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How to explain serverless in plain English
Serverless confuses people: We are talking about less management of servers, not fewer servers. Here's how to explain this trend – and what it means to development – to anyone
The baking explanation of serverless
“A good analogy is selling cakes,” says Rami Sass, CEO at WhiteSource. “You can buy the ingredients, bake it, and sell it yourself, or you can give your recipe to a contractor and have them bake the cake every time someone orders one from you and get the same result. This is a more scalable process and although outsourcing is usually slightly more expensive than doing it yourself, you only pay for the cakes that were ordered and are free to invest your time and resources elsewhere.”
The BYOB explanation of serverless
Kenna Security’s Gamblin has another hunger-inducing comparison: Imagine you’ve been invited to a backyard barbecue bonanza, and the invitation said “BYOB,” or “bring your own beverage.” That means, Gamblin notes, that the host is promising to take care of everything else – the food, the plates and utensils, the music, the clean-up, you name it. You need to bring only one thing for the party to be a success.
“Serverless can be seen as BYOC: bring your own code,” Gamblin says. “The service provider is going to take care of everything else – networking, servers, OS, etc. – and you just need to show up with the code you want to run.”
The Uber explanation of serverless
Doug McMaster, EVP, managed cloud, at 2nd Watch, says it can be helpful to think of serverless as to IT infrastructure as ride-hailing apps like Lyft or Uber are to car transportation.
“If you own your own car, you have to maintain it: fill it with gas, change the oil, replace brakes,” McMaster says. “Services like Uber and Lyft eliminate these needs, saving you time, money, and effort on the maintenance of your vehicle, while allowing you to focus on what is important – getting from point A to B. Serverless works the same way, freeing up the maintenance time and effort, allowing you to focus on delivering a better customer experience.”
[ Read also: Why Kubernetes is the new application server. ]
Where does serverless fit?
How are organizations using serverless in relation to related trends? Consider this context from Red Hat’s Haff:
"While there are overlaps between the technologies used by FaaS, microservices, and even coarser-grained architectural patterns, you can think of FaaS as both simplifying and limiting. FaaS requires you to be more prescriptive about how you write applications," Haff notes.
“Although serverless was originally most associated with public cloud providers, that comes with a caveat. Serverless, as implemented on public clouds, has a high degree of lock-in to a specific cloud vendor. This is true to some degree even with FaaS, but serverless explicitly encourages bringing in a variety of cloud provider services that are incompatible to varying degrees with other providers and on-premises solutions.”
“As a result, there’s considerable interest in and work going into open source implementations of FaaS and serverless, such as Knative and OpenWhisk, so that users can write applications that are portable across different platforms.”
[ Kubernetes terminology, demystified: Get our Kubernetes glossary cheat sheet for IT and business leaders. ]