Skip containers and do serverless computing instead

Container technologies like Docker are very powerful, but require talent you can’t get. Serverless computing provides the same benefits—with talent you can actually get

Skip containers and do serverless computing instead
Pete Linforth (CC0)

Normally, mainstream enterprises are slow to embrace cutting-edge technologies, with startups and other early adopters setting the pace on everything from public cloud to NoSQLs. Serverless computing, however, just might be different.

Serverless, first popularized by AWS Lambda, has seen “astonishing” growth of over 300 percent year over year, according to AWS chief Andy Jassy. Ironically, that growth may be driven by the “laggards,” as Redmonk analyst James Governor calls them, rather than the techno-hipsters.

Containers are hot, but maybe not for you

Over the last few years, nothing has been as hot as containers. Indeed, containers are so hot they’ve broken the scale ETR uses to measure CIO intent to purchase enterprise technology, registering “the strongest buying intention score ever recorded in [its] six-year history.” The reason is simple: Containers make developers much more productive. As Chenxi Wang writes, containers let developers “deploy, replicate, move, and back up a workload even more quickly and easily than you can do so using virtual machines.”

That’s big.

As great as they are, containers have a built-in deficiency: They’re not nearly easy enough, as Governor highlights:

Containers can help with IT cost reduction, but the main driver of adoption is velocity and the efficient management of infrastructure. The problem with container infrastructures is that this efficient management also calls for highly skilled developers and operators. Talent is a scarce resource. Even if you can afford the people, they may prefer to work for cooler companies.

“Cooler companies” refers to every company but yours. Not really, of course, but most large, successful enterprises may be cool with financial analysts but less so with developers. For these companies, serverless—the hottest thing since, well, containers—could be the answer.

Serverless is cooler than cool in the mainstream

“Serverless” refers to services like AWS Lambda that offer developers a way to focus on writing application logic rather than server infrastructure. Yes, this means a developer must trust that AWS, Microsoft, or Google get that infrastructure right, but the upside to embracing these cloud back ends is huge. As such, Stackery told Governor, “Serverless is being driven by mainstream enterprises. We see them leapfrogging containers so they can take something off the shelf and move quickly.”

In other words, they’d love to get into containers, but they may lack the expertise. So they’re borrowing that expertise from Amazon or another serverless vendor and skipping the container revolution.

For those enterprises less willing to trust their application infrastructure to a cloud vendor, some have hoped to bring serverless “in house,” running it on-premises in a corporate datacenter, just as some hope to ape the benefits of public cloud computing in so-called private clouds in their datacenters. It’s a nice theory. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Not for most companies, anyway.

Indeed, the minute that you bring serverless in house, you start to “negate the very advantage you started with,” argues AWS evangelist Mackenzie Kosut. Instead, he says, companies should “spend more time on developing your application and business logic, less time managing systems.” Or, as AWS vice president of cloud architecture Adrian Cockcroft puts it, if you “want to move quickly and cheaply,” you need to stop fixating on servers and instead entrust that to a cloud partner like AWS, Microsoft, or Google.

Of course, there will always be companies that want to get deep into their systems. For such companies, containers are revelatory in how much control and power they gain over their infrastructure.

Yet for most developers, contends Octopus engineer Pawel Pabich, “containers are a distraction.” This is an amazing statement given how important containers have been. But it smells like truth. Developers are the new kingmakers, as the saying goes, but not everyone has the über-developers on their payroll necessary to tame containers to their needs. For such “laggards,” serverless will do just fine.

This story, "Skip containers and do serverless computing instead" was originally published by InfoWorld.