What is AWS Lambda? How it removes complexity of dealing with cloud based servers at all levels of technology stack, its advantages and use cases.

Business are benefiting by running their applications on the public cloud. There are several cost-saving advantages of using pay-as-you-go billing facilities. Organizations can improve their agility levels by subscribing to on-demand IT resources provided by cloud companies. Studies indicate businesses benefit directly by reducing their total cost of ownership (TCO) by migrating to cloud-based architectures. The total time-to-market also reduces considerably by moving to the cloud.

Even though the cloud makes it very simple to build and deploy the applications that run on them, companies can now avail additional benefits by using a cloud technology involving a different approach towards application design – One that can drastically reduce costs and offer much quicker time-to-market.

Cloud servers – Are they utilized properly?

The cloud eliminates the need for companies to own their own hardware and maintain expensive server-based architectures to run their business processes. However, a need remains to scale applications and maintain their reliability at the time of deployment. As business needs evolve and more processes are required to automate operations, companies have to scale up their cloud architecture by availing additional resources on their existing servers, or even order a new set of servers – virtual or physical – as and when required. Efforts have to be made to maintain good access times during peak hours and manage other activities when the traffic levels are low. From the operations point of view, there can be nothing more non-productive for a company than a server that remains idle most of the times. As per market findings, almost eighty-five per cent of servers remain underutilized in a typical cloud setup.

Understanding serverless applications

There are many advantages of using a serveless approach, however, what separates it from conventional cloud servers? Serverless apps are architected in a manner such that developers can focus upon their core competency i.e. designing the core business logic. Several app’s boilerplate components such as the web server and all of its underlying software, which handles reliability and scaling aspects, are completely hidden from the developer. What remains is a clean, functional approach wherein the business logic is triggered only when needed – For example when a mobile user sends a message, an image is uploaded to the cloud, when records arrive in a stream and so forth. An event-based asynchronous approach to application design, common to serverless applications is made redundant, and in its place the concept of running the code only when some work is to be done is introduced.

A serverless application running in the public cloud receives events and subsequently instantiates and executes the code. This model offers several advantages as compared to a conventional server-based application design:

  • No need to provision, deploy, update, monitor, or manage servers – All hardware and software is handled by cloud provider.
  • The application can scale automatically when its use is triggered by end-user. This is fundamentally different compared to conventional applications which often require a receiver fleet and a special process to scale during peak load times.
  • In addition to scaling, all availability and fault tolerance aspects are embedded in the architecture. There’s no need to code, configure, or manage the server to avail these capabilities.
  • There is no billing charge when the server remains idle.

AWS Lambda – The solution

Lambda removes the complexity of dealing with cloud based servers at all levels of technology stack, and offers a pay-per-request billing model where you don’t have to pay for idle computing time. AWS Lambda is offered as a compute service. It lets you run your code without provisioning or managing any other server. It executes the code only when needed. It can scale automatically to handle a few requests per day, and even support more than thousands of requests per second. You have to pay only for the server time you actually consume – there’s no billing if your code is not being executed by the service. Moreover, you can run your code for almost any type of application and/or backend services with zero administration costs.

  • Lambda runs your code on a high-availability compute infrastructure.
  • It performs administration of all resources availed, including any server or operating system maintenance activities, capacity provisioning, automatic scaling, code monitoring and code logging.
  • You merely have to supply your code in any of the supported languages – Node.js, Java, C# and Python are supported now.

Lambda’s dual economic advantages

  • Lambda never remains “cold” since there is no “idle server time”. Companies can benefit directly by reduced billing costs using the pay-as-you-go model. The service offers millisecond level billing granularity so no more rounding up of figures. If you’ve utilized a millisecond of Lambda than you just pay for that millisecond and not for the entire minute. This significantly reduces your cost of ownership.
  • Fleet management activities, including security patching, code deployment and monitoring of servers are made redundant so you’re not required to maintain associated tools and processes, and upkeep other tech activities to support 24×7 up times.

Lambda applications use cases

Lambda’s serverless application model is generic and can be applied to almost any type of application – From a startup venture’s simple web application to a Fortune 100 company’s stock trade-analysis platform. Here are a few examples where Lambda can be used:

  • Web apps and websites

By eliminating servers, it is possible to design web apps that don’t cost anything when there’s no traffic. The server can scale dynamically at peak hours to handle excessive traffic loads.

  • Mobile backends

Serverless mobile backends facilitate developers to easily create secure, available, and perfectly scaled backends without having to gain special expertise in designing robust apps.

  • Media and log processing

A serverless approach offers natural parallelism so it becomes easier to process workloads. You don’t need a complex multi-threaded system or require to scale entire compute fleets to handle heavy workloads.

  • IT automation

Serverless functionality can be easily availed and customized as per need, as and when needed. It becomes very easy and simple to scale applications when the nature and scope of your business changes. If you’re required to add or remove certain operational processes within your business model to adapt to changing market conditions, you can design and setup new modules without much hassles to automate your business the related IT processes.

  • IoT backends

You can incorporate any code and native libraries to simplify the creation of cloud-based device-specific algorithms.

  • Chatbots, voice-enabled assistants and other web hook based systems

A serverless approach can be a perfect fit for any web hook based system, including a chatbot tool. Since code is executed to perform certain actions only when needed, such as when an end user requests some information from a chatbot, AWS Lambda can be perfect choice for such applications as permanent threads are not required to keep communication channels open 24×7. The majority of Alexa Skills for Amazon Echo are implemented using AWS Lambda.