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How Serverless Will Help Us Evolve in a Post-Pandemic World

12 Mar 2021 12:00pm, by

James Kobielus
James is Principal Analyst at Franconia Research.

As a global society, we must accept that the COVID-19 emergency will be with us for months (if not years) to come.

While the pandemic is in full swing, proactive responses are paramount as communities attempt to contain the contagion through lockdowns, tests, vaccinations, and other countermeasures.

As the global community fights back against this ongoing pandemic, the most critical applications will be those that provide risk-mitigation assurances in three key capacities: wide-area mobility, shared-space occupancy, and healthcare supply chain logistics.

Wide-Area Mobility

Moving around in a post-pandemic world will depend on being able to rapidly query people’s most recent COVID-19 testing results and certify their immunization status whenever they embark or debark an airplane, ship, or other conveyance when traveling between countries or even regions of the same country.

In recent months, there have even been calls for nations to introduce digital “vaccine passports” to facilitate this process. Just as people have grown used to having their persons and luggage scanned before boarding airplanes, they may soon be required to use self-service apps to review new COVID-19 safety procedures, complete regular wellness checks, schedule inoculations, and report vaccination and quarantine status before being allowed to cross borders or mingle with crowds at their destinations.

Ensuring safe mobility also requires contact tracing applications in widespread use. Essentially, these apps alert people to the risk that they have been exposed to a person who is either ill, infected, or asymptomatically carrying the virus. If the app finds a match with another user who has tested positive, it notifies the user and may instruct them on your best next steps, such as testing, quarantining, and social distancing.

Shared-Space Occupancy

Making our offices and other shared spaces safe in a post-pandemic world will require an automated social distancing monitor, as well as automated biosensing that flags the presence of coronavirus and other pathogens.

These biosensors will be wearable and connected socially, to detect the potential spread of infections from person-to-person and to monitor a disease’s progression among large groups of people — such as hospital patients and nursing home residents. To detect symptoms even before people realize they’re infected, automated environmental sensing will use multimodal AI to monitor the environment, such as by pairing facial recognition with temperature scanning and listening to an audio of people coughing.

In addition, proximity sensors will become ubiquitous as people protect themselves from the current outbreak and erect defenses against future contagions. The growing adoption of computer vision applications will leverage AI to automate the surveillance of people in public places, workplaces, stores, and elsewhere. Wait-time metering will become a standard feature of many of the public and private facilities where lots of people congregate. We will also see more deployment of robotic platforms that automate lockdown and disinfection of shared spaces when biological threats are detected or simply as a preventive measure.

In this Fauna case study, Member Splash enabled community swim clubs in the USA to use their reservation platforms in 2020 to do contact tracing. Their customers use this application to manage the occupancy of shared swim lanes at clubs under their management, thereby keeping their membership safe from COVID-19 exposure. In this deployment, Fauna’s serverless database supports fast transactions while freeing Member Splash customers from the need to worry about whether the back-end data platform will scale — all without needing to manage the reservation platform with their own internal IT staff.

Healthcare Supply Chain Logistics

Boosting people’s biological defenses against COVID-19 and other outbreaks depends on speed in the delivery of tests, inoculations, and treatments to the population at large; and especially to the most vulnerable demographics.

This, in turn, depends on using embedded AI in edge devices to monitor and maintain a robust, low-latency “cold chain.” End-to-end cold-chain sensing is essential for maintaining stringent environmental temperatures wherever perishable products — such as vaccines — are produced, processed, packaged, stored, transported and distributed.

For most of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, embedded AI can send threshold alerts and even trigger automated remediation procedures when it detects anomalous environmental events and trends that may put sensitive vaccine cargos at risk of degradation. Stringent cold-chain management ensures that their efficacy doesn’t degrade while in transit from pharmaceutical fabrication facilities to the healthcare professionals; and via their administrations, to the arms of target populations.

In this Fauna case study, Acoer is supporting a major healthcare providers with its Hashlog service to enable connected real-time diagnostics and triage of COVID-19 cases. In this case, Fauna’s serverless data platform supports rapid, on-demand and low-overhead scaling of a trusted transactional database. It also provides an API that enables the clinic to access serverless data functions without middleware.

Serverless Computing Is the Foundation for Post-Pandemic Healthcare Risk Mitigation

Each of these application domains — wide-area mobility, shared-space occupancy management, and healthcare supply chain logistics — is well-suited to the serverless functions and data that power today’s most sophisticated cloud applications.

Managed as a common public health infrastructure, these “client-serverless” capabilities are at the heart of the “new normal” in a world that is relying more acutely on rich cloud services. As a key development and operational practice, serverless aligns with the event-driven, distributed nature of the cloud fabric upon which the global economy depends in the 21st century. Serverless compute and data platforms improve developer productivity. They also speed application time-to-market, boost scale of operations, reduce IT total cost of ownership, and enable more agile response to new business requirements.

With serverless computing, cloud providers dynamically manage the allocation of back-end machine resources for executing application business logic and managing data resources. Application functions are delivered through microservices that can be spun out in an ad-hoc, real-time, bursty and efficient fashion. And back-end resources are provisioned on-demand in order to deliver an ever-shifting mix of application workloads

As we look ahead to a post-pandemic “new normal,” serverless computing will encourage developers to build more applications under the paradigm called “functional programming.” Essentially, functional programming enables developers to construct application logic through “lambda calculus” expressions that incorporate values, constants, variables, operators, and other explicit arguments.

When used to build and deploy application to serverless platforms, functional programming delivers the following benefits:

  • COMPOSABILITY: Delivers composable functions via a consistent, secure, web-native API that can be called from any client application and on a pay-as-you-go basis;
  • ACCESSIBILITY: Enables applications to be easily served, composed, and consumed on-demand from every piece of computing infrastructure anywhere;
  • SPEED: Allows developers to deploy low-latency functions and deploy them quickly and scalably across cloud-to-edge environments;
  • ROBUSTNESS: Ensures that application performance won’t degrade even as the underlying business logic is distributed far and wide;
  • SIMPLICITY: Provides an abstraction for simplified development of highly scalable applications thereby sparing developers from needing to write the logic that manages containers, virtual machines, and other back-end runtime engines to which execution of microservices will be dynamically allocated;
  • AGILITY: Reduces most dependencies on underlying infrastructure and provides a polyglot development platform;
  • EFFICIENCY: Boosts the density and efficiency of cloud CPU, memory, storage, and other resource usages;
  • CONSISTENCY: Delivers a consistently dynamic, interactive application experience from any smartphone or edge device, no matter where a user happens to be, or where the resources they’re accessing are being served from.

Many “new normal” applications are amenable to serverless/functional computing.

Strategic Recommendation

Humanity must recognize that the hard lessons we’re learning about dealing with global pandemic are the key to our future survival on this planet.

Enterprises are learning that serverless platforms are indispensable, not only for supporting the agile microservices needed to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis but for the “new normal” of web-facing, cloud-to-edge and real-time streaming applications that have begun to permeate our lives.

Serverless platforms are at the heart of the AI, cloud, streaming, sensors and event notification functions that are integral to “new normal” applications. Organizations should heed the advice of Evan Weaver, CTO at Fauna, a serverless database provider. He says it’s important to adopt serverless platforms that “deliver infrastructure capabilities as a globally ubiquitous, low latency, consistent, Web-native, and secure API.” The serverless API should be callable “from any client phone browser, edge device, embedded device, serverless, or compute runtime from anywhere.” And the serverless platform should support development of functions that assure users “of the same experience on a pay-as-you-go basis all the time.”

Enterprises should accelerate their evolution into the serverless future by bringing these platforms into their IT strategies. In order to achieve the agility and scalability benefits of serverless computing, IT professionals should implement a serverless stack that includes, at the very least, an agile database and a microservices orchestration platform. However these components are sourced, they should present a web-facing serverless API that simplify 24×7 application access to serverless compute and data resources anywhere in the world.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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