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Building and deploying the right type of API on serverless platforms brings many benefits, including reducing repetitive, low-value tasks in software development. Even better, it relieves worries about scaling and managing APIs. For a business, serverless computing can lower development costs and increase monetization opportunities, but without the risk of vendor lock-in.
Some key benefits to deploying serverless APIs include the following:
Security. Serverless APIs run in a completely trusted and secure environment, Reynolds said. Serverless is a way to deploy proprietary APIs and code in almost any environment without anybody being able to see what's going on. It promises, and has so far delivered, that "nobody can actually attack that code," he said.
Scalability. The traditional way to build safe applications doesn't scale well, Reynolds said. Serverless scales automatically, which pays off when APIs and apps must scale to meet the needs of many customers at once. Reynolds cited Nordstrom's use of Amazon Web Services' Lambda serverless platform to scale its customer requests for product recommendation and reduce response time from minutes to seconds. "You can't keep adding mainframes to do this stuff," Reynolds said.
Cost. Users only pay for the compute time they use. For example, Cannabiz Media has clients nationwide and a very random traffic pattern. There are spikes first thing in the morning in each U.S. time zone, but traffic can also spike in the early evening. "It doesn't make sense for us to run even one server overnight when most of the time there's not going to be anyone using it," Moyer said. With the requests routed through a serverless API, the company is paying per request, not for the time people aren't using it.
Management. It's automated. "You don't have to manage anything," Reynolds said. "If there need to be another 10 instances in Canada, boom, they're there," Reynolds said. "You didn't even have to know about it. They're just there as opposed to all the paperwork you'd have to do if you needed a new server."
Monetization. Businesses can sell their APIs as a serverless function, rather than taking the longer route of patenting it, Reynolds said. For example, a developer creates a black box function that helps a retailer sell more frozen peas. The developers could provide it as a serverless interface available in a cloud provider's API library and then charge for a call of that function, Reynolds said. "Serverless opens the opportunity to monetize algorithms, APIs and other ideas that you couldn't see how to do before," he said.
No lock-in. While Amazon delivered the first modernized cloud-based serverless offering, it's not the only game in town, Moyer said. Today, changing serverless framework providers is simple. "A DevOps team can choose to re-architect for serverless using a cloud provider's FaaS platform or taking a simple approach by deploying software on a serverless framework," Moyer said.
Serverless frameworks, FaaS or stateless? What's the diff?
The definitions of types of serverless computing are moving targets. FaaS, serverless architecture and serverless frameworks are frequently referred to as one and the same. While each refers to an event-driven, pay-per-use cloud service, knowing the differences among them can be important.
Serverless or stateless? In some IT circles, serverless is synonymous with stateless. In both approaches, software development takes place entirely in the cloud, where automated infrastructure and tools needed to run application code or services are provided. Classic serverless refers to functional computing or stateless microservices, said Tom Nolle, president of consulting firm CIMI Corp. In these application architectures, developers create a specific model of transient code that can be scaled or replaced at will.
Serverless architecture. Keeping it simple, Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds sees a serverless architecture as a model for how a development team builds and deploys applications. Most application functions take place on the front end. There's no need for running an always-on server for these on-again, off-again activities.
Serverless framework. A serverless framework is a product for deployment of serverless applications. In essence, the framework is a command-line interface tool. An automated tool set facilitates building and deploying web, mobile and IoT applications on event-driven compute services.
Function as a service. FaaS refers to specific cloud service offerings that provide capabilities similar to serverless frameworks, but typically have closer integration with the cloud compute provider. Amazon's Lambda product is a widely known FaaS. Because of these roots, FaaS and serverless are considered synonyms by many, but FaaS and serverless frameworks are not. With FaaS, developers may be required to create some of the server-side logic, but most offerings include a serverless architecture. Some do not. Docker, for one, provides FaaS but requires the user to manage the underlying infrastructure.
This is the year to experiment with serverless, and APIs are good test cases. Reynolds suggested doing some trial runs to find internal APIs and applications that can deliver better value with serverless than with fixed IT assets. "A business using serverless computing can dramatically increase its ability to scale and significantly reduce the cost of dealing with variable workloads," he said.
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