Serverless vs. Microservices: What you need to know for cloud

In this guest post Neil Turvin, CEO at nearshore software development company Godel Technologies, shares his thoughts on how serverless computing is gaining ground in the delivery of cloud computing

Although still in its infancy, serverless computing shares some of the characteristics of microservices, but is very different in the way it delivers cloud computing. There are pros and cons to both, but serverless is becoming an increasingly attractive option for a number of reasons.

Pricing is the first differentiator. Serverless is pay-as-you-go, making it an attractive option for applications with infrequent requests or for startup organisations. It also reduces operational costs as infrastructure and virtual machines are handled by a service provider rather than directly on-premise, IaaS or PaaS.

Scalability is also outstanding on serverless architecture – by its nature it can handle spike loads more easily and can be automatically managed quickly and transparently. The only caveat is the maximum number of requests that can be processed making it unsuitable for high load systems.

That brings me to architectural complexities – which can be a mixed bag.

Serverless is even more granular than microservices, and provides a much higher degree of functionality. On the flip-side, that also creates much more complexity. It also has a number of other restrictions, such as a limited number of requests and operation duration, and supports fewer programming languages.

Its components are also often cloud provider specific, which can be problematic to change. Stateless by design, it must manage states strictly outside functions – meaning no more in-memory cache.

Furthermore, serverless functions can also act as scheduled jobs, event handlers etc, and not just as services.

Sorting through the serverless complexity

The level of granularity you get with serverless can also affect tooling and frameworks. This is because the higher the granularity, the more complicated integration testing becomes, making it more difficult to debug, troubleshoot and test.

Microservices by comparison is a mature approach and is well supported by tools and processes.

Time to market also comes into play. Due to the lightweight programming model and operational ease of a serverless architecture, time to market is greatly reduced for new features, which is a key driver for many businesses.

It also means prototypes can be quickly created for Internet of Things (IoT) solutions using Function as a Service (FaaS) for data processing to demonstrate a new technology to investors or clients.

Although microservices still provides a solid approach to service oriented architecture (SOA), serverless is gaining ground in event-based architecture and clearly has advantages in terms of reduced time to market, flexible pricing and reduced operational costs.

It’s unlikely for now that serverless will or should be the approach for every system – but watch this space as it matures. For now the best solution is a combination of both architectural approaches to help deliver and take advantage of the benefits the cloud brings to you and your customers.

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