Serverless Computing In 2024: GenAI Influence, Security, 5G
Image by Diana Gonçalves Osterfeld.
Anytime one can remove a step (or steps) in building and maintaining an enterprise IT system, you can bet your sweet Bugzilla that an architect or developer is going to take advantage.
This is precisely what serverless computing does. It’s a cloud-based application model that allows developers to build and run applications without having to provision or manage servers. Serverless enables developers to focus on writing code and building applications, while the cloud provider takes care of the underlying infrastructure.
Due to the continuing growth in complexity in IT systems, admins need all the assistance they can get. Serverless is coming to the rescue for a growing number of enterprises.
Some background on this sector:
The concept of “utility computing,” where computing resources are treated as a metered service like electricity, emerged in the 1960s and ’70s. Virtualization technologies, such as VMs (virtual machines) and containers, pointed the way for abstraction from underlying hardware in the 1990s and 2000s. Google App Engine in 2008 became an early Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, with features such as automatic scaling and pay-per-use billing, foreshadowing serverless principles.
Amazon launched AWS Lambda in 2014, marking a pivotal moment for serverless computing. This function-as-a-service (FaaS) platform popularized the “serverless” term and enabled event-driven execution of code, further simplifying development. Since then, Microsoft Azure Functions, Google Cloud Functions and other FaaS platforms have emerged from major cloud providers, solidifying serverless as a mainstream approach. Once the IT giants entered the market, that pretty much sanctified everything.
So, Where Is Serverless Computing Headed?
This nascent segment is going nowhere but up. It is experiencing steady growth, driven by its agility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. Estimates on its current size vary significantly, ranging from less than 1% to potentially 5%. Here are some key market numbers and projections, along with sources:
- The global serverless computing market is expected to total about $10.5 billion in 2023 (MarketsandMarkets, October 2023). It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 33.5% from 2023 to 2030 (MarketsandMarkets, October 2023).
- Key drivers include Increasing adoption of cloud-based applications; demand for agility and scalability in application development; cost-efficiency benefits; growing popularity of event-driven architectures; and integration with other cloud services, such as AI/ML and IoT.
- 451 Research reported in August that the serverless market is expected to double in size every two to three years for the next decade.
- Serverless could account for 20% of all cloud workloads by 2025 (Forrester Research, July 2023). The Asia Pacific region is expected to be the fastest-growing market for serverless computing (MarketsandMarkets, October 2023).
Industry analysts contend that continued growth and evolution of serverless will continue with an increased focus on event-driven architectures, security, integration with other cloud services, open source options and edge computing applications.
“In a way, serverless IT represents the closest thing to the on-demand computing future that vendors envisioned and promoted a couple of decades ago,” longtime tech analyst Charles King of Pund-IT told The New Stack. “In those scenarios, IT was analogous to electric or water utilities where customers and end users simply called up the type and amount of compute, memory and storage they needed for specific tasks and paid for the services they used.
“At this point, serverless IT is popular among developers (and their employers), and for other use cases and applications that can profit from capacity flexibility.”
Chatbots for customer support were an early use case, though serverless support for AI-related chatbot services and projects also seems likely to grow, King said. “Another growth area is streaming media, particularly live events. The continuing growth, uptake and evolution of live streaming should help drive serverless adoption for many years to come,” King said.
Improved serverless capabilities mean more applications can take advantage of the benefits of serverless, Carolyn Duby, Field CTO of Cloudera, told The New Stack. “Enterprises will be looking for guard rails to control costs, observability to provide insights on optimizing performance and cost, and application portability to move processing to the data in multiple clouds,” Duby said.
GenAI Will Play a Big Part in Serverless
Scott Petry, partner in Cloud Engineering at PwC Consulting Services, told The New Stack that “there is a growing buzz surrounding generative AI in the software development lifecycle, with a focus on how automation can empower developers to unleash their creativity when building applications.
“Cloud and infrastructure technology companies are dedicated to streamlining the time-to-value for software products, resulting in a continuous influx of new serverless capabilities that developers can leverage without investing excessive time and effort in mundane tasks. Consequently, the emphasis will increasingly shift toward delivering valuable features that drive innovation,” Petry said.
Overall, GenAI presents a valuable set of tools that can streamline and enhance serverless computing workload production, from design and development to deployment, operations and optimization. With GenAI, developers and organizations can achieve faster development cycles, improved performance, cost savings and enhanced security for their serverless applications.
That serverless is a godsend for developers is already a given. Here are some key characteristics relevant to developers:
- Automatic scaling: Serverless applications can automatically scale up or down to meet demand. This means that developers don’t have to worry about over-provisioning or under-provisioning resources.
- Pay-per-use billing: Developers only pay for the resources that their applications use. This can save money compared to traditional server-based applications.
- High availability: Serverless applications are highly available because they are run on a global network of servers.
- Fast development: Serverless applications can be developed and deployed quickly because developers don’t have to worry about managing infrastructure.
Serverless and Security/Compliance
Security and regulatory compliance are factors in every corner of IT. How does this interplay with serverless?
“Serverless/SaaS provides you with a standardized panel of security functions, without you having to brew or make your own, which is where a lot of the problems tend to arise,” Adam Bellemare, staff technologist at Confluent, told The New Stack. “Good SaaS providers will follow all the usual best practices, such as encryption on the wire and at rest, strict access controls, and layers of defensive measures to prevent unauthorized access. The end user benefits directly by leveraging a mature security model, saving time and effort while reducing risk”.
Compliance can be more challenging because it varies between countries and business domains, Bellemare said. “Compliance can be modeled similarly to security, where there is a standard set of compliance best practices. However, ultra-specific compliance requirements may necessitate staying away from serverless, especially if you need fine-grained control over your compliance workflow. Serverless options may not offer sufficient features, and your domain may be specific or narrow enough that it wouldn’t be financially viable for your SaaS provider to prioritize adding necessary compliance features,” Bellemare said.
How Serverless Will Help Enable 5G
Serverless computing is poised to play a significant role in the development of 5G and other next-generation technologies. Here’s what the analysts say:
- Enabling real-time applications: 5G promises lightning-fast data speeds and ultra-low latency, opening doors for real-time applications like augmented reality, virtual reality, and autonomous vehicles. Serverless’s event-driven architecture and on-demand resource allocation seamlessly adapt to these fluctuating workloads, ensuring responsiveness and efficiency. (Gartner, “Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing, 2023”)
- Facilitating edge computing: The distributed nature of 5G networks necessitates processing data closer to the source, reducing latency and bandwidth demands. Serverless functions can be deployed at the network edge, enabling real-time data analysis and decision-making without relying on centralized servers. (IDC, “Serverless Computing Market Forecast 2023-2028”)
- Scaling for unpredictable workloads: 5G applications can experience sudden spikes in demand, like during a virtual concert or self-driving car encounters unexpected traffic. Serverless automatically scales resources up and down based on real-time needs, ensuring optimal performance and cost-efficiency. (451 Research, “Serverless Application Platforms Market Forecast 2022-2026”)