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Both microservices and serverless are currently the most important topics in the field of cloud native computing. However, although serverless functions and microservices architecture usually go hand in hand, they are different technologies and play different roles in modern software environments. While both serverless and microservices technologies are designed to host highly scalable solutions. However, they are not the same thing. Let us understand what these technologies are, their benefits, challenges and which one should you use for your application development?

What Are Microservices?

Building a microservice architecture (MSA) consists of multiple autonomous components, which are inter-connected using APIs. Each of these components (called microservices) performs a single function or process. Each microservice is deployed in a container that runs as a standalone application. Essentially, each microservice contains three basic elements – own database, libraries, and templates; that operates as stand-alone application.

Generally, DevOps teams decompose all the features and functions of a software application into individual services, so that the full functionality of the application is preserved while the application is transformed into a decentralized model. The team defines the dependencies between these components and then assigns a component to different development teams for development and maintenance. While doing so, each of these microservices is independently developed and tested before they can be deployed in isolated containers.

Through this framework, even if a microservice is interrupted or maintained, it is easier to repair and redeploy without affecting other services or the entire framework. Besides, microservices can also improve the reliability and performance of an application by distracting the footprint of the application: if a microservice fails, the rest of the application will continue to run, so your users will not be completely locked out. In addition, because microservices are smaller than the entire application, starting a new microservice to replace the failed instance (or increasing the capacity when the application load increases) is faster than reloading the entire application.

When to Use Microservices and What are its Benefits?

Microservices are most suitable for applications and systems that are evolving, complex, and require high scalability. Especially for applications that involve a large amount of data processing, microservices are an ideal choice because you can decompose complex functions into multiple services for easy development and maintenance. A few 

  • Flexibility in Adding / Updating Features: You can roll out or update one feature at a time instead of updating the entire application stack,
  • Resilience: As the application is divided, the interruption or crash of a part of the application does not necessarily affect the rest of the application,
  • Flexibility for Developers: Microservices can be written in different languages, and each has its own library,
  • Selective Scalability: Instead of extending the entire application, only microservices with high usage can be extended

Challenges of Microservice Frameworks are

  • Increased overhead for managing multiple databases, ensuring data consistency, and continuously monitoring each microservice
  • The need for expertise and computing resources can be expensive
  • Distributed environment requires stricter interface control and high-test coverage
  • More vulnerable to security attacks
  • It may be too slow and complicated for small companies that need rapid implementation and iteration

Now, let’s move to serverless.

What is Serverless?

Serverless is a model in which application code is executed on demand in response to triggers configured in advance by the application developer. Code that runs in this way (called a serverless function) can represent the entire application. However, it is more common to use serverless functions to implement discrete units of application functions.

Compared with traditional cloud-based or server-centric infrastructure, serverless computing has many advantages. For many developers, serverless architecture provides greater scalability, greater flexibility, and faster release times at a lower cost. With serverless architecture, developers don’t need to worry about purchasing, configuring, and managing back-end servers. However, serverless computing is not a panacea for all web application developers.

Benefits of a Serverless Environment

  • Reduce the time and expense used to build, maintain and upgrade the underlying infrastructure
  • Reduce the cost of hiring database and server experts
  • More focus on developing high-quality applications with faster deployment speed
  • Best suited for short-term and real-time processes that are client-intensive and expected to grow
  • Multiple subscription-based pricing models for efficient budget forecasting
  • Fast scalability-does not affect performance

Challenges of Serverless Environments

  • Applications or functions that have been inactive for a long time may require a cold start to run, which requires additional time and effort 
  • Technical changes may make the transition to another supplier challenging
  • If/when adjacent tenants deploy error codes, multi-tenant serverless platforms may introduce performance issues or errors in the pool platform
  • Commitment to sign a long-term contract with a management third party

Conclusion

While making an informed decision on which to use, you should consider these points – The level of granularity of serverless affects tools and frameworks. This is because the higher the granularity, the more complex integration testing becomes, making debugging, troubleshooting, and testing more difficult. In contrast, microservices are a mature method and are well supported by tools and processes.

Time to market also plays a role. Due to the lightweight programming model and ease of operation of the serverless architecture, the time to market for new features is greatly reduced, which is a key driving factor for many companies. This also means that Functions as a Service (FaaS) can be used for data processing to quickly prototype Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to showcase new technologies to investors or customers. Although microservices still provide a reliable approach to Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), serverless is making progress in event-based architecture and has clear advantages in shortening time to market, flexible pricing, and lower operating costs.

It is unlikely now that serverless will or should be the method of every system-but as it matures, it very well could. Best solution right now is to combine these two architectural approaches to help deliver and leverage the benefits of cloud for you and your end users. Serverless is a way to host microservices, but it is not the only way. You also don’t deploy and manage microservices in exactly the same way as serverless functions. Both of these technologies provide important advantages for cloud native computing, but they solve different types of problems. Given your requirement, you could either opt for serverless or microservices or both.

From core to cloud to edge, we deliver custom software development services and cloud-native application development services to leading enterprises, industrial customers, and tech start-ups to accelerate their digital transformation journey. To know how we can assist you in crafting your digital journey with microservices or serverless, reach out to us today!


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Nitin

Nitin Tappe

After successful stint in a corporate role, Nitin is back to what he enjoys most – conceptualizing new software solutions to solve business problems. Nitin is a postgraduate from IIT, Mumbai, India and in his 24 years of career, has played key roles in building a desktop as well as enterprise solutions right from idealization to launch which are adopted by many Fortune 500 companies. As a Founder member of Pratiti Technologies, he is committed to applying his management learning as well as the passion for building new solutions to realize your innovation with certainty.

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