WebAssembly Providers Speed Ahead to Fill Serverless Gaps
It can be safely said that the vast majority of developers and operations team members are not overly concerned about the underlying mechanisms of serverless. In other words, what’s running underneath the hood — as long as it’s safe and secure — is of little interest. It’s the features that count.
At the same time, serverless has not lived up to its earlier promise of allowing for the deployment and management of applications with a minimal amount of operations required to support them. To this end, WebAssembly (WASM) providers are speeding ahead to fill shortcomings in these serverless applications.
They are also looking to add features and fill in the gaps of their offerings as WASM’s earlier hype to offer a way to develop and deploy applications more securely and simply with better computing performance than what any widely adopted technology has enabled in the past.
— BC Gain (@bcamerongain) March 23, 2023
Indeed, the ability for WASM to run “anywhere applies not just to which processor and operating system you’re in,” but also its ability to accommodate “multiple other binaries … being able to run it inside other languages,” Fastly CTO Tyler McMullen said during his talk “The Return of Write Once, Run Anywhere.”
However, while WASM is now widely used for browser applications for which it was originally created, it remains a work in progress. Work is ongoing to fully benefit from its runtime structure designed to run directly on the CPU in order to offer a more direct way to run the same application and code distributed on containers or on different devices and environments.
The race to deliver on serverless were specifically addressed in talks about the launch of Fermyon’s open source Spin 1.0, VMware’s WASM Workers Server project and other discussions during the first day of the WASM I/O conference held in Barcelona.
Take a Spin
Spin 1.0’s main new feature is its development of the capability to accommodate a number of languages in addition to Rust. Created and maintained by Fermyon and especially geared for developers, it is designed to make up for some of WebAssembly’s shortcomings for serverless.
Fermyon describes Spin 1.0 — which is a Function as a Service — as the first stable release of the open source developer tool for building serverless applications with WebAssembly. The tool and framework guides the user through creating, building, distributing, and running serverless applications with WebAssembly, Fermyon says. This includes the ability for users to use starter templates to build, distribute and run applications from a single interface (or locally).
“Configurability is key when it comes to building distributed applications that run on different environments and Spin is no exception,” said Thorsten Hans, a cloud native consultant for Germany Thinktecture AG, during his talk “Spin it! Jumpstart your Wasm journey with Fermyon Spin.”
Great talk on WebAssembly for serverless with the WebAssembly framework Wasm Workers Server given by @VMware‘s Angel de Miguel and Rafael Fernandez Lopez. @wasm_io #wasm #wasmio23 @thenewstack #revecommedia pic.twitter.com/r9ppns4Pow
— BC Gain (@bcamerongain) March 23, 2023
WASM Workers Unite!
Not unlike Fermyon’s Spin, VMware’s WASM Workers Server open source project is designed to offer a very quick and painless path to getting started for serverless application development and deployments with WASM.
During their talk “Develop serverless apps with WASM Workers Server,” VMware staff engineers for VMware’s Office of the CTO Angel De Miguel and Rafael Fernandez Lopez described how a user can get started in just a few minutes. VMware and Fermyon are, of course, not the only providers of WASM FaaS and other open source WebAssembly alternatives. Cosmonic’s wasmCloud, Suborbital Extension Engine and numerous other stand-alone and in-house WASM projects.
Eventually, the idea is to make everything easy and seamless for developers for serverless.
“We want to get as many developers as possible using WebAssembly so they only have to worry about developing applications and not the underlying infrastructure needed to support those applications,” De Miguel said.
More to Life Beyond Serverless
Serverless computing continues to grow in demand for a range of use cases, for those organizations seeking to create and run applications with a relatively minimal amount of infrastructure management involved. This is good news for the startup seeking to offer software applications, services or both without making significant investments in on-premises servers or having to configure or manage their own infrastructure through a cloud vendor.
Just one step removed from adding an API or service on top of prebuilt Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms, a serverless alternative allows organizations to begin offering their own business service or application with a minimal amount of overhead and fewer administrative and management tasks for maintenance.
However, WebAssembly is certainly not just about serverless. Indeed, thinking WASM might replace serverless would be to miss the point. WASM can be thought of as a different mindset not only thinking about its computing structure but especially for deployments in general. Sure, you can use WASM to run serverless applications, but it is much more than that because it’s a way of deploying, among other things, applications in a highly distributed way.
So, eventually, you might one day turn to a SaaS or cloud provider for a serverless application with WASM running underneath. You might also use WASM directly to distribute applications run in a wide variety of languages simultaneously across distributed environments, including not only Kubernetes clusters but across edge devices as well.
Meanwhile, for serverless alone, it is highly likely that in addition to VMware, Fermyon and Cosmonic, it is also highly likely that cloud vendors and SaaS providers will follow suit. “They’re all obviously looking at WASM for being able to run their serverless applications,” Bailey Hayes, director of the Bytecode Alliance Technical Standards Committee and a director at Cosmonic said during the sidelines of the conference. “It is just so much better than anything else,” in consideration of its very small and simple commuting structure,” its ability to do cold starts very well and a number of other features.