When it comes to going serverless, Stephen Rolph and Paul McAninly say that the benefits outweigh any teething problems
IMPORTANT – YOUR ACTION REQUIRED: Mandatory Host Machine IP Registration
Back at the beginning of last summer, an email adorned with this rather eye-catching subject header landed in our respective inboxes. Someone had really gone to significant effort to make this important. Red text. Signed by our Managing Director. The heavy emphasis that any inaction will mean all our servers are turned off.
We knew it was important. But thanks to our use of serverless technology, it didn’t cause any undue alarm. Whilst in the old world this email would have sparked a big panic as we dashed to record all the relevant information, check machines are patched and so on, this time we didn’t need to take any action (well, apart from replying for courtesy).
As our colleague Chris Hesketh has rightly pointed out, serverless technology is already taking firm root in everyday life but for engineers like us, it also offers numerous practical benefits. Back when we were dealing with servers day in, day out, we had to do things like install a database server, set up an Apache application server, set up certificates and much else besides, all the while keeping these bits of technology sufficiently patched and up-to-date. With serverless, though, these are all things we just don’t need to worry about any more.
A solver of problems
So why is serverless increasingly becoming an approach taken by organisations across the public and private sectors? The reasons are many – from lower costs to better scalability, greater flexibility to competitive offerings from providers. But let’s take a look at one example in particular to help illustrate what we mean.
Picture one of our clients using a time consuming manual process, where it takes months for their data requests to jump through the relevant hoops. This meant that such demands were infrequent and therefore the business value obtained from the process was very low. Now, thanks to new regulations, the time is right for automation, and we can get more data, more frequently, which will make a big difference to our client.
And thanks to serverless, we can build the entirety of our application in a way that can easily scale in line with the business uptake. We don’t know how quickly the number of requests will increase, or what the volume of data retrieved will be. Because we’re building a serverless solution, we no longer need to solve that problem months in advance. We don’t have to predict the amount of infrastructure we’ll need, and risk spending too much and having overcapacity, or not spending enough and having a system that hits its limits often and falls over.
That’s not to say that serverless is free from any challenges, however.
Our application is serverless at scale. It’s all based on API Gateways, Lambdas, SQS, DynamoDB and S3, with not a server or database instance in sight. Whilst it is certainly liberating and exciting not to have to worry about so many ‘traditional’ things, it’s meant we can’t reuse code and approaches from previous projects. We’ve had to rethink how we deploy our application, for example, and we’ve had to learn the importance of tidying up after ourselves, to avoid the cost of needlessly running parts of our development systems when we’re asleep.
But maybe that’s also part of the fun. There’s no doubt that serverless technology is here to stay – it’s now on people like us to turn its rich potential into everlasting impact. We’re excited about getting down to work.
About the authors
Stephen Rolph and Paul McAninly are Technical Consultants at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
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