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As the digital world transcends our reality more and more, it’s only natural that we see developments to help people create and manage websites.

One such way is the somewhat misnamed “serverless technology”, which is a way for developers to set up web services without any stress of running a server.

Let’s take a look at serverless technology, and answer some fundamental questions on the matter:

  • What is serverless technology?
  • What are the most important pros and cons of using serverless?
  • How is serverless related to Jamstack?
  • When is it worth implementing serverless and Jamstack together?
  • Relational Databases vs. Non-Relational Databases (NoSQL Databases)
  • What practices should you follow when choosing a serverless database?
  • What serverless databases are available on the market?

What is Serverless Technology?

On-Premises Serverless vs. Cloud-Based Serverless

Before we go any further, we should explain something important. This article is focused on serverless databases and their benefits, not on serverless technology itself. This implies a few simplifications as we don’t have much space to dwell into details.

Let’s just mention that within serverless technology you’ll find at least two main approaches: on-premises serverless (you have your own infrastructure and use it in a serverless way) and cloud-based serverless (you need vendor’s resources). To illustrate serverless databases environment in an easy and approachable way, we’ll stick more to the second solution.

In a world where every person, business and service needs a website, hosting services need to make it as easy as possible to create one.

That’s what serverless technology is all about. By removing the server from the equation, customers have one less thing to worry about when setting up their digital space.

Cloud-Based Serverless technology does this by hosting websites in the cloud. This allows the host to customize the number of resources that go into the website, allowing it to adapt to the customer’s needs. The person creating the site no longer has to worry about setting up the server – they just create the site and let the cloud handle the rest.

Is a Serverless Platform Made up of Servers?

You may have noticed something strange about the previous paragraph: “serverless technology” requires the cloud to work. However, “the cloud” is just a term for a bank of servers connected to the Internet. That doesn’t really make it “serverless” at all!

That’s why the name is not the best for this type of service because there are definitely servers running in the background.

The main concept behind the name “serverless” is that it removes the requirements for users to configure a server. In this way, the customer has a “serverless” experience, despite the fact that servers are still used extensively to host the website.

serverless_definition

How Does Serverless Technology Work?

Let’s say you sign up for a serverless option when you want to host a website. What happens on the other end of this service?

As we said above, serverless technology simplifies the management of a user’s server and places it on the server itself. This means that it covers all the usual calculation parameters, such as storage space and memory.

This uses what is called “Function-as-a-Service” or “FaaS” for short. When the cloud receives code to be executed by the user, it calculates how many resources are needed to do it. It then examines its servers and distributes the resources needed to run the process just assigned to it.

The server must also recognize when a process needs to be scaled up or down. If someone hosts a website that sees an influx of visitors, the server automatically adapts to this and allocates more resources to the website. When the flow of visitors decreases, the server may use fewer resources to keep the site online. It then calculates the number of resources used over a month andcharges the total to the user.

What Are the Most Important Pros and Cons of Serverless?

Now that we understand the concept itself, let’s see how it connects with the world of business.

Pros of Serverless Technology

By now, you have a good idea of some of the benefits that serverless technology brings to the table. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of adopting the technology.

No Server Management

This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of adopting the serverless technology model. Although the term ‘serverless’ could be misinterpreted to imply that there are no servers involved, the fact is that applications still run on servers. The crux of the matter is that the management of servers is entirely up to the cloud provider, leaving you more time to work on your applications.

Easy and Efficient Scaling

The serverless infrastructure allows for the automatic scaling of applications in response to an increase in usage, demand, or user base growth. If the application runs on multiple instances, the servers will start and stop as needed. In a traditional cloud configuration, a spike in traffic or activity can easily overload server resources, causing inconsistencies with the running application.

serverless_pros

Built-in Availability

As a developer, you don’t need to create special infrastructure to make your applications highly available. Serverless technology gives you built-in high availability to ensure that your applications are up and running when needed.

Lower Operating Costs

Serverless technology allocates resources on a pay-per-use basis. Your application will only require backend functions when the code is running and will scale automatically based on the amount of workload.

This provides economies of scale because you are only charged for the time the applications run. In the traditional server model, you have to pay for server space, as well as databases among other resources, whether the application is running or sitting idle.

Faster Application Deployments

The serverless architecture eliminates the need for backend configuration and the manual uploading of code to servers, as in the traditional setup. It is easy for developers to upload small stacks of code efficiently and launch a great product.

The ease of deployment also allows developers to easily fix and update certain code features without changing the entire application.

More Autonomous Teams

The next main benefit is the ability for small teams – even in a large enterprise – to be more autonomous. When infrastructure management expertise and enablement are automated, teams can serve themselves and do it safely. However, this typically requires a bit of investment to automate standards and rules, because what we often find is that serverless offerings are not secure enough to use without certain safeguards or constraints.

Cons of Serverless Technology

Are there any drawbacks associated with the serverless model? Let’s find out.

Security

Misconfigured applications pose one of the biggest risks associated with serverless technology. If you’re moving to AWS (Amazon Web Services), for example, it’s prudent to configure different permissions for your application that will, in turn, determine how they interact with other services within AWS. When permissions are vague, a function or service may have more permissions than necessary, leaving enough room for security breaches.

Vendor Lock-in

Opting for a serverless model can present challenges when migrating to another provider. This is mainly due to the fact that each provider has its own features and workflows that differ slightly from the others.

Difficulty testing and debugging applications

Another challenge posed by the serverless model is the difficulty in replicating a serverless environment to test and monitor the performance of the code before it goes live. This is mainly due to the fact that developers do not have access to backend services that are the domain of the cloud provider.

Conclusion: Is It Worth It?

Serverless technology continues to gain popularity and traction among businesses and developers for 3 main reasons.

  1. Affordability, which translates here as lower operating costs.
  2. Automatic and rapid scaling.
  3. No need to worry about the underlying infrastructure managed by the provider.

Meanwhile, cloud providers work around the clock to solve some pitfalls associated with serverless technology, such as the difficulty of debugging and monitoring applications.

This is our favorite part, as at Naturaily, we have a vast experience in headless technology. But you may have already noticed that the Jamstack and headless terms are often used interchangeably, meaning more or less the same thing (it’s another simplification we make purposefully!). To understand this all in detail, we encourage you to check this article about What is Jamstack, where we focus just on this topic.

what_is_jamstack

But if you feel good to go, let’s quickly remind you of some general info here.

  • The Headless Content Management System (CMS) acts as a backend-only content repository. The content is accessible via an API to be displayed on any site or device. Jamstack is the general name for the approach that makes it work.
  • Unlike traditionally implemented CMSs like WordPress and Drupal, in Jamstack the frontend and backend layers are separate and not tightly integrated. If the “head” is the presentation layer (or frontend) and the “body” is the content repository, we cut the head from the body, hence the name “headless”.
  • Headless technology goes hand in hand with serverless because both strive to make the user’s life much easier. We have finalized many projects where the implementation of headless CMS was paired with serverless hosting.

The results are bound to be great, as the site’s SEO rating is improved with a shorter loading time and better data relocation. Both headless CMS and serverless play their role in it – the site is generally performing better thanks to Jamstack, and additionally, it’s managed by the outsourced provider who takes care of all the issues mentioned earlier in this article.

If you wish to better learn how to choose a headless CMS for your project, be sure to check this article about Headless CMS.

headless_cms_comparison

When Is It Worth Implementing Serverless Technology?

Serverless technology is still young, but it is flexible and, as it evolves, the use cases are becoming more numerous.

The first thing to remember is that not everything is black and white. Serverless architecture does not have to be applied to an entire application. If it is relevant, only a part of the application can be concerned.

There are some use cases when serverless comes in handy:

  • Serverless architecture is ideally suited for event-driven software or tasks.
  • On the demand side, serverless has its place when the use of the software or of certain requests is very variable or when it is difficult to anticipate peaks in demand, as can be the case with ChatBots.
  • Serverless also allows you to expose your APIs quickly and without constraints.
  • IoT applications can be more financially balanced and easier to scale up when combined with serverless technology.

Let’s take a deeper look at when serverless technology can be best applied.

Serverless Best Practices

Integrate Serverless Constraints at the Design Stage

First, integrate serverless constraints into the design of the process itself. In our experience as Naturaily, engineering teams converting to serverless often forget that there are strict constraints on even the most flexible products. Remembering that serverless is just someone else’s server or container, with its own design constraints, will lead to success.

Accelerate the Software Development Lifecycle

Serverless has a strong appeal, not just to application developers, but also to the operations team. Whether offered by hyper-scale cloud service providers or implemented on-premises with various solutions available on the market, the goal of serverless technology is the same: to radically automate and enable self-service to accelerate the software development lifecycle.

For IT administrators, serverless reduces the “request-response” cycle based on ticket-based workloads and allows them to focus on higher-level tasks such as designing infrastructure or creating other automation.

serverless_best_practices

Designing Limited Workloads

Another practice we have for you is to design limited workloads. Enterprises should think of the serverless architecture as an execution engine for a single function.

Refining that goal a bit more, the input and output of the function should be the smallest data that can be worked on, instead of using a serverless function to process a data file, each row of data will be executed separately. By reducing the size of each unit of work, the narrative begins to focus on how quickly the network can move data between services.

Generate Stateless Functions

Functions should also be stateless, as much as possible, so that no trace of the previous interaction is kept. Global variables, commonly found in monolithic applications, do not work in the serverless mode because the global state should not persist between invocations.

So, serverless functions should have as little state as possible. If there is a need to specify a state, it is better to have a function that fetches the state from an external database and calls another stateless function to actually process the data.

Automate Deployment and Testing

We also recommend automating deployment and testing. While some tools make it easy to deploy serverless processing manually, automating the deployment ensures a consistent implementation without leaving room for human error. Automation also makes it easy for other teams within the same company to adopt these technologies.

What Practices Should You Follow When Choosing a Serverless Database?

Well, now you know what serverless technology is and why it’s worth implementing. You even know in which situations you should consider switching to it. But… how can you choose the right serverless database? We gathered some general tips to help you with this.

Relational Databases vs Non-Relational Databases: What is the Difference?

There are essentially two main families of DBMS (Database Management Systems): relational and non-relational, also called SQL and NoSQL. They differ in terms of data extraction, distribution and processing.

Relational or SQL

Since a Structured Query Language is the core of the system, this whole type of database is also called SQL (the acronym). In relational DBMSs, data appears as tables of rows and columns with a rigid structure, with clear dependencies.

Because of the built-in structure and data storage system, SQL databases do not require much additional work to be well protected. They are a good choice for creating and supporting complex software solutions, where any interaction has many consequences. One of the fundamental principles of SQL is ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) compliance. ACID compliance is an attractive option if you are building, for example, eCommerce or financial sector applications, where database integrity is essential.

However, growth can be a challenge with SQL databases. Scaling an SQL database across multiple servers (horizontal scaling) requires additional engineering efforts. Instead, SQL databases are mostly scaled vertically, typically by adding more technology power to a server.

Here are some of the most popular SQL databases:

  • MySQL
  • MariaDB
  • Oracle
  • PostgreSQL
  • MSSQL

Non-Relational or NoSQL

Since these databases are not limited to a table structure, they are called NoSQL. This type of database management system is considered document-oriented. Unstructured data (such as articles, photos, videos, and more) are assembled into a single document. The data is simple to query but is not always arranged in rows and columns, as in a relational database. Non-relational or NoSQL databases are typically scaled horizontally by adding servers.

Because NoSQL databases allow multiple types of data to be compiled together and scaled by growing around multiple servers, their popularity is steadily decreasing. In addition, creating a proof of concept (POC) is a great option for startups using an Agile method. NoSQL does not require any pre-deployment preparation, which facilitates quick and immediate database updates.

Here are the most popular NoSQL databases:

  • MongoDB
  • Cassandra
  • Elasticsearch

relational_vs_nonrelational_databases

What Serverless Databases Are Available on the Market?

Now that you know the difference, let’s dive deeper. What are the most commonly used database systems in SQL and NoSQL? What are their main advantages and disadvantages, and how should businesses use them?

There are a lot of them, so obviously we are going to focus on the most popular ones. Let’s take a closer look.

MySQL

This is one of the most popular relational database systems. Originally an open-source solution, MySQL was acquired by Oracle Corporation in 2009. Today, MySQL is one of the pillars of “LAMP” software. This means that it is part of the Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl / PHP / Python stacks. Having C and C++ under the hood, MySQL works perfectly on Windows, Linux, MacOS, IRIX and others.

MySQL Advantages

  • Free installation. The community edition of MySQL is free to download. With a basic set of tools for individual use, MySQL Community Edition is a good option to start with. Of course, there are other prepaid options for enterprise or cluster purposes, with richer functionality. However, if your company is too small to pay for any of them, the free download model is the most appropriate for a start.
  • Simple syntax and low complexity. The structure and style of MySQL are very clear. Developers even consider MySQL as a database with a human language. MySQL is often used in tandem with the PHP programming language, one of the most widely used in the world. With its gentle learning curve, you don’t need to hire a skilled developer to manage your database.
  • Cloud compatible. Business-oriented by nature and originally developed for the Web, MySQL is supported by the most popular cloud providers. It is available on leading platforms such as Amazon, Microsoft Azure and others. This makes MySQL even more attractive and leaves companies that use it with a high margin for growth.

MySQL Disadvantages

  • Scalability challenges. MySQL wasn’t built for rapid, infinite evolution; that’s inherent in its code. In theory, you can evolve MySQL, but it will require more engineering compared to NoSQL databases. So, if you ever expect your database to grow significantly, keep this limitation in mind or choose another DBMS option.
  • Partially open source. Although MySQL is partly open-source, it is mainly licensed by Oracle. This limits the MySQL community in terms of improving the DBMS. When you have open-source support, you expect many problem-specific implementations and community support. This is not the case when the software is owned by the company’s owners, and you have to pay for support.

Amazon DynamoDB

DynamoDB uses a NoSQL database model, which is non-relational, allowing for documents, graphs and columns among its data models. Each DynamoDB query is executed by a user-identified primary key, which uniquely identifies each item. It also frees customers from the burden of operating and scaling a distributed database. Thus, hardware provisioning, installation, configuration, replication, software patching, cluster scaling and more are all handled by Amazon.

DynamoDB Advantages

  • Intuitive and easy to use. It’s easy to install and you can use automatic scaling; DynamoDB reduces the complexity of managing high availability and scaling for peak usage periods.
  • Vast and trusted features. It provides a low-level AWS DynamoDB API. Additionally, DynamoDB security is governed by AWS Identity.

DynamoDB Disadvantages

  • Poor free version. It doesn’t offer to save your tables and has a severe transfer limit. It can be difficult to test this solution in its free version.

FaunaDB

FaunaDB is a global serverless database that gives you ubiquitous, low-latency access to application data without sacrificing data accuracy and scalability. It eliminates layers of application code to manually manage anomalies, security and data scaling, creating a more user-friendly development experience for you and a better application experience for your users.

FaunaDB Advantages

  • Integrations & APIs. FaunaDB offers APIs to integrate with other applications. These integrations allow, for example, to connect to a database, exchange data, or synchronize files between several computer programs via an extension, a plugin, or an API (Application Programming Interface).
  • Reliable. It also has high data consistency & integrated certification.
  • Very flexible. You can use it in the Cloud, on your own servers or embedded within the application.

FaunaDB Disadvantages

  • Underwhelming technical support. FaunaDB offers technical support and commercial documentation on the official website. There, you can find a complete technical guide, an FAQ, a forum and a ticket support service. However, this can at times not be enough to find relevant answers to your problems Vast experience in such platforms might be needed.

Oracle Database

Oracle is a relational database management system created and run by Oracle Corporation. Currently, it supports multiple data models, such as document, graph, relational and key-value, within a single database. In its latest versions, it has refocused on the cloud. Oracle Database Engine licenses are fully proprietary, with free and paid options available.

Oracle Database Advantages

  • Innovations for everyday work. Oracle continues to focus on information security. In addition to active data protection, partitioning-enhanced backup and recovery, Oracle suggests parallel upgrades to reduce downtime during database upgrades.
  • Solid technical support and documentation. Oracle provides decent customer support and comprehensive technical documentation on several resources. So, you will probably find solutions to problems that arise. You can also expect support from the community.
  • High capacity. Oracle’s multimodel solution allows you to store and process a large amount of data. With recently released features, the database architecture now simplifies the packaging and management of multiple databases.

Oracle Database Disadvantages

  • High cost. Although Oracle 12c has free editions, its functionality is very limited. The Standard edition, which does not include all available features, costs $17,500 per unit. The Enterprise Edition costs over $47,000 per unit (April 2022).
  • High resource consumption. Oracle Database needs a powerful infrastructure. Not only does the installation require a lot of memory space, but you will also have to consider constant hardware upgrades if you deploy it.

MongoDB

MongoDB is a free, open-source, non-relational DBMS, which also includes a commercial version. Although MongoDB was not originally designed for processing structured data, it can be used for applications that use both structured and unstructured data. In MongoDB, databases are connected to applications via database drivers. Multiple data types are processed simultaneously and use the internal cache for this purpose.

MongoDB Advantages

  • Easy data access, storage, entry and retrieval. One of the advantages of MongoDB derived from its NoSQL nature is the speed and simplicity of data operations. Like any other non-relational database, it emphasizes the use of RAM memory, so that records can be manipulated very quickly and without consequences for data integrity.
  • Easy compatibility with other data models. MongoDB is easily combined with different database management systems, including both SQL and NoSQL. In addition, it has pluggable storage engine APIs. This option allows third parties to create their own data storage engines for MongoDB. From a business perspective, this creates added value for enterprise software.
  • Horizontally scalable solution. Scalability - where data is spread across a distributed network of manageable servers – is a facet of the fundamental nature of MongoDB. This becomes even more important for companies running big data applications. Data is distributed faster and more evenly, without clutter.

MongoDB Disadvantages

  • Memory consumption. This is due to the denormalization process. When previously normalized data in a database is grouped together to improve performance, the memory consumption is usually significant. Moreover, this DBMS keeps all the keywords for each pair of values in its memory. In addition, because joins are not supported, Mongo databases have an oversupply of data, resulting in significant memory waste and decreased application performance.
  • Complicated process to interpret in other query languages. Since MongoDB was not originally developed to handle relational data models, performance may slow down in these cases. In addition, translating SQL into MongoDB queries requires additional action to use the engine, which can delay development and deployment.

Google Cloud Functions

Google Cloud Functions is another serverless environment worth checking up. With Cloud Functions, writing and deploying small pieces of code is very simple. This solution is ideal for deploying triggers in a cloud infrastructure.

Since the tedious task of building applications in the background is eliminated, developers can focus on coding great features for their applications.

Google Cloud Functions Advantages

  • Easy and automated application development. With the Google Cloud feature, you can deploy your code to cloud servers without having to manage the server infrastructure. Developers also benefit from a wide range of monitoring and control features that help them manage their applications efficiently.
  • Technical support for multiple languages and frameworks. Google is a huge brand that speaks for itself, so it’s no surprise that you can expect solid technical support in almost all languages.
  • Costs. The Spark plan is quite generous and free of charge, while the premium plan costs 40 cents per million invocations.

Google Cloud Functions Disadvantages

  • Difficult architecture. Google Cloud Functions tend to make your project more complex, which in turn makes the architecture more difficult to understand.
  • Debugging. Overall, Cloud Functions can be hard to debug via outsourced tools. You have to trust the tools already inbound in the Cloud.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, serverless seems like a very beneficial addition to any business that wants to keep their site well managed and user-friendly.

If you are wondering how to get the implementation process to start, we have some good news for you. At Naturaily, we have finalized many successful implementations of new technologies, especially in the field of headless and serverless technology.

Be sure to contact us, and we’ll be more than happy to help you with choosing the right serverless provider, as well as a guide on what else can be done for your site to run better than ever before.

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