When new technologies arise, we first adopt them for their technical value. If that value proves out, then we reach the magic “crossing the chasm” moment: when a technology jumps to widespread adoption through proven business value and goes mainstream.
Some technologies, a very select few, make one more jump forward, however — from mainstream to existential imperative.
These paradigm-shifting technologies are things that just about every business needs to adopt in order to survive. Like when relational databases were developed in the 1970s, for example, making it possible to store and retrieve massive amounts of information quickly and easily. Or graphic interfaces, which (along with word processing and spreadsheet software) made personal computers not only possible but quickly impossible to do business without. The rise of the internet gave us email, e-commerce, and eventually, mobile computing on devices that fit into the palm of your hand.
All this progress occurred over a mere handful of decades (and the hits just keep on coming — disruption is only happening faster and faster). But if we step back for a moment to take it all in, a common thread becomes clear:
This modern world is composed of the applications that make it possible.
Over time all these new applications, from SQL databases to native mobile apps, needed a new architecture to truly realize their promise: cloud computing. The cloud, of course, has more than proven its business value and even the most venerable enterprises are widely emracing digital transformation as necessary for survival. Unfortunately, cloud-native architecture is challenging to implement due to the inherent complexity of distributed systems, and its fullest potential has been truly accessible only for organizations possessing deep technical talent.
Every problem invites a solution, however, and thus we find ourselves in the middle of a new transformation. Serverless computing has emerged as the logical next evolution of cloud native — the ultimate delivery on the principles of cloud, container, and microservices architectures.
Serverless allows you to shift complex operational responsibilities like server or cluster provisioning, patching, system maintenance, and capacity management to your public cloud provider. (Or cloud providers, plural, because serverless can also remove the complexity from multi-cloud and hybrid deployments). Serverless is a crucially better way to consume anything, allowing developers to focus on building scalable, reliable systems more quickly and easily than is possible using server-based architectures. The ability to improve agility and reduce time to market delivers true business value — which in turn delivers the true value of serverless: enhancing innovation.
How Does Serverless Drive Innovation?
By taking away and/or automating tedious but necessary IT work, serverless computing unblocks technical teams to use their time for innovation instead. With their DevOps teams freed up, enterprises are able to rapidly prototype and trial new products or services, then pivot easily based on market response.
- Simplicity as a service: Serverless gives us the opportunity to automate the complex cognitive work of provisioning, predicting capacity, config, updating, security, networking. This democratizes cloud native by opening the door to small and medium enterprises with their small and medium tech teams.
- Native connectivity: Firms used to get profit from products, but today’s profits come from platforms — because that is how you connect ecosystems of apps and services to ecosystems of users. The future now belongs to those who can widen and deepen connections. Serverless is the natural architecture for effective connections since it works as a constellation of functions communicating and executing near-instantaneously.
- Living systems: Serverless enables a dynamic living system: a rapid cycle of building functionality delivering it to market, getting immediate customer feedback and, based on that feedback, responsively delivering even more feature innovations and improvements. Taking advantage of serverless functions and integrations integrated into cloud platforms, developers can use continuous delivery (the next stage of CI/CD) to deliver new releases every day, or even multiple times per day.
- Experimentation: The most crucial of all serverless benefits: experimentation. When trying out new ideas and exploring hunches is easy, quick, and inexpensive (in terms of both time and cost), teams are able to investigate intriguing possibilities. They can quickly discard failed ideas and move ahead with promising ones. Innovation becomes dynamic and risk-free, and — above all — built in.
Along with the rise of serverless and other no-code solutions, we are beginning to see the rise of a new professional hybrid: the developer-entrepreneur. By abstracting away the operations side of powerful but complex infrastructure, serverless creates space for a new cohort of innovator engineers who can test, trial, and release an idea at little to no cost. We can anticipate movement from the opposite direction too: the entrepreneur-developer, whose innovative ideas are no longer blocked by lack of deep coding experience. Either way, bootstrapping takes on a new meaning — as well as opening up fascinating new possibilities in the future of investing and the acceleration of innovation.
Serverless is a crucially better way to consume anything but, up until now, businesses have mainly focused on the execution side of serverless. Things like AWS Lambda or Google Cloud Run or Fargate, all products allowing you to just put your application logic in the cloud and let your cloud provider run it for you and scale it for you. Everyone understands that cloud infrastructure is almost universally the superior option.
At the same time, though, we often seem to have forgotten the database — the data that all these applications depend on, the data that informs all these connections. A shocking number of cloud-forward organizations that have happily cloud-sourced their infrastructure complex are still relying on self-hosted legacy database solutions, even as the need for global connectivity escalates.
No company in 2022 is thinking, Wow we are really going to invest in building our own private data centers all over the world! It simply doesn’t make sense to build or operate and maintain a distributed database that goes across continents when a dedicated cloud native database provider can do it for you. Companies simply have to move, if they want to remain competitive in whatever their vertical happens to be.
Data powers everything we do, and we are in the midst of a data revolution. Serverless databases unlock limitless data and the infrastructure to finally use it right. As a result, we are seeing a growing serverless database takeover as more and more enterprise companies realize that, though the rest of their stack may be cloud native, their database has been holding them back.
All true serverless applications offer the same fundamental benefits: abstracted and automated operations, consumption-based billing, elastic scale, built-in resilience, and fault tolerance. All databases are ultimately just applications, and a true serverless database must also offer three additional features: distributed architecture, geographic (global) scale, and a simple SQL API in the cloud.
Assembling all these pieces, we get a look at the next generation of what our databases are becoming: A familiar database that’s delivered as a service, eliminates ops, and reduces costs down to a count of the transactions and required storage used by your application while guaranteeing consistency and resilience. With all these factors simple to implement and virtually guaranteed to perform, what will tomorrow’s businesses create to serve the impatient, insatiable consumer appetite?
The ServerLESS Future
The “magic moment” for serverless is close at hand. Serverless computing is rapidly showing itself to be the next essential paradigm, or perhaps simply the logical and highest realization of the cloud-native paradigm. Either way, we see it happening in real time as developers and architects, through their choices and actions, establishing the serverless model as the core abstraction underlying enterprise software and services.
There is no way to predict the next paradigm shift. Nor can we know what the Fortune 500 companies of tomorrow might be: what will they look like, and what will they build upon? All we do know for sure is that the challenges — and the opportunities — of the future will be different. Perhaps even unrecognizably so, from where we stand right now.
No matter how the future plays out, there is only one way to guarantee survival: co-evolving as an organization alongside shifting and unpredictable technology and business realities. This means being able to iterate rapidly, incorporating real-time customer feedback, and responding dynamically by doing experiments cheaply and easily, moving forward with PoCs that work. (And, maybe even more importantly, dropping whatever doesn’t, no harm no foul).
In an age of disruption, the only viable strategy is to adapt. The ability to innovate is necessary for survival — and serverless can help make innovation simply an everyday part of doing business.