Thursday, 7 December, 2017 UTC


Summary

Serverless is one of the new buzz words that you’ve probably heard. It refers to a type of deployment where the server is abstracted away. It doesn’t mean there aren’t servers, just that you don’t have to provision the servers yourself. We’ll explore this in the post.
In some cases, serverless can free your enterprise from the costs of maintaining infrastructure, upgrades, and provisioning servers. In this post, we’ll explore the basics of what serverless is, how it differs from microservices (another buzzword), some possible benefits, and how Couchbase Server fits into the picture.
What is Serverless?
With serverless, you simply write code (usually in form of functions/methods). You can do so with many popular languages, including C#, JavaScript (Node), Java, and so on. This code is deployed to a cloud provider like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and more.
Your code is triggered by events. Events can be as simple as HTTP requests, or they could be many other types of events, depending on what the cloud platform supports. (Azure, for instance, supports Timer, GitHub, etc).
Within the cloud, the servers that execute that code are automatically provisioned (and decommissioned) by the cloud provider on an as-needed basis.
You might also see the terms BaaS (Backend as a Service) or FaaS (Function as a Service). Recently, the meaning of the “serverless” buzz word has been expanded, but this post mainly focuses on FaaS/BaaS cloud services.
Serverless vs Microservices
There are some similarities between serverless and microservices, but they are not the same thing. Both are approaches to break an application into smaller, independent pieces. They differ in what is deployed and what you manage.
As an example, if you are using a microservice architecture, you might have a “shopping cart” service (in addition to other services like “user profile”, “inventory”, etc). Here’s a diagram of a very simple microservice.
Notice some properties of the microservice:
  • Its responsibility pertains only to the shopping cart. It is not a complete application by itself.
  • The service contains a number of possible operations, but they are all part of the service.
  • The microservice communicates with a database (possibly a dedicated database) to complete operations.
  • The microservice deployed to the cloud may use a VM that requires provisioning. Even while this service is idle, you’ll be charged for VM time.
Contrast this with a similar set of features, this time created with a serverless approach.
In the serverless architecture,
  • There are 4 functions which can be deployed separately (instead of 1 service)
  • Each function is able to communicate with the database
  • You don’t have to provision a VM, you just deploy a function.
  • The function only consumes resources when needed (and you are only charged for actual use, not idle time)
Shown in the above diagram are only standard HTTP requests. You could also use a Timer event, for instance, to check every 5 minutes to see if there are any abandoned shopping carts.
Benefits of Serverless
There are some benefits (and trade-offs) when using a serverless architecture.
One benefit is that scalability is handled by the cloud provider. If demand or usage increases, the cloud provider can compensate by adding more server(s) when necessary.
Another benefit is that costs are tied to usage. If you have a service that is constantly in use, you might not see any benefits. But if you have a service that is sporadically used, then serverless may provide cost savings.
Finally, it’s possible that a serverless architecture can reduce administration costs. You don’t need to wait for a server to be commissioned. This may improve agile iteration if commissioning VMs or servers are time consuming. It can reduce your need for IT operations, at least initially, because there are no servers to deploy, fewer servers to manage/upgrade/etc. All this may lead to improved developer productivity.
It’s important to note that serverless is not a silver bullet. Your application may not be a good fit for this kind of decomposition. Also, if you end up deploying a large number of serverless functions, you will still need operations people to manage, monitor, and test your functions. Definitely check out the benefits and drawbacks in detail at MartinFowler.com.
Couchbase and Serverless together
There are several popular serverless providers:
  • Microsoft Azure Functions
  • Amazon AWS Lambda
  • Google Cloud Platform Cloud Functions
Couchbase Server has partnered with each of these major cloud providers and can run on any of those platforms. In addition, you can run Couchbase Server across multiple cloud vendors for improved reach, disaster recovery, and diversification. You can also use Couchbase Server in a hybrid-cloud situation (a mix of cloud and on-premises).
This makes Couchbase a great choice when you need a NoSQL document database, no matter your cloud strategy:
No vendor lock in. With Couchbase, you aren’t even locked into the cloud, much less a single cloud vendor. With XDCR, you can go cloud-first, and have an on-premises cluster for disaster recovery, or deploy Couchbase to multiple clouds.
Cloud marketplace offerings. You can get started in minutes: on Microsoft Azure, AWS, or GCP.
Tools for your programming language. Couchbase offers SDKs for Node.js, .NET, Java, PHP, Python, Go, C/C++, as well as community support for many others. No matter your serverless platform or language preferences, Couchbase has you covered. Check out this blog post on Azure Functions with Couchbase Server for a technical intro using .NET/C#/Azure.
Scaling. With Couchbase Server, scaling is easy and efficient. Couchbase’s architecture is designed for scaling, with built-in replication, autosharding, and data distribution. Every node in a Couchbase cluster can do both reads and writes, providing efficient use of computing resources and high availability.
Flexibility of JSON. Many apps can benefit from a flexible schema, even if you’re using a relational database. Check out this whitepaper on why Couchbase is the engagement database that can work alongside your transactional and analytical database to provide an exceptional customer experience.
Summary
Serverless takes decomposition of your application back-end one step further.
Storing JSON data in Couchbase Server gives you flexibility with both schema and scaling.
Is serverless right for you? It’s not a silver bullet, but if you’re interested in benefiting from lower costs and easier deployment, we’d be happy to help you create a careful plan and discuss whether or not it’s a right fit for your application. You can contact me by leaving a comment, or finding me on Twitter @mgroves.
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