Technology has never ceased to amaze! Of course, not all technologies are accepted popularly by enterprises, the world over. But, these two amazing ones have proven their mettle and continue to rule the IT industry. Containers and Serverless computing, both are the cool new technologies on the block that have managed to impress developers with their inherent features.
Are they similar? Do they have any dissimilarity? Which one is better? Which one to be chosen and when and why? There are many questions popping up as these advancements garner increasing popularity.
What is observed and known openly is both have a lot of things in common, yet there is a gap between the two that may not be able to cross over. Both have their own set of success stories to tell and certain pain areas too. Following are sure shot common features of both:
Both provide productive, machine-agnostic abstractions for IT engineers
They both build a slick, robust and scalable architecture
Both enhance the productivity level of developers to a great extent
On a usual note, we see enterprises adapting to revolutionary technologies at a slow pace. But, looking at the popularity charts of the two – Serverless and Containers, it is an obvious fact that both have had their share of acceptance by end users.
Now that we know what is common in both, let us study each one in detail to understand them in-depth
Serverless And Container Technology – An Introduction
Serverless Computing is a robust development methodology that substitutes virtual machines with compute power as and when required and moves away after the usage is over.
Serverless surely does not mean there is no server involved. There are servers included but they are managed by the cloud service provider like AWS, Azure or Google Cloud Platform. It is a cloud-based computing service and like all functionalities in the cloud, it runs on servers when needed.
You can go in for event configuration like API requests or file uploads triggering your serverless function and as soon as the event is complete, the server will go idle till the next action. The serverless computing service provider takes care of everything on the server side. You just need to do code writing and deployment.
Assumed to be a Function as a Service (FaaS), serverless proves apt if there are unexpected traffic spikes that need to be immediately handled. In case of absence of traffic, there is no work in progress and hence it turns out quite cost effective.
There are certain characteristics of a serverless architecture like auto-scaling, nil administration, event-driven workflow, stateless functions and pay as per usage that increases its demand amongst users.
Code execution without server management with Lambda
Host static websites on S3 with serverless databases like DynamoDB
Cron jobs where there is regular scheduling of functions at a specific time
Ideal for short-running processes, Microservices architecture, data stream/image processing, web APIs
The container technology focusses towards remote stateless environments that help in extracting away variances in OS distributions and basic infrastructures. Containers are light in weight, independent, executable packages of software that encompass all elements needed to run it like code, libraries, system tools, runtime, etc.
It is like a virtual machine, simulating a real machine with many similarities but significant architectural variations. Containers execute on a unified OS kernel isolating itself from the environment when moved from a single computing background to another.
Moving software solution from development to staging to production smoothly irrespective of environmental differences
Refactoring existing monolithic apps to container-based setups
Ideal for Web APIs, machine learning calculations, long-running progressions
How Does Serverless Computing And Container Technology Work?
How Does Serverless Work?
Write code in different languages like Java, Go, C#, Python, Ruby, etc.
Set basic configuration parameters
Upload all that is needed with dependent parameters
Execute the function by calling it from an app running on the service
Deploy the function in a container that works till your job is done
Serverless works in the background taking care of everything except for providing the code
It is in charge of provision, deploy and manage the container that is being used
How Does Container Technology Work?
Disseminates a large and complex monolithic app into container based microservices
Tailors the novel architecture based on the requirements of the new system
Offers total control over distinct containers, the entire system, and the virtualized infrastructure on which it executes
It sets policies, performs resource management and marks high-end security over the entire setup
It optimizes the usage of container management and migration offerings
The Good And The Bad – Serverless And Container
Pros And Cons Of Serverless
Advantages Of Serverless
You pay for the time when the server is executing the action thereby saving big time, i.e. pay per execution
Facilitates the app to be flexible and scale up and down up to multiple concurrent users thereby Increasing app performance
Saves on time spent in server management
The cloud service provider takes care of everything about provisioning infrastructure and managing downtime
Faster go to market
Reduces development time
Adjusts well with microservices and helps developers build their own instances
No need to offer specific cloud servers and hence available all the time
Serverless functions are small, simple and have little overhead
They are low in maintenance, offer automatic scaling, manual scaling as needed, i.e. autoscaling
Pointedly condensed administration and maintenance load
No security patches, no OS updates to handle as the provider does it all
Disadvantages Of Serverless
Not many third-party tools available for observability
May take some time for the container to spin up i.e. cold startup or latency could be experienced
Fixed limits for processing power and memory
Functions may get overloaded and hence needs better coding
Vendor lock-in a matter of concern
Not fit for long executing apps as it has time limits prior to termination
Less control over the server and hence tough to build complex apps
Needs a lot of coordination and dependency management within all serverless functions
Pros And Cons Of Containers
Advantages Of Containers
Highly portable, can combine apps and their dependencies and execute it anywhere
Total control over your application and virtualized infrastructure
Easy to manage security policies, container environment, resources, and deployment
Can be as large and complex as needed without any restriction on memory or time
Effective and inclusive debugging and testing with a wide range of resources
Performance fine tuning can be easily done on a microservice level
Complete analytics can be implemented in detail at a drill down level
Vendor-agnostic, flexible and has an easier migration strategy
Disadvantages Of Containers
No auto-scaling available, you need to set it up and manage yourself. Hence a hard start
Offers a certain amount of complexity since more of manual intervention
Could lead to increased costs, time and efforts because of the extra efforts put in
Running costs could be more because of payment for server resources even when not needed
Development process could be slower due to the self-management of containers
Monitoring of scattered and constantly changing containers is a challenge
Tough to ensure data and storage scalability
Which To Choose And When?
Serverless Computing Is Recommended When
You need apps that are all set to perform tasks but don’t need to be running all the time
You have IoT based applications that get activated only in certain situations
Development speed and cost optimization are of prime importance
There is the need for auto-scaling
There is a requirement for tying into legacy systems that handle specific business logic
You need to handle high volume backend tasks for websites and mobile apps
There are resource intensive real-time procedures, data streaming, and uploads
There is a need to move data to long-term storage and perform detailed analytics over it
Container Technology Is Recommended When
There are complex and long executing applications and you require a high level of environment control
You need to migrate monolithic legacy apps to the cloud (Kubernetes and Docker Swarm are apt) or into a containerized environment
You need to work for an eCommerce website which needs container wises packaging of services with no time or memory limits
There is a need for flexibility and total control over the system
You wish to have the chance to choose your OS and the programming language
You want the system to automatically handle the traffic hassles
Can Serverless And Container Technology Work Together? An Unbiased Analysis
But what if integrate with each other? Would they serve to be a rewarding and powerful combination? Would they end up filling in space for each other’s places or would they turn out as spoilers?
The answer is undoubted!!! Serverless and containers can complement each other to offer a rewarding experience to users. Here are certain prominent characteristics that showcase the benefits that both, together can offer and bring out the best in each other:
Serverless computing can work with containers, rather than replacing them since it cannot be a substitute for container deployment and management
There could be a huge complex application with container-based architecture in which there could be some back-end tasks like data transfer, backups, etc. that can be performed with the serverless mechanism
There are tools which can combine the portable nature of containers with the ease of use that serverless offers
In the case of large complex systems, containers can offload background / outside tasks to serverless without binding their own resources. In the same way, serverless can offer services to disparate clients and can be managed independently without any container intervention
For work areas that are long executing, need more resilience and execute at a uniform level constantly, containers could do the job and for all other work areas, serverless could chip in to do the needful.
Wrapping It Up
Being constantly compared and competing, Serverless and containers are inseparable from each other now and as we read through, have turned out to be mutual supporting hands for the other. In the continuously evolving technological era, both these methodologies are proving their worth and bringing out the best in each other.
Our article has, based on experience attempted to highlight detailed nuances of each, the pros and cons of each, when to use what and what they can do together. What is needed is a balanced equilibrium between the two based on project needs. You can choose ‘either-or’ or both, depending upon the various factors as discussed above. If statistics are to be believed globally, a hybrid approach would turn out best. But then, to each its own!
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