3 min. read

What is Serverless Architecture?

The foundation of cloud-native application development includes serverless computing, containerization, and microservices. Serverless architecture allows DevOps teams to build and run applications without needing to manage infrastructure, including provisioning, scaling, or maintenance. Instead, they can focus on writing code and designing user-friendly software.

The top reasons for choosing serverless? A 2019 survey revealed that 40% of organizations had adopted a serverless architecture, citing the top two reasons for going serverless were lower operational costs and automatic scaling with demand.

What is Serverless Architecture?

Basically, employing a serverless architecture is outsourcing server and database management to a cloud services provider like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and IBM Cloud.

As a cloud application development and execution model, serverless architecture enables teams to create an application by leveraging managed services beyond hosting. Cloud services deploy software to containers that they manage.

Despite the name, servers are used by the host company but are abstracted from the client’s application development process. Apps and app components are only launched when an event triggers them, and the cloud provider dynamically allocates resources for that code.

Serverless differs from traditional cloud computing models because the provider manages the cloud infrastructure and app scaling. Plus, clients are only charged for runtime to finite amounts rather than availability.

FaaS vs. BaaS

Serverless architecture types typically fall into two groups – Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) and Function-as-a-Service (FaaS). 

FaaS is often used interchangeably with serverless, but there are distinctions. FaaS allows developers to write custom server-side logic and run event-based code or containers without indicating the infrastructure required. However, serverless provides services that respond to event triggers and scale down when not in use. FaaS runs the software in fully managed containers.

BaaS, on the other hand, uses third-party services and apps for serverless functions that could be requested via application programming interfaces (APIs). With BaaS, a cloud service provider could offer authentication services, additional encryption, or cloud-accessed databases along with granular usage data.

Why is Serverless Architecture Useful?

A serverless architecture offers technical and business benefits. Two of the most cited include cloud providers taking on infrastructure maintenance and billing only for runtime using their resources. Development teams no longer need to maintain server hardware, handle software updates, or create backups. And, with near-infinite scaling capacity, cloud providers enable a serverless architecture that automatically scales as needed and provides metered on-demand access to resources required.

Serverless architecture is appropriate for many use cases, including asynchronous, stateless apps that need instant access and other event-driven or stream-processing workloads. Apps that leverage incoming data streams, pre-scheduled tasks, business logic, or chatbots are appropriate for serverless.

And, because serverless eliminates provisioning, organizations aren’t hindered by defined capacity, connection, query limits, or paying for availability instead of usage.

Other benefits of serverless architecture include the following:

  • Millisecond provisioning times
  • No administrative burden
  • No maintenance required
  • Instant auto-scaling
  • No capacity planning required
  • Zero idle capacity because it’s on-demand
  • Granular usage data
  • Pay only for usage

Teams that use DevOps or a CI/CD pipeline find that serverless architecture simplifies deployment because their developers don’t need to define or maintain the infrastructure required to test, deliver, or deploy code into production.

Serverless Architecture Security Considerations

In many ways, serverless architecture has made security easier and better. Cloud service providers offer robust serverless security apps or security features. Yet, there are security considerations when choosing serverless.

There are several security benefits to serverless including:

  • The transient nature of serverless lowers the risk of malware  
  • Serverless hosted applications don’t require server patches
  • Misconfigurations in other clients’ code that runs on the same server at the same time could introduce security risks
  • Possibility of security mishaps with the cloud service provider

Serverless, however, relies on a shared responsibility approach to managing security. Cloud providers are responsible for securing their infrastructure, and the client manages security for the application, data, and business logic, as well as any compliance requirements.

While serverless architecture offers many high-value benefits, security is an area where the complexity of the serverless structure must be considered. Developers don’t have total control over infrastructure configurations. The organization is susceptible to cloud vendor vulnerabilities. And, because there are many independent components, the attack surface is larger.

In one survey, these security considerations were cited by 40% of organizations that hadn’t yet transitioned to serverless.

Serverless Architecture Delivers greater development efficiency, Focus, and Cost-Controls

The popularity of cloud-native development aligns with the benefits of serverless computing. Now, DevOps teams can build and run user-friendly software without focusing on infrastructure. This not only frees time and mind-space for quality code and testing innovative ideas, but it provides a more efficient and cost-effective cloud-enabled business function.

Serverless Architecture Security Relies on Panoptica

Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation (ET&I) team is paving the way with “DevOps-friendly” cloud-native security solutions that fundamentally simplify conventional offerings. Our Panoptica solution simplifies cloud-native application security, making it easy to embed into the software development lifecycle. Panoptica protects the full application stack from code to runtime by scanning for security vulnerabilities in the cloud infrastructure, microservices, the software bill of materials, and the interconnecting APIs. And best of all, it integrates with the tools that your application development and SecOps teams are already using. Try Panoptica for free!