Chief Technology Officer at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence for the Central Government Client group
2 Jul 2020
‘Serverless’ is far more than just the latest tech buzzword, says Chris Hesketh. It actually represents a new way of working that can deliver efficiency, cost savings and agility
“Just press the button that looks like a floppy disk,” has been one of the least useful things I’ve said to my children during lock down. They have been slow to learn that saving their work as they go is a sensible precaution when working on my old PC. (Not to mention not having the faintest idea what a floppy disk is...)
The repeated phrase gave me pause, however. It got me thinking which icon would sum up today’s IT industry, and it’s got to be the server. Not because they aren’t still out there, but because I just don’t care about them like I used to.
I think I’ve largely already gone serverless – and I’m hardly alone.
Running without servers
Many of us have become familiar with cloud computing in recent years. Thanks to ubiquitous applications ranging from Gmail to Dropbox, cloud – which in essence is the delivery of computing services over the internet – has long taken root amongst companies and consumers alike. And ‘serverless’ represents another step along this journey.
Thanks to serverless, we have developed new applications and services – without the constraints of servers (even on the cloud) – even faster than I thought we could. No lead times on setting up compute or faffing around with IT’s basic plumbing – instead, we can just go straight to the heart of the matter, focusing on the useful thing we are trying to build.
There are cost advantages too. Given the challenging economic climate we find ourselves in, companies large and small will be looking to save money fast. Serverless can help.
Obviously, the costs of a dedicated physical server have gone with the migration to cloud, but with serverless, we only pay for the capacity we use. That is great in full production mode as demand rises and falls, but it is also really useful in development too.
For example, I know of at least two programmes recently that have incurred surprising and unpleasant bills for the cloud environments the team had forgotten about. If they had been serverless, as opposed to using virtual servers, they would have saved money which in turn could have been reinvested back into the business.
Thinking without servers
As well as the runtime benefits of serverless – quicker and cheaper – I think I’m also starting to see lifecycle benefits from serverless.
We’ve been building logically separated systems for years, but the operating system keeps binding components together. A couple of years ago, we helped in a massive upgrade project because one part of a suite of loosely coupled applications needed to be upgraded, which meant a change in operating system. But the other applications weren’t supported on that system so they needed to be upgraded too. I’m sure it wasn’t supposed to be like that – but it was.
Now we are building truly independent micro-service architectures, with each service capable of running in its own tech stack, oblivious to those around it. This means it will be as easy to change and evolve as planned.
From talk to action
At BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, we’re not just talking about serverless, we’re using it. Take the SOC.OS tool, for example. This is a cyber-alert correlation and triage automation service which employs a serverless cloud based architecture, allowing new features to be deployed faster, with high availability, and without significant infrastructure management. And this is just the start – in time we will think ‘serverlessly’ first for our systems and services.
Although I’m normally not one for predictions, I think it is likely that serverless will become the new norm – for the public and private sector alike – in due course. Its advantages are simply too numerous to ignore.
The more I think about it, the less I think I’ll be thinking about servers in the future, and my kids won’t create designs that contain any either.
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