cloud illustration with arrows and tech

Serverless computing is still continuing to grow. Though that’s indisputable, it’s also not the whole picture. How is the tech exactly doing these days? Is this serverless’ time to shine?

Senior engineer at IBM, Bradley Holt, seems to think so. According to him, serverless is gaining a foothold with developers. “Functions as a Service (FaaS) allowed developers to compose applications and services from fine-grained components with the ability to scale capacity and cost based on demand,” he said, quoted by TechBeacon.

While that’s true, others think there’s still some distance to travel before serverless becomes dominant. But first, let’s make a quick explanation of what it actually is for those who are not familiar.

In layman’s terms, serverless computing refers to a service model where companies provide cloud  platforms to act as servers. The idea is that developers with any software service can erase the need of using local servers. The “server in the cloud” also allocates resources dynamically, which allows developers to scale both features and resources. A serverless provider can charge more or less depending on the size of the application it’s executing, making the investment itself scalable as well.

The “less” in “serverless” is a bit misleading, as servers are actually being used one way or another. The main difference is that they practically remain invisible to the developer. So even though it might actually be “serverless” for the end user, servers are still running behind curtains at all times.

Amazon dominates

The one player that rules in this field is Amazon Web Services (AWS). While other competitors like Microsoft, Alibaba and Google continue to grow, their success hasn’t impacted negatively on AWS. TechCrunch reported that by the end of 2017, the service was rocking a quarterly revenue of more than $4.51 billion, with no signs of stopping. All in all, AWS controlled 35% of the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) sector.

The reason? Well, the simple explanation would be that Amazon was simply the first one to do it. When AWS launched Lambda in 2014 was when serverless really started. That forward-thinking has its merits, according to AWS CEO Andy Jassy, who said that it was a “classic case of disruption mechanics.”

Even with that success that followed, Jassy also warned in an interview that “there are going to be multiple successful players, and who those are I think is still to be written.” He argued just one successful player wouldn’t be enough for the market.

Not yet

There are reasons to believe this is serverless’ time to shine. Besides the unstoppable growth all players are showing, the community’s own positive reactions to the tech and the possibilities beyond just Lambda or FaaS in general, there are even stuff like serverless-dedicated conferences.

And yet, some still ask to remain calm.

“In many ways, serverless computing is the next logical step,” writes Lucas Carlson, also for TechBeacon. However he also says that there’s a big “but” with serverless computing, and it’s that “the available solutions haven’t yet caught up to the promise.” He goes on to list some of those limitations, like memory and CPU capacity and things like a short runway to timeouts: “If code takes too long to run, some serverless platforms will simply kill it.”

That’s why, at least for now, serverless might be better suited for microservice-style applications. Bigger functions with bigger architectures might be too much to handle in several cases, though Carlson admits that many giants of the sector “focus on content over technology,” which could lead to less-demanding infrastructure in a way.

The simple truth is that serverless is still way too young to tell where it’s heading. And that’s where Jassy is right: the story still hasn’t been written.

Image: Jane Boyko