Serverless for Survival

Serverless for Survival

When new technologies arise we first adopt them for their technical value. If that value proves out, then we reach the magic “crossing the chasm” moment: when a technology jumps to widespread adoption through proven business value and goes mainstream. 

Some technologies, a very select few, make one more jump forward, however — from mainstream to existential imperative. 

These paradigm-shifting technologies are the ones that just about every business needs to adopt in order to survive. Like when relational databases were developed in the 1970s, for example, making it possible to store and retrieve massive amounts of information quickly and effectively. Or graphic interfaces, which (along with word processing and spreadsheet software) first made personal computers possible and then quickly impossible to do business without. The rise of the internet gave us email, e-commerce and, eventually, mobile computing on devices that fit into the palm of our hands…or even on our wrists.

Serverless computing

Over time all these new applications, from SQL databases to native mobile apps, needed new distributed architectures in order to adapt to the next paradigm shift: cloud computing. The cloud, of course, has more than proven its business value and even the most venerable enterprises embraced digital transformation in order to survive. Unfortunately, cloud native architecture is challenging to implement due to the inherent complexity of distributed systems, and its fullest potential has been truly accessible only for organizations possessing deep technical talent.

Every problem invites a solution, however. Serverless computing has emerged as the logical next evolution of cloud native: the principles of distributed cloud, container, and microservices architectures delivered in a way that is accessible to small teams and even individuals.

Serverless allows you to shift complex operational responsibilities like server or cluster provisioning, patching, system maintenance, and capacity management to your public cloud provider. (Or cloud providers, plural, because serverless can also remove the complexity from multi-cloud and hybrid deployments). Serverless is a crucially better way to consume anything, allowing developers to focus on building scalable, reliable systems more quickly and easily than is possible using server-based architectures. The ability to improve agility and reduce time to market delivers true business value — which in turn delivers the true value of serverless: enhancing innovation.

How does serverless drive innovation?

By taking away and/or automating tedious but necessary IT work, serverless computing unblocks technical teams to use their time for innovation instead. With their DevOps teams freed up, enterprises are able to rapidly prototype and trial new products or services, then pivot easily based on market response.

  • Simplicity as a service: Serverless gives us the opportunity to automate the complex cognitive work of provisioning, predicting capacity, config, updating, security, networking. This democratizes cloud native by opening the door to small and medium enterprises with their small and medium tech teams.
  • Native connectivity: Firms used to get profit from products, but today’s profits come from platforms — because that is how you connect ecosystems of apps and services to ecosystems of users. The future now belongs to those who can widen and deepen connections. Serverless is the natural architecture for effective connections since it works as a constellation of functions communicating and executing near-instantaneously.
  • Living systems: Serverless enables a dynamic living system: a rapid cycle of building functionality delivering it to market, getting immediate customer feedback and, based on that feedback, responsively delivering even more feature innovations and improvements. Taking advantage of serverless functions and integrations integrated into cloud platforms, developers can use continuous delivery (the next stage of CI/CD) to deliver new releases every day, or even multiple times per day.
  • Experimentation: The simplicity, connectivity, and dynamic responsiveness of serverless combine to the most crucial of all serverless benefits: experimentation. When trying out new ideas and exploring hunches is easy, quick and inexpensive (in terms of both time and cost), teams are able to investigate intriguing possibilities. They can quickly discard failed ideas and move ahead with promising ones. Innovation becomes dynamic and risk-free, and — above all — built in.

Along with the rise of serverless and other no-code solutions we are beginning to see the rise of a new professional hybrid, the developer-entrepreneur. By abstracting away the operations side of powerful but complex infrastructure, serverless creates space for a new cohort of innovator engineers who can test, trial and release an idea at little to no cost. We can anticipate movement from the opposite direction too: the entrepreneur-developer, whose innovative ideas are no longer blocked by lack of deep coding experience. Either way, bootstrapping takes on a new meaning — as well as opening up fascinating new possibilities in the future of investing and the acceleration of innovation.

Serverless databases

Serverless is a crucially better way to consume anything but, up until now, businesses have mainly focused on the execution side of serverless. Things like AWS Lambda or Google Cloud Run or Fargate, all products allowing you to just put your application logic in the cloud and let your cloud provider run it for you and scale it for you. Everyone understands that cloud infrastructure is almost universally the superior option.

At the same time, though, we often seem to have forgotten the database — the data that all these applications depend on, the data that informs all these connections. A shocking number of cloud-forward organizations that have happily cloud-sourced their complex infrastructure are still relying on self-hosted legacy database solutions, even as the need for global connectivity escalates.

No company in 2022 is thinking, Wow we are really going to invest in building our own private data centers all over the world! It simply doesn’t make sense to build or operate and maintain a distributed database that goes across continents when a dedicated cloud native database provider can do it for you. Companies simply have to move, if they want to remain competitive in whatever their vertical happens to be. 

Data powers everything we do, and we are in the midst of a data revolution. Serverless databases unlock limitless data and the infrastructure to finally use it right. As a result, we are seeing a growing serverless database takeover as more and more enterprise companies realize that, though the rest of their stack may be cloud native, their database has been holding them back. 

All true serverless applications offer the same fundamental benefits: abstracted and automated operations, consumption-based billing, elastic scale, built-in resilience and fault tolerance. Since databases are ultimately just applications, a serverless database must offer all this plus three additional features: distributed architecture, geographic (global) scale, and a SQL API in the cloud.

Assembling all these pieces, we get a look at the next generation of what our databases are becoming: A familiar database that’s delivered as a service, eliminates ops and reduces costs down to a count of the transactions and required storage used by your application, while guaranteeing consistency and resilience. With all these factors simple to implement and virtually guaranteed to perform, what will tomorrow’s businesses create to serve the impatient, insatiable consumer appetite?

Serverless application development

These days, game developers are building some of the most creative and innovative applications out there. But it’s a highly competitive space and success of a new game is likewise highly unpredictable. Many games may never reach enough popularity to see a ROI. When success does strike in this industry, though, the amount of concurrent players can surge exponentially, from a handful to many thousands in just a few hours as new players invite their friends to join them. Serverless application architecture is how gaming startups avoid spending upfront resources on infrastructure for a game that may never earn out while preparing for the possibility that it suddenly does succeed beyond their wildest dreams. 

As a small gaming startup with only a couple of engineers, TreesPlease Games needed to use as much out-of-the-box technology as possible in order to concentrate on creating gameplay that differentiates them from the competition while keeping upfront costs low — the way prototyping anything pre-funding is challenging for any startup. “There’s a very hard balance between choosing an approach that gets you to the result as quickly as possible, yet in a way that doesn’t also accrue piles of technical debt,” says TreesPlease co-founder and technical lead, Russell Callaghan. 

He explains that assembling a stack from reliable backend serverless services allowed the company to innovate organically as an extension of their application architecture. “Serverless makes experimentation easy. We can focus on prototyping around the unique selling proposition for our games without having to worry about how things might scale if they need to,” says Callaghan. (Equally crucially, he says, “CockroachDB serverless has allowed us to keep costs low to non-existent, which is ideal for an early-stage startup.”).

The serverLESS future

The “magic moment” for serverless is here. Serverless computing is rapidly establishing itself as the next essential paradigm, or perhaps as the logical next evolution of the cloud native paradigm. Either way, we can watch it happening in real time as developers and architects, through their choices and actions, establish the serverless model as the core abstraction underlying enterprise software and services. 

There is no way to predict the next paradigm shift. Nor can we know what the Fortune 500 companies of tomorrow might be: what will they look like, and what will they build upon? All we do know for sure is that the challenges — and the opportunities — of the future will be different. Perhaps even unrecognizably so, from where we stand right now. 

No matter how the future plays out, there is only one way to guarantee survival: co-evolving as an organization alongside shifting and unpredictable technology and business realities. This means being able to iterate rapidly, incorporating real-time customer feedback and responding dynamically by doing experiments cheaply and easily, moving forward with PoCs that work. (And, maybe even more importantly, dropping whatever doesn’t, no harm no foul).

In an age of disruption, the only viable strategy is to adapt. The ability to innovate is necessary for survival — and serverless can help make innovation simply an everyday part of doing business.


Ready to try Serverless for yourself? Get started instantly with CockroachDB serverless

About the author

Michelle Gienow

Michelle Gienow is a recovering journalist turned front end developer based in Baltimore, MD. She creates content around her central obsessions: Jamstack, distributed architecture and developing a cloud native mindset.

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