What is serverless computing?


Dale Kirby, Cloud Solution Architect

By now, you may have heard all about serverless computing. There’s a good reason for all the chatter. Serverless computing has really kicked into high gear across the industry and every IT professional will want to understand the basic concepts and nuances of the serverless computing paradigm.

But I need those servers!

A simple analogy is to think of serverless like we think of wireless. With wireless technology, there are certainly wires involved somewhere but we don’t think about them in the slightest when we connect our devices to the coffee shop WiFi. With serverless, the servers are there, somewhere, but we don’t need to worry about things like virtualization, OS patching, containers, load balancers and such. Instead, we can focus on building great, highly scalable applications that best meet our customers’ needs and leave the management of the underlying infrastructure to providers like Microsoft.

One of the obvious benefits of developing solutions with serverless technology is the ability to scale your solution quickly and easily without spending a lot of time thinking about how the underlying infrastructure will handle the increased workload. With Azure Functions, the underlying compute needed to run a function is totally obfuscated from the developer. It becomes much easier to focus on building your application instead of worrying about adding infrastructure capacity. With the time saved, we can focus on what really matters: building the right solutions for our customers.

It’s tempting to think of serverless as being equivalent to PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service), and while that’s partially accurate the comparison is somewhat lacking. Traditionally, PaaS services require us to think more about capacity planning and scalability. PaaS offerings like App Service, SQL Database, and others still require up-front capacity planning to ensure our solution is sized correctly and scales appropriately. With Azure Functions, the need for capacity planning is practically eliminated since we’re only paying for the cost of actual execution of our functions. Take a look at the pricing pages for App Service vs Azure Functions to see what I mean.

Serverless for IT professionals

For IT infrastructure professionals, the world of serverless might be intimidating. It’s a fair concern because if the management of servers and related infrastructure is completely outsourced to a provider, there is potentially a lot less for IT professionals to manage. However, serverless doesn’t spell the end for IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) and PaaS deployments. There are hundreds of common scenarios where the serverless model may not be an option, including compliance and security requirements, tight integration with on-premises systems, legacy software code, and many others.

Microsoft continues to make significant investment in our PaaS and IaaS offerings and we continue to see massive growth across each. In this regard, serverless becomes just another avenue for solution builders to consider, and the “correct” choice is ultimately based on the real-world customer requirements. Here’s Azure CTO Mark Russinovich on the subject. “We don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all world. While we see the push towards serverless, and as much as possible we’ll be supportive, it doesn’t mean that platform as a service and infrastructure as a service are obsolete.”

Getting started

Like many of our partners, maybe you’re already an expert at serverless and run cloud solutions on Azure Functions. But if you’re just getting started take a look at the Azure Functions Challenge. No matter where you’re at on the serverless maturity spectrum, Microsoft is here to help guide you along the path.

Register for the December 15 Community call

If you'd like to hear more on this topic, register for the Applications and Infrastructure Community call on Friday, December 15, 2017. The call will provide insight into what is most important in the Microsoft partner ecosystem. We'll have a conversational dialogue between two technology professionals that is designed to appeal to technical, sales, and business professionals. One presenter will discuss this topic from an infrastructure perspective, the other from an application development perspective.

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