Serverless vs. Server Computing: Detailed Comparison
Fri, Feb 17, 2023 •5 min read
Serverless computing is gaining steam, so you’re bound to wonder what makes it better than other cloud-based back-end models. It’s not like serverless doesn’t use servers at all - it does, but the developer is not responsible for handling them. Today, you can outsource this to a cloud vendor and focus on mission-critical activities like building new features. This is one of the top reasons behind the rise of serverless computing.
So, what makes serverless computing so appealing? In this article, we compare server-based vs. serverless computing models, explore their benefits and drawbacks, and evaluate when it is best to employ one or the other.
Serverless model - what is it and how does it work?
Serverless computing is a type of cloud computing where the backend or infrastructure of your application is controlled by the cloud service provider. The term might be a bit misleading because it implies that no servers are involved in the process at all. But you almost always need a server, and in this case, you don’t need to manage it.
Serverless applications use virtual server resources to scale on demand. The approach allows developers to focus on writing code rather than maintaining and handling servers. The entire responsibility for the complex and time-consuming server administration activities lies with the cloud vendor.
Pros of serverless computing
Server provisioning and management can quickly get expensive. Based on the pay-as-you-go model, serverless architecture has become a popular alternative for many teams. It makes sense to only pay for the server resources that your business really uses, right? When you must provide your own servers, you’re likely to pay for more computing power - and get more of it than you actually need.
Moreover, when handling servers on your own, you always need to be prepared for a sudden surge in server demand. This leads many companies to invest in more resources than they need and overprovision their applications just in case.
Serverless computing, on the other hand, uses automated scaling - so, when demand increases, your company gains access to capacity that matches the current demand as well as its future fluctuations.
Greater developer productivity
Serverless enables developers to create apps without having to design, configure, and manage the underlying infrastructure. Because of this, teams have more time to work on innovative technological solutions and make user experiences that are more immersive. By removing time-consuming infrastructure maintenance duties, serverless systems boost developer productivity. Just think about all the things your development team could do if its members had more time to focus on functionality and app design. Serverless lets you leave all of the time-consuming infrastructure maintenance responsibilities to the cloud vendor and spend more time developing state-of-the-art products.
Faster time to market
A more productive development team helps you get your software to market faster. And we all know that being the first product to market builds a massive competitive advantage. Your company's app can hit the market faster because developers won't have to spend time managing and maintaining the infrastructure underneath it.
Challenges of serverless computing
That said, serverless computing comes with its unique challenges that might become serious drawbacks if your devs team doesn’t know how to set it up. Gaining a competitive edge with serverless computing requires understanding, predicting, and planning for these potential obstacles.
Serverless computing accelerates application development, but the framework itself might cause delays. To understand why, we need to look at response latency - the time between a request and a response from the application.
Serverless cloud computing shuts down between queries, and starting with inactive serverless code might delay the response. Spin-up and code processing can take a few seconds, which could be a problem if your app needs to work quickly.
Still, Netflix and Prime Video on Amazon use serverless because AWS tools let them slash the delay to the minimum. These examples show that the choice of the right tools eliminates the risk of delays successfully.
Expert team is required
Serverless is an approach deeply rooted in the toolkit of a particular cloud service provider. To develop optimal applications, you need a specialized team that has in-depth knowledge of that vendor’s serverless offer.
Serverless providers: an overview
Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure dominate the serverless industry. Each vendor provides a variety of services and virtual machines, but AWS is the industry leader since it offers the greatest number of options. AWS Lambda is the most popular serverless service.
There are, of course, alternatives to the top three providers. IBM Cloud is another major serverless service provider with which organizations collaborate. One thing to be careful about here is vendor lock-in. Since your company will not have the physical gear to supply computer resources for the back-end of its application, it’s all too easy to employ the same vendor for all services. The more services you add, the harder it is to switch providers - and the more vulnerable your applications are to vendor issues such as outages. However, an experienced team knows how to eliminate this risk.
Server computing models - what are they?
Server computing is basically any type of computing that involves the provisioning and management of a server. That server can be located on-premises in a data center or in the cloud as a virtual machine. Things may get a bit complicated since cloud providers also offer serverless solutions. If you look at Amazon Web Services, a serverless service is AWS Lambda, while products like EC2 offer server-based computing.
Cloud computing delivers technological resources and services over the internet - and server administration is one such service. Others include storage, the underlying operating system, software, and networking.
By using servers in the cloud, organizations can use services on demand, become more flexible, and lower their IT operational costs.
Pros of server computing
Cloud-based virtual machines are maintained by the vendor, but you’re the one who has the power to manage and scale them. You can choose from a lot of different options and find VMs that give you the performance you need at the best price. This is a good way to keep your infrastructure costs as low as possible.
This topic is frequently brought up when discussing servers vs. serverless. Considering the increase in frequency and severity of data breaches and hacker attacks, data protection is a key component of any IT activity. And serverless has a wider attack surface than server computing.
Challenges of server computing
Provisioning and managing virtual machines take a lot of your valuable time. And when your cloud footprint grows, you’re bound to see your engineers spend lots of time managing the infrastructure. The time it takes to properly configure your cloud infrastructure directly translates into costs.
When to use server-based computing?
If you have internal resources for managing the cloud infrastructure and need to have more control over the virtual machines used by your applications (for example, via services such as dedicated hosting), server-based computing is a good choice.
When to use serverless?
Scalability is one of the main advantages of serverless computing. Serverless is a great option for teams that anticipate growth and need a setting that can accommodate the changing demands.
Serverless is an alternative to cloud-based service computing that saves time and money by letting developers focus on writing code instead of managing servers. Serverless computing is likely to see its usage grow in the future. If you’d like to check if your application requirements are a good match for serverless, our experts can help you create a software development strategy with the serverless architecture in mind. Get in touch with us to stay on top of this growing trend and prepare your application for the future.