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What is Serverless Computing?

February 23, 2018

We all know SaaS and IaaS. You can take a PaaS, or turn up the mBaaS. And we could all use a little DRaaS.

But not so fast. Have you heard of FaaS?

FaaS is short for Function as a Service, and is a central term in the expanding world of serverless computing. It describes a branch of cloud computing wherein customers can produce applications on virtual systems without the headaches of designing and managing an infrastructure. Translation: Fewer responsibilities, and more time for the fun stuff.

FaaS is a relative of PaaS (Platform as a Service), with the key differentiator of a payment plan based on individual execution time, rather than overall runtime. It’s like paying for car insurance only so long as you’re driving, and not those in-between idle stretches. Better yet, it’s more like always taking a Lyft — and leaving the insurance, registration, parking and oil changes to someone else.

As outlined in our recent deep dive into Digital Trends for 2018, serverless computing is a core facet in the broad expanse of “digital platforms,” alongside microservices and containerization.

Groundbreaking companies far and wide are working to migrate the average business to permanent homes in “digital ecosystems” where the future of work is destined to unfold.

“These partnering ecosystems are created to enable collaboration and provide mutually beneficial results to all parties involved,” G2 Crowd’s Tom Hardin wrote in regards to digital ecosystems. “The idea is to create a collection of flexible services that can shift around and quickly be adapted to the ever-changing needs of a business.”

The phrase “digital transformation” jumped the shark long ago, but if there was ever a fair case to dust it off for another round, this is a surefire candidate.

what is serverless computing

For the tens of thousands of companies producing applications, the serverless life is a shortcut to production that past companies would have killed for, like many of the more significant advancements in technology (e.g., spell check, the spinning jenny).

Though Forbes predicts that serverless will hit speed bumps in 2018 due to certain production limitations, companies such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft are working day and night to smooth the edges and make serverless the new normal.

(See AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions and Azure Functions, for starters.)
According to “The State of Serverless Computing,” a presentation from Amazon Web Services (AWS), brands ranging from Atlassian to Vogue have made the leap to serverless computing. While cloud computing is not a new concept entirely,. the normalization of serverless computing is one of its more significant leaps forward, spreading the ability to perform complex tasks without the need for expensive hardware or personal servers (or a continuous stream of cash).

So what is serverless computing on a technical level? As worded by InfoWorld, through this process “devs can simply assemble services from small building blocks of code called functions, and all that messy infrastructure stuff under the hood takes care of itself.”

These functions are sometimes-sporadic application components, triggered by demand spikes and other catalysts, while manually executed in other instances. Data is stored in a separate environment that syncs with the active production environment — Amazon EC2 is one major example.

There is plenty of love to go around when it comes to serverless computing, with a demand ceiling that is astronomical.

It’s just one piece of the mega cloud puzzle that Amazon is notoriously piecing together faster than most. In January, the company announced support for the Go programming language within AWS Lambda, building on the foundation of support for JavaScript, Node.js, Java, C# and Python (with more certainly on the way).

With each step forward, another batch of developers and organizations receives the green light to explore the serverless frontier. Many would argue that Amazon is leading the pack in this modern-day space race.

But there is plenty of love to go around with this technology, with a demand ceiling that is astronomical. If things continue in the direction they’ve been going, the serverless industry — along with the artificial intelligence industry — could be the next great gold rush in tech.

The appeals are summed up by Zorawar Biri Singh, formerly the head of cloud operations at HP and the CTO at Cisco, in an interview with InfoWorld.

“If I fast-forward and look at the world five years from now, applications built on serverless architecture will have massive advantages over the conventional SaaS apps of today,” Singh said. “Their cost of development and their agility and their ability to drive costs down is going to be super appealing.”

We recently examined this and other buzzy tech spaces in our Digital Trends series, as referenced above. The section on serverless computing digs into the mechanics of this technology, along with its potential implications for cybersecurity and the Internet of Things (IoT), in addition to software development on the whole. As with these other spaces, our coverage will undoubtedly continue as advancements are made and it is increasingly woven into the fabric of B2B.

Stay tuned, read up, and — if you’re not there already — begin to consider how serverless computing could benefit your business. It’s possible that within the next few years you won’t have much of a choice in the matter!

What is Serverless Computing? What is serverless computing? Why does it matter? Find out these questions and more, all right here.
Andrew Zangre Zangre is a former Senior Research Specialist who helped with spearheading G2's expansion into B2B Services. He studied journalism at the University of North Florida — which is still undefeated in football — and joined G2 in 2016 when there was only one other “Andrew.” He has enjoyed contributing to newspapers and online publications while pursuing music and comedy projects in his free time.

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