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The evolution of modern computing: serverless solutions versus containers

Serverless solutions versus containers–that is the question at the center of new trends in modern enterprise computing that seeks the best way to develop, deploy, and manage applications and infrastructure in an era of new ideas, devices, and virtual experiences.

Before we can answer whether one solution is the right fit, and the extent to which they complement one another, it is necessary to gain a clear understanding of the similarities and differences between serverless computing and containers. Both are tools developers can use to build the new enterprise, and each has its place in your digital transformation strategy.

What is serverless computing?

Serverless computing allows developers to create and run applications without thinking about server limitations such as provisioning, scaling, and managing.

Functions are executed in a cloud environment and billed by the amount of time the process is running rather than by how long the server is up. A function is often triggered by an event, runs for a set time, then goes inactive until it is triggered again.

Unlike the name suggests, serverless computing does not actually eliminate the need for a server. Rather, it outsources the code to the cloud provider’s infrastructure, where the application is run and ultimately returns the result, typically in milliseconds.

The primary advantage of a serverless environment is that developers no longer need to be concerned about the limitations of the server and can instead focus solely on the code.

What are containers?

A container refers to the isolated packaging of a service or application for deployment, execution, and scaling.

Containers allow a user to run an application in a resource-isolated process, which improves efficiency by eliminating the need to run a virtual machine (VM) for each application.

Containers allow a developer to package code, configurations, and dependencies into easy-to-use building blocks that promote institutional consistency, operational efficiency, developer productivity, and version control.

Containers take up much less space than VMs, can handle more applications, and require fewer VMs and Operating Systems.

Serverless versus containers (similarities)

Serverless computing and containers can be used to strategically position enterprise users so they are ready to leverage the next phase of digital transformation to achieve optimal results.

Serverless computing and containers achieve similar goals by allowing code to operate inside isolated, discrete environments. While they are by no means identical technologies, they achieve similar results, but in different ways.

Both are designed to meet future changes, and to leverage the latest innovations in cloud computing. While they are designed to meet different needs and are deployed using different tools, they share many common features, including:

  • The use of finite pieces of code that are well suited for microservice architectures
  • Ease of deployment across distributed architectures which means they are commonly being used in the cloud
  • Quick start times (usually within a few seconds)
  • Heavy reliance on APIs to coordinate integration with external resources
  • Reliance on external resources for persistent storage needs

Management and security (differences)

While serverless computing and containers share common traits, managing and securing these different technology strategies requires a different approach.

Serverless. In a serverless environment, end users have little control over the host server and the operating system on which applications run. Workloads consume large amounts of data over short periods of time, which means that avoiding unnecessary resource consumption becomes critically important in managing the computing bill. Most workloads are run on a public cloud using AWS Lambda or Azure Functions, which limits the number of tools available to manage and secure those functions.

Containers. Maintenance of the host operating system in a container environment is critical. Efficiency is less important with containers than it is with serverless technology because container applications are designed to run for longer periods of time and may not constantly consumer resources. Because containers are often deployed on-premises or on a generic cloud infrastructure, the toolset is less restrictive than in a serverless environment.

Serverless versus containers–which is best for your business?

Containers are more difficult to build and are more complex to orchestrate and deploy. However, containers offer developers more control over how the application runs and performs, and are more portable.

Serverless solutions are better suited to short, small, single-function operations. A serverless solution allows developers to quickly and efficiently access cloud-specific services for speedy development and deployment.

While a serverless environment eliminates concerns over provisioning, deployment, and maintenance, developers lose access direct access to the containers. By choosing a serverless environment, developers sacrifice autonomy for increased speed and lower costs but this can also make it difficult to debug issues.

One approach is to use serverless computing strategies and containers in the same project, but for different purposes. Use serverless functions for data processing and other triggered events, and use containers when you need control, scalability, and management through orchestration tools.

Find a technology partner that implements the right tools for optimal results

If your organization is struggling to answer the serverless versus containers question, work with a technology partner who can identify and implement the right tools and ensure they are being used to provide optimal results.

To learn more, download the Application and Infrastructure Modernization infosheet.

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