Serverless vs containers: complementary or competing technologies?

August 24, 2022
Author: Kevin Muldoon
Blog | Cloud

Enterprise computing partners continuously seek the best way to develop, deploy, and manage applications in this era of new ideas, devices, and virtual experiences. A question at the forefront of this digital transformation is whether to implement a serverless solution or utilize containers. Each has pros and cons. Calling on its extensive knowledge of cloud technologies, CBTS guides enterprise clients through the process of determining which path is right for their unique needs.

This blog will explore the role of serverless vs containers in an IT environment.

Before answering the serverless vs containers question it is necessary to understand:

  1. What is serverless computing?
  2. Benefits of serverless computing.
  3. What are containers?
  4. Key benefits of containers.
  5. Similarities and differences in serverless vs containers.
  6. Serverless vs containers – choosing the best path for your business.

What is serverless computing?

Using serverless computing, a developer can create and run applications free from concerns about server limitations such as provisioning, scaling, and managing.

Functions are executed in the cloud and are billed based on the time the process is running rather than by how long the server is up. An event triggers a function that runs for a set length of time. Then, the function remains inactive until an event triggers it again. For the most part, functions only run for a short time—usually five minutes or less. The brief runtime of functions is one of the advantages of using serverless computing, as it helps to keep costs low. However, it also can be a downside when you need a lot of computing power over a prolonged period, especially compared to the “always-on” model of containers.

Serverless computing does not actually eliminate the need for a server. Instead, the code is outsourced to the cloud provider’s infrastructure, where the application is run and ultimately returns the result. Serverless computing allows a developer to create applications without concern for the limitations of the server. Instead, the developer can focus exclusively on the code.

Benefits of serverless computing

  • The project is code intensive.
  • When traffic patterns change independently, a serverless system allows functions to ramp up or down depending on the needs of traffic flow.
  • Speedy launches are possible with serverless because the focus is on code over infrastructure. Apps, websites, and other products can be launched in days or weeks instead of months.
  • You need to keep costs down. Serverless only requires that you pay for the time that a function runs.
  • When you need to scale, serverless computing makes it easy and automatic.
Learn more about serverless architecture

What are containers?

A container is an isolated package for a service or application that is ready for deployment, execution, and scaling.

A container allows a user to run an application in isolation. This model improves efficiency by eliminating the need to run a virtual machine (VM) for each application.

By using containers, a developer can package code, configurations, and dependencies into easy-to-use building blocks that promote:

  • Institutional consistency.
  • Operational efficiency.
  • Developer productivity.
  • Version control.

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

Key benefits of containers

  • For large or complicated applications, memory and size are not an issue with containers.
  • You need complete control over an app’s admin, security, and resources.
  • When migrating an old or large application, containers can be easier to implement than serverless functions.
  • You are working with a container across multiple OS systems or environments.
Learn more about application and infrastructure modernization

Similarities and differences in serverless vs containers

Serverless computing and containers can both be used to strategically position enterprise users to leverage the next phase of digital transformation to achieve optimal results. However, managing these two different technologies requires different strategies.

Similarities between serverless and containers

Serverless computing and containers both allow code to operate inside isolated, discrete environments. While they are not identical technologies, they achieve similar results, but in different ways.

Both serverless environments and containers are designed to meet future changes and leverage the latest innovations in cloud computing. Serverless computing and containers both:

  • Use finite pieces of code that function in microservice architectures. However, serverless generally works better with microservices.
  • Easily deployed across distributed architectures, they are commonly used in the Cloud.
  • Start quickly, often within a few seconds.
  • Rely heavily on APIs to coordinate integration with external resources.
  • Employ external resources to manage persistent storage needs.

Differences between serverless environments and containers

In a serverless environment, end users typically do not control the host server and the operating system on which applications run. Workloads may consume large amounts of data in a short amount of time. Because of this, 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 rely heavily on the host operating system. Efficiency is less important than in a serverless environment because container applications are designed to run for longer periods of time and may not constantly consume resources. Because containers are often deployed on-premises or on generic cloud infrastructure, the toolset is less restrictive than in a serverless environment.

Watch this video to learn how serverless computing and containers can be applied in a business environment.

Serverless vs containers – choosing the best path for your business?

Serverless solutions are best suited to short, small, single-function operations. Developers can quickly and efficiently access cloud-specific services for speedy development and deployment.

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

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

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

If your organization is struggling to answer the serverless vs 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.

Contact the experts at CBTS today to begin strategizing your application modernization journey.

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