Why SERVERLESS is a step too far for your average IT team

If you have not heard of serverless, then don’t be afraid, but be aware that it is the technology platform of the future where your business software will run.


Business software you built, own, license, or license to others. Business software that you use for HR, marketing, finance, accounting, forecasting, CRM, collaboration, standard operating procedures, health and safety. Whatever is core or essential to being competitive and productive in what you do. 


Much like the adoption of the cloud, it is reasonable to say that serverless is the next inevitable platform step for hosting and running business software. This is because serverless scales well both technically and economically. 


More on the economics later. But first, the reason you need to know more about serverless, more than its platform predecessors, is that your average IT team, managing an existing IT platform, are not in the driving seat to make serverless happen for you. And worse, they may stop you from moving ahead. And here is why.


A Brief History of Technology Platforms

Without giving you a complete history lesson in computing platforms, and skipping mainframes and minis, each successive platform step has occurred because it solves important problems of the last, while still retaining a large part of the previous platform’s investment.


Starting with client-server, virtualisation took existing server hardware and gave you more ‘virtual’ servers than you had before. Workloads were shifted, squashed, or given more room depending on need. It was an elegant solution. It used existing infrastructure without any changes to the business software.


Next, cloud allowed you to lift-and-shift your existing software investment into an environment that, while still obeying the same laws of physics, no longer had to concern itself with physical servers, at all; no need to purchase and provision hardware. Just pick the server size and turn them on and off as required. Your cloud provider might use virtualisation, but now that was one less thing for you to worry about. Cloud also started introducing services which replace hardware with software. Services like software-defined networks. (This was a hint of things to come).  


Then came, arguably, a half step into containerisation. This time some changes did need to be made to the existing software, but not too far beyond what middleware containers, like application servers, were doing anyway. With containers — ‘server-side’ (or is that ‘cloud-side’?) business logic execution was further removed from the underlying physical servers. Deployed and executed in containers, which became software proxies for some of the servers in your architecture. 


Each of these step changes delivered benefits. Primarily, and in summary — greater scale. Specifically — more execution/CPU-cycles, more data storage, with less management overhead in provisioning, and, importantly, with less cost.

So now we wait with anticipation as we expect our IT teams to step us into the new era of serverless. 


The problem is, most IT teams will not be skilled or capable of doing so.  

Unless your IT team writes your business software and is directed and motivated to, they can’t and won’t be able to take advantage of serverless for you.


Every step change that came before serverless (virtualisation, cloud, containers), was done with few if any changes to the business software that had to be migrated. 


In contrast, serverless requires fundamental changes to the business software before it can be migrated into a serverless platform. 


What this means is, skills that got you through every other step-change are not the same skills that will get you into serverless. Your average IT team is unlikely to be the team that built your business software and therefore, can not re-platform it. This is not their fault, but it is your problem. 


What is Serverless? 

All software needs servers to execute on or through, including to store data. So, despite its name, serverless is not the eradication of computer servers. 


Unless! You appreciate that “serverless” in practice remove servers from your business because it removes all the symptoms of owning and running servers. 


What serverless does eradicate is the need to hire, train, and retain people with the skills and experience you would otherwise need to create and apply server standards, licensing support, and much more work besides on computer servers. 


Go and stand at the water-cooler of a team that uses serverless. You will NOT hear discussions of operating systems, patching, CPUs, disk, server memory or anything that you might traditionally associate with using computers directly. 


How is Serverless Possible? 

Serverless has been made possible because of cloud platform services first introduced alongside cloud infrastructure services.


Unlike cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), which replaced traditional computing devices with a centrally hosted version of the same (Amazon’s EC2 is just a computer server for hire), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) delivers a given function through an API (application programming interface). 


Software developers use APIs in place of having to talk to and work with a whole infrastructure team. 


For example, for file storage requirements. Instead of negotiating a file server architecture, a developer can replace this work with a single API call. 


On Amazon, the file storage service is the Simple-Storage-Solution; AKA S3 platform-as-a-service API. With a single API call, the developer can store or retrieve a file 365 days a year; 99.99% of the time (all but 44 minutes of the year). S3 also aims to guarantee your data will never be lost with 99.999999999% durability. (Statistically, this means the lose one file every 659,000 years. You are about 411 times more likely to get hit by a meteor.) Amazon also does this with a level of security out of the financial reach of most organisations.


It would be no exaggeration to say that building and running a service like S3 is is extremely expensive. But that does not translate into the cost of using it. This is because there are many thousands if not millions of S3 users who create economies of scale. 

Do you want to store a file for a month about the size of an HD movie? That’s 2.5¢, please. Do you want to retrieve that file? That’s 3¢ for a single file or a discount for bulk retrieval. 

Many services start with free tiers and cost even less. 


S3 has now be joined by many other services that replace servers with a functional outcome. There are now APIs for files, databases, indexing/searching, memory caches, API traffic control, scheduling, queuing and many more deep-down technical things that you may never have bothered with due to cost. Now they can be used and often cost as little as a few cents or less. 


Competitive and Productive

Whether your IT investment is about being externally competitive or internally productive, serverless is your future.


Remember when the cloud was introduced and sold like it was an electricity grid? The promise was that you would leave behind your hydroelectricity system an instead use on-demand compute power like it was electricity? This promise was not entirely real. Many organisations switched from owning their hydro dams, to only now renting them online from the cloud provider. Some economies were gained, but not as much as you might have hoped.


Serverless is the promise of utility computing. You are truly paying for consumption costs at the function level. 


What You Need To Do

There are many things to be done to see the benefits of serverless flow. Let’s start with 4.

What you need to do is:

  • Become “serverless first”. Like “cloud-first” became a mantra that explained simply what the strategy was, serverless must now take over. It will take time for it to become apparent you mean business, but you need to start with a simple, clear directive of your expectations.Look at what investments you have that could immediately benefit your business from going serverless. If a software solution is not scaling technically, stop investing into its broken and now out of date server-centric architecture. Cut your losses and exam where you can replace it with serverless components. This may mean a rebuild of part of the solution. For example, the front-end (if scaling to many more users is your challenge) while still maintain your back end investment. But time will likely make that out of date too. So realise that you must invest here to go forward, and go ahead you will.Don’t lift and shift — transform. If you are still holding onto old investments, like above, reconsider the entire strategy of what they are doing for your business. And rather than just shift the same business into the cloud, consider instead how your business could be transformed with a new investment which at the same time needs to be serverless. One opportunity is to create greater customer self-services of what you do. Perhaps turning an internal software system into a SaaS solution for your customers. While many SaaS vendors are not serverless yet, there will come a time when they will, or they will be replaced by someone that does. So pick SaaS providers that have gone serverless or be ready to switch to gain the benefits. Some symptoms of a server-centric SaaS provider are the high price per-user costs. While costs should reflect the IP you get, to date, SaaS costs include considerable per-user costs. This is reflective of the servers the SaaS providers owns (or rents) and has to have standing by 24x7; a cost passed on to you. Conversely, a serverless SaaS will focus more on IP costs and actual consumption cost. 

  • If you are not convinced by serverless then don’t stop reading with me. There is plenty more written about this topic. Note, that like cloud, there is also lots of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) being sown. But realise that most IT teams are going to be threatened by serverless as it reduces the footprint of what the previously managed, while at the same time it switches the emphasis towards software making other skills redundant. 

  • What's important, however, is that your business remains competitive and productive. And this is what serverless offers and will inevitably become the defacto standard for delivering business software.


If you are not convinced by serverless then don’t stop reading with me. There is plenty more written about this topic. Note, that like cloud, there is also lots of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) being sown. But realise that most IT teams are going to be threatened by serverless as it reduces the footprint of what the previously managed, while at the same time it switches the emphasis towards software making other skills redundant. 


What's important, however, is that your business remains competitive and productive. And this is what serverless offers and will inevitably become the defacto standard for delivering business software.


TipoTapp is a 100% serverless SaaS that can turn your great ideas into great software. Build your own SaaS solutions, without code.

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