The Common Challenges of Serverless Solutions

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By RevDeBug

Serverless architecture entered the development scene in 2004, but it really started to hit popularity in 2016 after  Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduced Lambda (Functions as a Service). Since then, it has paved the way for dynamic cloud-based service models to gain momentum and compete with traditional on-premise solutions.

While the concept of running software applications using serverless architecture isn’t exactly new, there are still quite a few kinks to work out before it becomes the perfect solution.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the most common problems with serverless solutions so you can decide whether this type of architecture is right for you. Keep reading to learn more.

The Most Common Serverless Challenges

When we talk about serverless architecture, we’re thinking about running code execution without the need to manage the infrastructure. Cloud service providers delivering FaaS (Function as a Service) platforms allow developers to develop and execute their code without having to deal with managing the server-side logistics, infrastructure, scaling, and so on. 

While serverless architecture has many pros and cons, it won’t become a perfect solution until you can understand what challenges you will be dealing with:    

Architecture, Architecture, Architecture

What’s interesting most of the problems in serverless result from a poor understanding of the architecture concept and how use cases could be applied to a specific system. 

Serverless architecture is a much wider concept than individual implementation on a specific platform (Function as a Service). You can’t write code the same way as you wrote it before – you need to adjust to new patterns and choose wisely what and how you want to implement. 

A poorly selected technical solution may hurt User Experience (e.g. cold start). You also need to understand the pros and cons of Stateless vs Stateful communication. In this case, you decide if you are looking for speed of execution, ephemeral communications, scaling of cost-efficiency, or something else.

Wrong assumptions, lack of distinction between serverless architecture, and understanding of individual implementations on FaaS platforms mean that even well-functioning test concepts do not always work efficiently in the production implementation.

Lack of skills and resources

Serverless as any cloud service looks simple, but in reality, it’s a complex concept that doesn’t suit everyone’s needs. When you decide on using them you can’t forget about skilling your team and providing them with the necessary resources. 

Unfortunately, even if this concept is on the market for more than 15 years we still lack people who have a large experience in this area. There is much more work than available resources on the market, especially now when everyone is undergoing an accelerated transformation. 

Lack of experience, poor knowledge of specific platforms, and using old habits to develop serverless functions results in many problems that could be costly for your business. You will end with technology debt, poor architecture, implementation errors which will generate additional costs.     Newer Security Risks

Security, when it comes to serverless solutions tends to fall in both of the pros and cons columns. In this case, when you combine the lack of control you’ll have over your software system and the fact that it will now be in the hands of the vendor, security is arguably one of the most important things to think about before going serverless. Especially when security is strictly connected with the technical implementation behind each FaaS platform. 

Testing and Debugging Difficulty

Because of the way serverless functions are distributed and hosted, the environment they’re in is difficult to replicate.

This tends to complicate local testing and debugging since these two things require at least an ability to recreate the environment to figure out where there’s an issue. 

This is why setting up proper monitoring for serverless applications is a critical component of working with an event-driven architecture. If you’re able to set up monitoring and observability for your application correctly, you’ll have an easier time running the necessary tests and debugging any coding issues that crop up.

Little to No Monitoring Abilities

Not only are serverless architectures difficult to test and debug, but they’re also difficult to monitor. This is because we are on the hunt for proper tools for monitoring serverless apps and all of their integrations. 

FaaS platforms are good at providing tools for their own services when you need to connect information from them with data from other parts of your infrastructure it’s not that simple. You need to go beyond traces, logs (if you don’t forget to add them), and metrics. The ephemerality of functions means that there is a good chance the situation you just encountered can’t be easily reproduced and understood without seeing the code state that led to it. 

To effectively monitor a serverless application, you’ll need to find a monitoring tool that can work with your whole stack, limits of specific platforms, and automatically instruments your code with code, and easily integrates with your CI/CD pipeline. 

Additional Latency and Cold Starts

With serverless architecture, most of the time your code will only run as needed. This is usually seen as cost-effective since your service provider will only charge you for the time that your code is up and running.

However, this also creates latency issues for the less used functions. Otherwise known as a “cold start,” the bits of code that aren’t constantly active are put on the architecture’s backburner, so to speak. That means when it comes time to run your functions, it’ll take time for that coding to re-start and become active, which can slow down your processes.

This is something that you can combat but it means that you need to use dedicated services or build dedicated processes keeping your functions alive which of course could have an impact on the cost side.

Cost structure misunderstanding 

Serverless is probably the first architecture concept in the IT world that gives the ability to assess the cost-effectiveness of specific parts of the code. When we have specific functions running it’s easy to see how much they cost – simply speaking it’s the number of invocations of the code multiplied by the time spent on the execution. It’s a huge difference between monolith systems where it was really hard to decide what is worth optimizing. 

Faas requires a good understanding of all cost elements like computing, networking, storage, and pricing plans. Serverless gives the ability to optimize cost, but it’s important to understand how cost structure relates to our architecture decision. The wrong implementation of long-running processes or simple errors can result in additional invocations or longer computing time drastically increasing costs. 

In essence, it seems like there are a lot of problems with serverless which are resulting from poor knowledge and not understanding the architecture behind them… As long as you take the proper steps to prepare yourself and your team to work with serverless architecture, you should be fine.

After all,  serverless as any technology will always have its pitfalls.   

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