Why Is Serverless the Main Battlefield in the Next Decade?

Attitude About Serverless

Many predict that cloud computing will become the infrastructure of the whole society and businesses in the future. By then, cloud computing resources will be available and accessible to the general public, just like water and electricity, without the need to fully understand the underlying technicalities. For example, when we use water, we do not need to know where it comes from, how it is filtered, and how pipes are laid to transfer it. Serverless allows you to focus on application logic and do not need to care about service-related matters, including management, configuration, and O&M. Instead, you only need to pay as you go.

Buidling Serverless Architecture

Serverless brings attractive features, such as extreme flexibility, reduced costs, and improved development efficiency. To develop and launch businesses in traditional mode, we need team cooperation to go through code development and combination, joint commissioning, resource evaluation, testing and online environment building, and debugging, release, and O&M. In the serverless era, developers only need to develop features or functions they are responsible for and deploy them to the testing or online environment. Rather, they do not need to consider or worry about subsequent O&M work.

Is Serverless for Everyone?

We do not recommend small enterprises build the serverless architecture themselves. This is because the core element of serverless is pay-as-you-go, that is, resources are scheduled based on the usage. During Double 11, the traffic soars to a 100-million-level concurrency. If you do not reserve server resources for such amount of traffic, you cannot schedule resources to others to use by then. If resources cannot be scheduled on demand, serverless cannot be implemented. So, we do not recommend enterprises who do not have abundant resources construct serverless capabilities themselves. However, they can use public cloud products to implement serverless.

How Robust Are Serverless Implementations?

The robustness of serverless implementations lies in the following key factors:

What Is Function Compute?

Alibaba Cloud is one of the first public cloud vendors to launch serverless platforms in China. Its FaaS platform product is Function Compute. In terms of event triggering, supported languages, user experience, and other aspects, Function Compute has many highlights.

Technical Challenges

To implement serverless, we need to solve a lot of problems, for example, how to quickly and smoothly migrate traditional projects to the serverless architecture, how to build the serverless architecture, how to implement better debugging in the serverless architecture, and how to reduce costs. My colleague Xu Xiaobin has described the challenges for implementing serverless in his article “The Concept and Challenges of Serverless.”

Challenge 1: Difficult to Make Businesses Lightweight

To enable auto scaling and pay-as-you-go, a platform must be able to scale out business instances in seconds or even milliseconds. This is challenging to the infrastructure and imposes demanding requirements on businesses, especially large business applications. If it takes 10 minutes to distribute and start an application, auto scaling cannot promptly respond to changes in business traffic.

Challenge 2: High Responsiveness Requirements for the Infrastructure

Once the instance of a serverless application or function can be scaled out in seconds or even milliseconds, the related infrastructure soon faces great pressure. The most common infrastructure is service discovery and log monitoring systems. In the past, the change frequency of instances in a cluster might be several times per hour. Now, the frequency has become several times per second. If the responsiveness of these systems cannot keep up with the evolvement of instances, the overall experience can be greatly compromised.

Challenge 3: Inconsistent Lifecycles Between Business Processes and Containers

A serverless platform relies on standardized application lifecycles to implement features such as automatic container removal and application self-recovery. In the standard container- and Kubernetes-based system, the platform can only control the container lifecycle. Therefore, business personnel must ensure that the business process lifecycle is consistent with the container lifecycle, including startup, stop, and specifications of readiness and liveness probes.

Challenge 4: Observability Must Be Improved

In serverful mode, if a problem occurs in the production environment, users naturally think of logging on to the server. In serverless mode, users do not need to worry about servers and cannot see the servers by default. When the system encounters a fault and the platform cannot automatically restore from the fault, comprehensive observability is required. If the observability in serverless mode is insufficient, users will not feel secure.

Challenge 5: R&D and O&M Personnel Must Adopt New Habits

When developers deploy their own applications for the first time, almost all of them deploy the applications on a single server or at a single IP address. This is a hard habit to break. When a serverless platform is gradually implemented, developers have to change their thinking to gradually adapt to the fact that the IP address may change at any time. They need to operate and maintain systems based on considerations of service versions and traffic.

Becoming the Serverless Everyone Needs

Function Compute inference, audio and video processing, image and text processing, real-time file processing, and real-time stream processing. Function Compute has already obtained a large number of customers, including Shimo Docs, Mango TV, Sina Weibo, and Malong Technologies.

Case Study: Sina Weibo

Take Sina Weibo as an example. Function Compute handles billions of requests for Weibo per day on average. Its millisecond-level scalability of computing resources ensures a controllable latency for applications, and the number of visits does not affect the user experience when a hot event comes out. Function Compute helps Weibo continuously reduce costs in image processing. As a result, Weibo no longer needs to maintain a large number of idle servers to process surge traffic at business peak hours. Without needing to maintain complex server statuses, engineers can shift the focus on infrastructure management to cooperation with product teams to increase business value.

Case Study: MosoInk

Not only Internet companies like Sina have implemented serverless, but also new startups are joining the serverless group.

The Main Battlefield in the Next Decade

Serverless is expected to have more comprehensive product forms, extreme flexibility, better toolchains, reduced costs, more efficient development efficiency, a faster migration speed, and simpler and more powerful cloud migration. With serverless, developers can focus on business code development in the same pattern and run code on different platforms without needing to consider their differences. In other words, by utilizing one method, developers can switch between businesses without a learning curve.

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