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What is Function as a Service (FaaS) or Serverless Computing

Editorial| Cloud, Architecture | 10 months, 1 week



 

Function as a service (FaaS) is a category of cloud computing services that provides a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage application functionalities without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app. Building an application following this model is one way of achieving a "serverless" architecture, and is typically used when building microservices applications.

 

FaaS is an extremely recent development in cloud computing, first made available to the world by hook.io in October 2014, followed by AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, Microsoft Azure Functions, IBM/Apache's OpenWhisk (open source) in 2016 and Oracle Cloud Fn (open source) in 2017 which are available for public use. FaaS capabilities also exist in private platforms, as demonstrated by Uber's Schemaless triggers

 

 

Serverless computing architectures in which the customer has no direct need to manage resources can also be achieved using Platform as a service PaaS services. These services are, however, typically very different in their implementation architecture, which has some implications for scaling. In most PaaS systems, the system continually runs at least one server process and, even with auto scaling, a number of longer running processes are simply added or removed on the same machine. This means that scalability is a more visible problem to the developer.

 

In a FaaS system, the functions are expected to start within milliseconds in order to allow handling of individual requests. In a PaaS systems, by contrast, there is typically an application thread which keeps running for a long period of time and handles multiple requests. This difference is primarily visible in the pricing, where FaaS services charge per execution time of the function whilst PaaS services charge per running time of the thread in which the server application is running.

 

 

Serverless computing is a cloud computing execution model in which the cloud provider dynamically manages the allocation of machine resources. Pricing is based on the actual amount of resources consumed by an application, rather than on pre-purchased units of capacity. It is a form of utility computing.

Serverless computing still requires servers, hence it's a misnomer.The name "serverless computing" is used because the server management and capacity planning decisions are completely hidden from the developer or operator. Serverless code can be used in conjunction with code deployed in traditional styles, such as microservices. Alternatively, applications can be written to be purely serverless and use no provisioned services at all.

 

Most serverless vendors offer compute runtimes, also known as function as a service (FaaS) platforms, which execute application logic but do not store data.

AWS Lambda, introduced by Amazon in 2014, was the first public cloud vendor with an abstract serverless computing offering. AWS Lambda initially supported only Node.js.  It now supports Python, Java, C# and Go, and code written in other languages can be invoked indirectly via Node.js.

 

So now we know what FaaS. But what are the advantages of FaaS ?

Cost

Serverless computing is more cost-effective than renting or purchasing a fixed quantity of servers, which generally involves significant periods of underutilization or idle time. It can even be more cost-efficient than provisioning an autoscaling group, due to more efficient bin-packing of the underlying machine resources.

Operations

In addition, a serverless architecture means that developers and operators do not need to spend time setting up and tuning autoscaling policies or systems; the cloud provider is responsible for ensuring that the capacity always meets the demand.

Productivity

In serverless computing, the units of code exposed to the outside world are simple functions. This means that typically, the programmer does not have to worry about multithreading or directly handling HTTP requests in their code, simplifying the task of back-end software development.

 

 

Some of the Disadvantages of FaaS include:

Performance

Infrequently-used serverless code may suffer from greater response latency than code that is continuously running on a dedicated server, virtual machine, or container. This is because, unlike with autoscaling, the cloud provider typically "spins down" the serverless code completely when not in use. This means that if the runtime (for example, the Java runtime) requires a significant amount of time to start up, it will create additional latency.

Resource limits

Serverless computing is not suited to some computing workloads, such as high-performance computing, because of the resource limits imposed by cloud providers, and also because it would likely be cheaper to bulk-provision the number of servers believed to be required at any given point in time.

Monitoring and debugging

Diagnosing performance or excessive resource usage problems with serverless code may be more difficult than with traditional server code, because although entire functions can be timed, there is typically no ability to dig into more detail by attaching profilers, debuggers or APM tools. Furthermore, the environment in which the code runs is typically not open source, so its performance characteristics cannot be precisely replicated in a local environment.

Security

Serverless is sometimes mistakenly considered as more secure than traditional architectures. While this is true to some extent because OS vulnerabilities are taken care of by the cloud provider, the total attack surface is significantly larger as there are many more components to the application compared to traditional architectures and each component is an entry point to the serverless application. Moreover, the security solutions customers used to have to protect their cloud workloads become irrelevant as customers cannot control and install anything on the endpoint and network level such as IDS/IPS.

 



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