Optimising application development with serverless technology

The opportunity in optimising application development

Innovations like virtual machines (VMs), containers, and the public cloud have improved application development in many ways, but still place several configuration, maintenance, and optimisation decisions on developers rather than the technology itself.

The more that these responsibilities are placed on developers, the less time they have to build products and internal applications. Unfortunately, many widely adopted technologies task developers with performance optimisation, application scaling, security patches, load balancing, and more. These responsibilities introduce the risk of suboptimal choices or mistakes that could deplete budgets or cause vulnerabilities and downtime.

This inefficiency has serious consequences. Alarmingly, the time developers spend on non-coding tasks costs organisations over $85 billion annually.

Thus, removing complexity from application development can improve the developer experience while also saving organisations a significant amount of money.

The industry shift to serverless

Serverless technology was designed to address these issues, specifically improving application development by reducing the burden placed on developers. However, not all serverless platforms are created equal. Early iterations of serverless platforms inherited many of the configuration, scalability, and performance issues associated with the technology they were built on — containers, regions, and the public cloud.

Thus, “serverless” as we know it today is often a leaky abstraction on top of an old model.

Advanced serverless platforms have evolved past these issues with several important architectural improvements. These improvements remove time-consuming decisions from the development process, so teams can spend more time building great products and applications.

Building upon previous development methods

Before serverless, there were VMs and containers. VMs are software-based computers that exist within another computer’s operating system, and containers are standard units of software that hold all the elements an application needs to run.

Both of these technologies allow developers to focus more on their applications and less on managing hardware. However, VMs and containers still saddle developers with management and configuration duties that slow down the overall development process.

To varying degrees, VMs and containers require developers and their partnering IT and security teams to:

Container orchestration systems like Kubernetes alleviate many of the configuration requirements associated with containers, including managing scale and redundancy. However, Developer Operations (DevOps) teams, who focus on solving internal development problems rather than customer-facing issues, require Kubernetes expertise to effectively manage it. Without Kubernetes and a properly trained team, container limitations still apply.

VMs and containers are only a part of a larger picture. Both of these technologies can be used in the public cloud, which introduces limitations of its own.

The public cloud helps simplify various aspects of development, but still leaves layers of configuration to the customer organisation like selecting regions, managing security, designing networking solutions, and ensuring availability. The public cloud also requires the manual combining of multiple services like databases, message queues, and storage. Manually configuring and connecting these services is time-intensive, increasing overall time to deployment.

First-gen serverless development brings its inefficiencies

Serverless development was designed to overcome challenges associated with VMs, containers, and the public cloud. But, early serverless methods were only partially successful.

The primary challenges with first-gen serverless development include:

The serverless movement’s purpose has always been to make the application development process easier, but serverless platforms running on the centralised public cloud do not fully live up to that promise.

Rethinking serverless: how serverless has evolved

The next-generation of serverless development platforms have evolved past many of the shortcomings of earlier offerings. By not relying on legacy infrastructure like containers and the public cloud, these solutions offer several improvements and put time back into developers’ hands.

These improvements include:

With these improvements, next-generation serverless platforms optimise the overall application development process; eliminating tedious tasks and enabling developer focus while offering cost savings to the organisation.

Optimizing application development with Workers

The right serverless platform removes scalability limitations while unburdening developers and improving the overall efficiency of the application development process. Cloudflare Workers is an edge-based serverless platform that uses smart infrastructure to relieve developers of many upfront decisions. Thanks to Cloudflare’s infrastructure, applications built on Workers are always optimised for security, performance, and reliability.

Scalability is never an issue as Workers runs on the global Cloudflare network which spans over 200 cities in more than 100 countries. Code is automatically deployed to all regions, with no additional cost or configuration required. Development teams can build advanced applications on the edge that require long CPU runtimes by using Workers Unbound. Because the Workers platform runs on isolates rather than containers, there are no cold starts or CPU throttling. Workers offers built-in observability and integrates with more advanced monitoring tools like New Relic and Sentry, in addition to debugging and logging tools available through the Workers Command Line Interface (CLI). Durable Objects provides the Workers platform with low-latency coordination and consistent storage, making stateful serverless applications a reality. At the same time, Workers saves customers money by removing hidden fees and offering industry-leading pricing.

Workers enables development teams to focus on building products rather than maintenance and configuration, improving the developer experience and benefiting the company financially over time.

This article is part of a series on the latest trends and topics impacting today’s technology decision-makers.

Dive deeper into this topic

Learn more about serverless platforms like Workers in The Forrester New Wave: Function-as-a-Service Platforms report.

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