Serverless vs containers: complementary or competing technologies?

August 29, 2019
Kevin Muldoon
Senior Director, Cloud Transformation

Enterprise computing partners are seeking the best way to develop, deploy, and manage applications in an era of new ideas, devices, and virtual experiences. A question at the forefront of this digital transformation is serverless vs containers in a business environment.

Serverless computing–what is it?

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 by the amount of time the process is running rather than by how long the server is up. A function is triggered by an event, runs for a set time, then is inactive until it is triggered again.

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.

Containers–how do they work and what do they do?

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 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.

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.

Serverless vs Containers Venn Diagram
How serverless computing and containers compare

Similarities between serverless computing 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.

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

  • Use finite pieces of code that function in microservice architectures.
  • Are easily deployed across distributed architectures which means 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 a generic cloud infrastructure, the toolset is less restrictive than in a serverless environment.

To learn how serverless computing and containers can be applied in a business environment, watch this video.

Serverless vs containers – which is best 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.

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.

While a serverless environment eliminates concerns 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.

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.

Find a technology partner that implements the right tools for optimal results

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.

To learn more, download the Application and Infrastructure Modernization infosheet.

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