As serverless computing models start to provide more efficient means of utilizing cloud infrastructure, a race is now on among cloud service providers to provide a capability that essentially eliminates the need for application developers to even be aware of virtual machines or the physical servers they happen to be running on.
This week, IBM advanced its case for an open serverless computing platform called OpenWhisk. The latest release of OpenWhisk adds support for new runtime engines in the form of Java, Node v6, Python and Swift v3 and an extension for Microsoft Visual Studio Code. Also included are debugging tools for NodeJS, Python and Swift actions and integration with MessageHub, an Apache Kafka service for real-time build-outs of data pipelines and streaming applications that is hosted on the IBM Bluemix platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment.
IBM makes OpenWhisk available in two forms. One is an instance running on Bluemix, which is IBM’s implementation of the open source Cloud Foundry. The other form is an open source project that enables IT organizations to implement OpenWhisk on their own.
Michael Behrendt, chief architect for the IBM Bluemix Core Platform, says IBM expects OpenWhisk to be most often deployed by cloud service providers aiming to maximize usage of IT infrastructure in support of event-driven applications. Behrendt says thanks to the rise of mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) applications, the number of event-driven applications is on the rise. Those applications are especially well-suited for consuming IT infrastructure resources on demand using a microservices architecture that OpenWhisk enables, says Behrendt.
In fact, Behrendt says, that’s one of the primary reasons why OpenWhisk supports the Swift programming language developed by Apple.
IBM is clearly positioning OpenWhisk as an alternative to the Lamba serverless platform that Amazon Web Services (AWS) has built. The primary difference between the two offerings is that OpenWhisk is built on open standards, says Behrendt. In the case of OpenWhisk, IT organizations will have the option of moving their applications to another platform.
“We think lock-in will be a significant customer concern,” says Behrendt.
Obviously, when it comes to serverless computing, it is still early days. But many IT organizations are starting to question the wisdom of paying for virtual machines on an hourly basis. Serverless computing provides an alternative approach that not only provides much higher utilization of IT infrastructure, it should prove to be considerably less expensive for all concerned.