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Is Serverless the New Container?

Arthur Cole

Like pop music, the enterprise industry has a way of creating hot new stars one day and abandoning them the next.

A case in point is virtualization and containers. Virtualization burned up the charts right up until containers came along with a sleeker, more portable solution. Now, it seems that containers are headed for the “where are they now?” category with the advent of serverless computing.

According to Silicon Angle, the buzz at the AWS Summit in New York this week was primarily about serverless eclipsing containers as the best way to build and support emerging applications and services. While this might be expected at a gathering of Amazon aficionados, given Amazon’s Lambda platform pretty much kicked off the serverless movement to begin with, the fact remains that a number of intriguing use cases are starting to crop up in serverless architectures. Some firms are going partially serverless to support admin and other functions, while others like Cloud Guru and IOpipe have gone all-in on the technology.

One of the chief benefits that serverless brings to emerging models like DevOps is its ability to support collaborative workflows without subjecting IT teams to a steep learning curve, says tech consultant Andrew Froehlich. A key stumbling block to DevOps is that both development and operations infrastructure need to be in proper alignment in order to provide ongoing support. Serverless addresses this need through the automatic provisioning and scaling of servers, which frees up enormous amounts of time for creative development. Converting legacy apps to serverless environments is rather difficult, however, so don’t expect serverless to dominate data infrastructure right away.


Another way that serverless can support emerging architectures is through automated event routing. Microsoft recently added the Azure Event Grid to its public cloud, which Forbes’ Janakiram MSV claims will be the foundation of its serverless strategy going forward. The Event Grid is essentially a lightweight infrastructure devoted to the exchange of messages between applications. Some apps generate data while others consume it, and the Event Grid provides a quick way for them to respond to these events. By tightly integrating Event Grid with underlying computer, storage and networking services on the Azure platform, Microsoft makes it easy for developers to consume events without having to configure or reconfigure resources.

But while serverless does seem to be on the upswing and it does offer some advantages over containers, it’s way too soon to call the ultimate demise of the latter. As Computing’s John Leonard points out, the IT industry has been through this before: The arrival of a new technology instantly spurs speculation as to what it will displace. But serverless technology has a few flaws that may diminish its standing once it hits production environments. One of the most prominent is vendor lock-in, which could lead to data silos in the cloud. With an open container management platform like Kubernetes, developers have much more leeway to orchestrate various serverless platforms without sacrificing flexibility or stability.

It would seem, then, that like virtually every technology rivalry to date – tape vs. disk, disk vs. solid state, mainframe vs. server – serverless and containers will each bring their own value propositions to the enterprise and will likely end up working together to produce innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

As the old saying goes, there’s a tool for every task, and when the project is highly complex, you’ll probably need more than one tool to get the job done.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


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