By Robbert van Os
Posted on 2023-04-10T00:00:00.000Z

Navigating the Trade-offs of Adopting Serverless Services

Explore the pros and cons of serverless services, trade-offs, and key considerations to determine if transitioning to a serverless architecture is worth it.

we share our insights and experiences gained from working with multiple scaling companies that have explored serverless adoption. It is fascinating to observe that, although each company has its unique set of circumstances, the challenges and benefits of adopting serverless services remain strikingly similar. We delve into a specific case study, but it's essential to note that these experiences resonate with nearly every company we've encountered.

We recently discussed the versatility of serverless services and attempted to shift the perception that they're solely for serverless applications. These services can be employed for any part of an app, whether it operates on-premises, within a Kubernetes cluster, or anywhere in between.

Upon receiving feedback in one of our advisory discussions, we realized that our message might have been misleading. While serverless services have numerous advantages - cost-effectiveness, elastic scaling, and minimal configuration requirements - they aren't always the ideal choice.

However, as the production deadline loomed and we underwent operational readiness reviews, it became apparent that our decision wasn't optimal. The engineering team was the only group capable of supporting the app, as the rest of the company, accustomed to on-prem, single-tenant, .NET apps with SQL databases, struggled to understand the new cloud technology.

Consequently, we conducted numerous meetings, training sessions, and brainstorming discussions to bridge the knowledge gap. This resulted in the engineering team taking on support, maintenance, implementation, and data conversion tasks during our early production days, ultimately slowing innovation and hindering new feature development. This experience negated one of the major benefits of serverless technology: rapid development.

This experience taught us that despite the impressive advantages of serverless services on paper, several factors must be carefully considered before making the transition.

Determine if this is the Most Appropriate Tool for the Job

When people discuss the phrase "the right tool for the job," they often refer to the saying, "when all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail."

Adopting a serverless architecture necessitates significant changes in the way an organization operates, requiring a multifaceted approach to ensure a smooth transition. Each aspect of the transition process, from adjustments to the existing codebase to understanding the capacity and resource constraints, must be carefully considered.

Firstly, teams must adapt to a new way of working, which often involves the restructuring of their applications to function effectively in a serverless environment. This may include breaking down monolithic applications into smaller, more manageable microservices or adopting event-driven architectures to better suit the serverless model.

In addition, developers need to familiarize themselves with the specific serverless platforms and services they will be utilizing. This could involve learning new programming languages, frameworks, or tools to ensure that their applications are compatible with the chosen serverless infrastructure.

Understanding the capacity and resource constraints associated with serverless computing is another crucial aspect of the transition. Organizations must be aware of potential limitations, such as the number of concurrent executions, memory allocation, and execution time, and design their applications accordingly. This may require optimizing code and minimizing dependencies to prevent bottlenecks and ensure seamless scaling.

Moreover, comprehending the underlying cost structure of serverless computing is essential. The pay-as-you-go pricing model can lead to significant cost savings, but it also requires teams to be more conscious of resource usage. Monitoring and optimizing the application's performance can help minimize expenses and avoid unexpected costs.

Lastly, a successful transition to serverless involves re-evaluating operational processes, such as deployment, monitoring, and incident management. New tools and methodologies may need to be adopted to ensure that these processes are adapted to the serverless environment and remain efficient.

Assessing the Trade-offs in Serverless Adoption

Every choice in software development involves trade-offs. By opting for one approach, you inevitably forgot another. Here are some trade-offs to consider when deciding to use a serverless service:

Slow down to speed up: Diving headfirst into serverless architecture can be risky. Although cloud vendors like AWS make it easy to build applications using serverless services, it's crucial for us to take the time to understand how they scale, their SLAs, how to invoke them, and the app's downstream services. Rushing into development can lead to disastrous consequences. Incorporating serverless services is an investment.

Uptime support: Serverless services offer high availability with minimal downtime and no maintenance windows. If we're accustomed to deploying changes during routine maintenance windows, we might need to adjust our approach. With such high uptime, our support staff must adapt to new expectations and availability guarantees. Consider discussing the implications of 24/7 uptime with our support team if we're rearchitecting or starting a new project.

Resistance to change: Some people dislike change and prefer sticking to familiar methods. Venturing into unfamiliar territory can lead to pushback from those who are reluctant to learn new technologies. Keep this in mind when dealing with team members who have been operating in a specific way for some time.

Every change matters: Serverless services often use a pay-for-what-you-use pricing model. With serverless functions, every millisecond of compute time affects our monthly bill.

Embracing Serverless Services: Assessing the Benefits and Challenges

In our experience, adopting serverless services is a smart move, but it's essential to acknowledge that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Not every company is willing to face the trade-offs associated with learning new technologies and disrupting the status quo. This process can slow down development as the organization adapts to new tech, establishes new patterns and expectations around availability, and shifts focus towards performance, CI/CD, and data management. Things inevitably change.

However, if we can overcome the initial investment, the benefits are impressive. Reduced costs, eliminated infrastructure management, and accelerated development pace are all direct results of transitioning to serverless services. That being said, embracing serverless requires continuous investment in skill development.

Since our foray into cloud development, we've made it our mission to learn as much as possible. The serverless landscape evolves rapidly, demanding a conscious effort to stay current. So, is it worth it? The answer depends on our priorities, openness to learning new things, and ability to enhance the skills of our entire organization.