutions arises when there are major data structure differences between the monolithic application and the new solution and the transition between them needs to be cushioned additionally.
Difficult Data Migration
Shifting to Serverless may involve data migration, which typically constitutes a tremendous technical challenge.
The risks of data conflicts run quite high. Data migration efforts frequently involve various makeshift solutions and sometimes even end with some part of the data being mutilated. There is also some risk of data losses occurring. Besides, one has to stall the client’s operation and stop receiving new data, which creates a business disruption for your customer base.
In each specific case, the process of data migration is influenced by different factors and circumstances that can be quite diverse. Because of this, it often requires a non-standard and creative approach and should be handled by a proactive and knowledgeable technical team.
Higher Costs Over the Longer Haul
At the start of Web app development projects, many business project stakeholders get misled into believing Serverless is an ever cost-effective option. In reality, the lure of the pay-as-you-go pricing fades very fast if your solution is a major platform with a number of lengthy business processes and lasting workloads. Usually, Cloud providers bill for code runtime and sizable lasting workloads can hike up the costs quite a bit.
What if you do have a major solution that processes major lengthy workloads, your budget falls short, and you can no longer adequately operate the solution as a monolith?
Well, the solution would be to take only part of your functionality to the Cloud. In this case, there is no one-fit-all approach as to which of the functions should be transplanted to the Cloud, and which should be left as are on your servers.
Typically, one has to decide between such criteria, as stability and processing speed. For example, for data storage, stability would probably be the governing criterion, and in the event you don’t have enough budget to move the part and parcel of your solution to the Cloud, your data storage should probably remain on your local servers. Once again, there’s no one-fit-all approach, and the partition is almost always application-specific. To optimally decide on your Cloud transition strategy and knowledgeably perform the partition, you need to involve a seasoned software architect with Cloud-related experience.
Unfortunately, while providing a powerful combination of security protections, Serverless creates several new weaknesses malicious actors could try to exploit.
Firstly, it creates a wider attack surface: your site usually resides in a cluster that contains several or multiple other sites that use the same domain. While each of these sites, including your one, may be well-protected (for example, against dDOS attacks with the help of rate limitations), it may be easier for hackers to hack the common domain and thus gain access to your site. Again, typically, Cloud providers counter such risks.
Secondly, as your monolithic solution is split into microservices, the security safeguards you put in place work no longer. More specifically, you need to protect each of your microservices with all the protections they need, like for instance, the security means against dDos, XSS, and SQL injection attacks. Moreover, the set of the protections each microservice needs may vary. And, finally, all the related work will need to be handled by your software provider, and not your Cloud provider, which spells some additional costs for you as the client.
Auto Scaling Issues
The auto scaling opportunities Serverless applications afford are definitely a huge advantage.
However, if your traditional application has a poorly built software architecture, this may affect the performance and scaling of your microservices too. Because of this, it is often more expedient to first make changes to the initial, legacy software architecture, and only then shift to the Serverless architecture.
From the very beginning, one should allow for the possibility to use several server instances simultaneously. This needs to be done to prevent any conflicts between the different microservices and data conflicts, as well as make the microservices constantly available.
In some cases, and, more specifically, in the case of solutions that need to use several servers, it is necessary to provide a separate domain for each of the microservices, white-list the other microservices it’ll interact with, and otherwise fine-tune the interactions. To do this, you may have to invite a qualified Cloud expert, who is versed in dealing with this given Cloud platform.
The advantages of Serverless architecture seem to outweigh its disadvantages and related challenges by a wide margin for certain types of solutions and certain business situations. The latter include solutions that are seeing rapid growth or are planned to grow big in the future and ones that are likely to see major traffic spikes. Serverless can be beneficial for extensive applications that require sizable IT departments to maintain them that their owners don’t have.
Why use Serverless Architecture?
Implementing Serverless Architecture brings numerous benefits to the table, the most of which is system flexibility. You can add or modify any single system component without having to deal with any implications in the rest of the system. Some other benefits of Serverless architecture are the ability to use different development and testing means for the different parts of the system and faster time-to-market.
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