The SMB’s Guide to Serverless Computing

Publication date: Sep 18, 2023

Last Published: Dec 07, 2023

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Read Time : 6 minutes

Remember the days when any tech-forward business had to maintain a room full of humming servers?

Well, those days are fading fast. We’re now deep in the age of serverless computing, and the implications for small and medium-sized businesses are profound. In this non-technical guide, we unpack the essentials of serverless computing with examples and how it’s leveling the playing field for SMBs.

What Is Serverless Computing?

Quick definition of serverless computing: Serverless computing is a cloud-based model that allows businesses to run custom applications and services without the hassle of managing, provisioning, or maintaining backend servers, only paying for the resources they actually use.

Detailed explanation of serverless computing:

So, what does this actually mean for your business? In a nutshell, serverless computing takes a ton of technical responsibilities off your plate.

Normally, running custom applications or services would mean either housing bulky servers on-premises or renting server space from a cloud provider. Either way, you’re investing time and money in server management, security, and maintenance. But serverless flips that script.

In a serverless architecture, all the complicated backend stuff—like server provisioning, OS and middleware setup, maintenance, and scaling—is done for you by the cloud provider.

Imagine a restaurant where you don’t need to think about how the food is cooked or where the ingredients are sourced. You just order, eat, and pay for what you consume. Well, serverless computing makes it possible for you to simply deploy your software and let the cloud provider’s system run it whenever it’s triggered, automatically allocating the necessary resources. But not all computing is the same. Keep reading to see the differences between serverless computing vs. cloud computing.

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Serverless Computing vs Cloud Computing

While serverless and cloud computing might seem like interchangeable terms, they’re not.

In traditional cloud computing, you’re essentially renting a plot of “digital land,” and you need to build and maintain your “house” on it. This means you’re in charge of your servers, including scaling them up or down.

In contrast, serverless computing is more like staying in a hotel; you use the room (resources) only when needed, and hotel staff (the cloud provider) takes care of all the maintenance. Plus, you’re billed only for the exact time you use the room, freeing you up to focus on what you actually want to do: grow your business.

Serverless Computing vs Software as a Service (SaaS)

Contrary to popular belief, serverless computing and Software as a Service (SaaS) are not interchangeable terms, although both fit within the broader cloud computing ecosystem.

Services like Microsoft 365 and Gmail are quintessential examples of SaaS. In this model, the entire application—from the user interface to the data storage—is managed by the service provider, and users interact with these services through web browsers or specialized clients.

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), an identity and access management solution, is another illustrative example. While it’s cloud-based and able to remove the need for an on-premise Active Directory (AD) server (or “go serverless” as we like to say), it’s not really serverless because it’s pre-built and provided for the end-user’s consumption by Microsoft.

On the flip side, serverless computing is designed for developers and focuses on executing custom code. For example, a business can use a serverless platform like Azure serverless to build custom applications that automatically adjust to the number of users and pay for the work they actually do.

How Can Serverless Computing Help My Business?

Now that we’ve explained what serverless computing is, we can take a closer look at the tangible benefits it offers to businesses that rely on custom software:

  • Simplified deployment: The streamlined nature of serverless computing means fewer components to worry about, allowing for quicker and more straightforward deployment of your custom business software.
  • Cost-savings: You only pay for the computing resources you actually use, eliminating the need for constant server upkeep and human resources for server maintenance, thereby reducing overall costs significantly.
  • Transfer of risk: Since the responsibility of server management is outsourced to specialized cloud providers, businesses can mitigate the risks associated with server downtimes, security vulnerabilities, and other operational challenges.
  • Unlimited scalability: Serverless architecture is designed to automatically scale up or down as needed, making it particularly beneficial for businesses that experience seasonal demand fluctuations or sudden spikes in user traffic.
  • Automated backups and recovery: All popular serverless platforms include built-in automated backup and recovery options. This reduces the chances of data loss and makes disaster recovery much simpler to execute, adding an extra layer of reliability for your business operations.

Does Serverless Computing Have Any Drawbacks?

While serverless computing brings a lot to the table, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Limited control: By handing off the responsibilities of server management to a third-party provider, you’re also giving away a degree of control since you have the same level of access to the backend as you would with traditional on-premises server setups.
  • Vendor lock-in: When you opt for a serverless provider, you often become deeply entangled with their tools, services, and pricing models. Switching to another provider later could be a complex and costly endeavor.
  • Security of deployed software: Sure, the cloud provider takes care of the backend security, but you still have to ensure that the application you deploy is protected against cybersecurity threats. This is different from SaaS solutions, where the service provider handles end-to-end security, including the application layer.
  • Cold start problem: Software running in a serverless environment is available when needed, but it’s not always running. This leads to what is known as the “cold start” issue, where there can be a slight delay the first time you try to access a particular service or feature after it hasn’t been used in a while.
  • Compliance challenges: When you hand over your data and backend operations to a third-party provider, compliance becomes a shared responsibility. Ensuring that your service provider meets industry standards and regulations like HIPAA can add an extra layer of complexity to your operations.

Conclusion

Serverless computing offers an enticing array of benefits, especially for businesses that don’t have extensive resources to manage traditional server architectures. Its simplified deployment, cost-effectiveness, and scalability make it an attractive option for businesses in rapidly evolving sectors like e-commerce, healthcare, and FinTech, where agility and reliability are paramount. That said, like any technology, serverless computing is not without its challenges. Issues like limited control, vendor lock-in, and compliance requirements should be carefully considered before making the shift.

If you’re intrigued by the possibilities serverless computing offers but are unsure if it’s a good fit for you, then we at OSIbeyond can help you evaluate your specific needs and implement a tailored serverless solution. Our IT support & strategy services are tailored to meet the needs of small and medium-sized organizations in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Contact us today to take the first step toward a more streamlined and cost-effective future.

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