Start small, if you have to, but start now.
If you’re building new applications or migrating existing workloads to serverless in 2020, the gap is closing in terms of technical hurdles for enterprise adoption, but still expect some adjustment time as traditional development teams learn to evolve their processes. That’s according to Dave Townsend, Principal Software Engineer in the Innovation & Architecture group at Matson, Inc.
We spoke with Townsend and other thought leaders as part of our insight gathering for our recent industry-spanning report, For the Love of Serverless: 2020 AWS Lambda Benchmark Report for Developers, DevOps, and Decision Makers.
Today, we’re sharing the insights relayed by Townsend, a 15-year software veteran who leads Matson’s mobile product team and focuses on designing and delivering end-to-end, cloud-based software solutions.
Townsend had a lot of interesting things to say about the serverless landscape, including how certain developmental gaps are closing, the way competition is helping to create exciting vendors and tools, and why the alternative to a migration really doesn’t exist.
What are the biggest organizational challenges facing serverless adoption in 2020?
One of the challenges an organization will face in 2020, as it moves to more serverless workloads, is getting existing staff trained in this new way of doing things. It is a radical shift from how most shops are building applications today. The sooner you can start, the better. I think the best advice is to start small, iterate, and keep everyone involved. But definitely start now. In addition, specifically in larger organizations, getting senior management on board can be an important step. You may need to put on your selling hat and tell the story of why this is a good thing. You’ll want to have data to show; otherwise, it’s all talk.
What are the biggest technical challenges facing serverless adoption in 2020?
Getting teams and organizations to embrace infrastructure-as-code (IaC) will certainly be a challenge. Teams that have been doing more traditional development, in which they do not touch much of the infrastructure, will need to learn some new skills. More importantly, they will then need to be allowed to use those skills. Operational governance will come into play here. Teams creating serverless apps will need more access to accounts to create resources that they may not have previously been allowed to create.
Also, understanding how to deploy serverless applications is a challenge. Of course, the concepts of CI/CD still apply, but doing it all with IaC is different. There is really no separation of code and infra now, so that takes some getting used to. It is still really early in this game, and I think as a community we’re evolving. There are certainly some gaps, and the gaps are what people are often the most vocal about pointing out. But, as we saw with some of the releases around serverless at re:Invent 2019, AWS is listening and those gaps are closing. In particular, the enhancements they have made around Lambda startup time in VPCs has definitely helped solve one of the challenges that has been holding enterprises back. People who aren’t even doing serverless complained about that one! For the cloud vendors that want to win in this space, we’ll no doubt continue to see enhancements to help alleviate a lot of these adoption challenges.
Where do you see serverless heading in 2020?
I’m no Simon Wardley, but from what I can see of the landscape, it looks like a continued steady trajectory upward as more and more companies start to experiment and share success stories. I don’t know that serverless will ever hit a crazy spike, mostly because it’s not a new (slightly different) hotness, that you can switch over to with a few tweaks from what you are currently doing. This serverless thing is quite different. And honestly, I don’t think it needs to spike. We've all learned from the tortoise and the hare (and others), that slow and steady is often the path to winning. Besides, it’s like Taylor Otwell said about serverless: “What's the alternative? More complexity, more container orchestration? I don’t think that's the future that people are going to naturally gravitate toward.”
What are you most excited about in 2020 regarding the state of serverless?
There is a lot of great stuff going on right now, both from the cloud vendors and from the tooling side of things. I love seeing the evolutionary progress in Serverless Framework and SAM, and the progress in the monitoring and observability space around serverless.
Specific to AWS, I like the work going on with AppSync and Amplify. Along with Amplify, frameworks like Architect have a huge potential to create a whole new category of full-stack developers out of many existing frontend-only folks. These frameworks are making it super easy for frontend developers without much cloud experience to get a serverless backend up and running very quickly, and that’s pretty exciting. Also, I’m super pumped on EventBridge—that service opens the door for some great event-based serverless architecture patterns.
What do you think is the biggest serverless myth that persists?
That there are no servers! I’m kidding, of course (sort of). The fact that there are myths means we’re doing something interesting. If we weren’t, no one would care.
There have been some really good blogs debunking “lock-in,” but that is certainly something that keeps coming up. The often talked about (mostly overblown) cold start issues seem to be dying a bit, which is good. And hopefully, with the new enhancements to VPC startup time, I think we’ll see this fade away even more.
Explore our report, For the Love of Serverless: 2020 AWS Lambda Benchmark Report for Developers, DevOps, and Decision Makers, to get key serverless usage trends and learn what other experts are saying about the current state of serverless.